The Counter Trey In Football Explained

Written By: Chris Haddad
Updated: February 12, 2024

The best way to keep your passing game open is to have a legitimate ground game to keep defenses honest when you line up in the spread. What is the counter trey in football?

The counter trey is a gap scheme play where both guards pull to the other side of the formation. One guard is responsible for kicking out the defensive end, while the other leads up through the hole to the linebacker.

Oklahoma’s counter trey play has innovated how spread offenses operate, and defenses defend the run. Head coach Lincoln Riley has created a play that is easy for the quarterback to read and for the offensive lineman to block.

The Oklahoma Sooners have one of the most dominant offenses in college football and have done so under Lincoln Riley, their head coach, who came into that position from being their offensive coordinator.

While most spread offenses use a zone running scheme, the “counter trey” play that the Sooners employ is very much a power-running attack.

The Basics Of The Counter Trey Play

Please know Oklahoma recruits big, mauling offensive linemen and turns them loose when they dial up a power run like counter trey. This play has become a staple in their offense over the last few years.

The play calls for the backside guard and tackles to pull as the running back receives the handoff to run through the B gap.

As noted by the box, the backside defensive end is the key defensive player who can break this play and cause a loss of yards if he plays it correctly.

The player has a potential free shot at the running back, and this play is best executed if the QB has the option to keep it himself and run backside in the event the play is blown up.

Counter Trey Diagram

Here is a look at how the Sooners pulled off the play:

via RJ Young on YouTube

The execution of this play sets up a strong play-action call and sets the stage for the QB to keep it himself, as mentioned above. Ian Boyd wrote a fantastic piece (available here) that further details how Oklahoma has used this base play to set up a slew of variations to keep defenses off-balance.

The front side relies on a double team from the right tackle and the right guard, who will then work up to the backside linebacker.

The center will block back on the first defensive player who is in his backside gap as well.

The guard is pulling for the defensive end, or the first player that shows.

Last, the second puller is going to lead up the hole and track the frontside linebacker.

This is one of the ways the actual counter trey helps power their offense by baiting the defense with their look. Below you can see the offensive line block as a counter trey, but instead, it is a swing pass to the halfback.

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Variations Of Counter Trey

via Coach FitzFball on YouTube

The Sooners will use play-action, the RPO, and other looks based on this look outside of the swing pass. While the Sooners effectively run this concept, they are far from the only team in the country running trey counter.

Below is a look at Ohio State running a counter trey with the QB keeping it:

via Kiawah55 on YouTube

The Clemson Tigers also run a similar counter trey but with the added element of motion. The jet motion from the receiver had him in full motion near the center of the line as the ball was snapped.

This allows the quarterback to fake the handoff before following the left side of his line, leading the charge to run to the quarterback’s right.

via Justin Dottavio on YouTube

Keep Learning

That’s how to run the counter trey and why it’s such a successful play, especially at the college level.

If you liked learning about counter trey, we break down other plays in our Ultimate Football Guide. Instantly increase your football IQ by taking this course!

Learn more about spread offense runs plays from the articles below.

Spread Offensive Run Plays – Complete Guide

How To Run Counter In Football – Complete Guide

Running The Power Play In Football – Complete Guide

The Gap Scheme & How It’s Run In Every Offense

Complete Outside Zone Guide & Tutorial

Complete Inside Zone Guide & Tutorial

What Is Power Read In Football? Install Guide

The Oklahoma counter trey is one of the most productive plays in football because of its ability to overload one side of the line of scrimmage.

Guard and tackle pulling to the other side of the scrimmage line create an overload that the defense must adapt to.

This forces the defense to play football in a position that they often don’t want. Man coverage is often the only answer for defenses, as the RPO element eliminates any zone coverage that is played.

There are plenty of variations of the counter trey across college football with various tweaks from team to team. Regardless of the team, the implementation of this call allows for the power-rushing attack to flourish in a spread offense.

This physical rushing style allows spread teams to play smash-mouth football against more physical defenses.

Do you have any questions about the counter trey or even about another play? Let us know below!

About the author 

Chris Haddad

Chris Haddad is the founder of vIQtory Sports & high school coach for over 12+ years. He has been featured as an authority on Hudl, Bleacher Report and countless other football-centric platforms. Chris continues to study and provide valuable content for those looking to learn more about the game of football.