The read-option rushing attack has been a facet of Steve Spurrier's offense at South Carolina since 2009, so a good chunk of South Carolina fans are at least vaguely acquainted with the mechanics of its most basic play:
On the typical zone-read play, the line is responsible for blocking everyone but the backside defensive end; the quarterback "reads" him. If he crashes to take the running back (or at least to eliminate the running back’s cutback lane), the quarterback keeps it; if the defensive end is not in position to tackle the runner (either because he stays put or takes the quarterback, the QB simply hands the ball off to the runner.
The Gamecocks' most successful execution of this play during last Thursday's opener came on a 21-yard Connor Shaw run in the first quarter.
In this play, Shaw is reading #8 Norkeithus Otis, who is occupying UNC's hybrid DL/LB "Bandit" position and lines up as a DE on this down. Because Otis crashes toward the ball carrier, Shaw pulls the ball back and runs outside for a big gain. One of the great things about the read option is that it is much easier to read a great player than to block him. It works as a nifty way to neutralize a mismatch, but that's not to say that there is no way that the zone read can be stopped. After all, defensive coordinators get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to come up with ways to defend this stuff, and Gamecock fans more than anyone else know that, even without help from a scraping linebacker, some defensive ends are good enough to both crash the ball carrier and stay at home to tackle the quarterback for a loss.
Of course, a great way to remain a step ahead of opposing defensive coordinators is to add some variation. On the second play of last Thursday's game agains the Tar Heels, the Gamecocks had Connor Shaw read the interior defensive lineman instead of the end. Watch how the tight end blocks the defensive end and RG Ronald Patrick and RT Brandon Shell let the dreadlocked interior defender go unobstructed into the backfield and while they move downfield to block the second level of the North Carolina defense.
This does a couple things for you. One, it can confuse the "scrape exchange" response, where the defensive end crashes to force a "pull" read by the quarterback while the linebacker loops outside for him, because the defensive end gets blocked and the QB should have a big gap inside. And, second, it gives you flexibility in who you choose to block versus read. As the old saying goes, if you can’t block them, read them.
Hey, I wonder if that's the kind of flexibility that will come in handy this November when South Carolina goes up against a defensive tackle who is apparently pretty good.