Boise State playbook: The Air Force fake punt that almost was

A turning point in Saturday's game against Air Force was the Falcons' decision to try a fake punt from their own 31-yard line to their hilarious demise. I literally found myself half-cheering, half-laughing at the absurdity of a decision gone so horribly awry.

But you know what? I was a lot closer to stunned silence and a single tear than I realized. Air Force's fake punt very nearly worked, and I have the play art to prove it. Join me after the jump for a breakdown of the key play and the surprise key player who made it happen for the Broncos.

The fake punt of infamy

Fake-punt_formation_medium

Above, you'll notice the presnap set-up for Air Force's fake punt attempt. The Falcons were facing a 4th and 4 from their own 31-yard line with three minutes left in the half and trailing by six. A fake punt call in this situation is a bold and fairly unnecessary decision, especially since the Boise State punt return team audibled into a "safe" (read: watch for the fake punt, you guys) formation.

You can see the Bronco defenders are evenly dispersed at the line of scrimmage and at the first-down sticks, which is a departure from typical return formations where everyone is on the line. The Broncos are looking for a fake all the way.

So what happens when Air Force goes ahead with its poorly veiled fake punt attempt? The thing works like a charm.

Fake-punt-diagram_medium

The ball is snapped back to punter David Baska who begins a rollout to his right, and his blockers follow suit by blocking as if the play is going that way. Just kidding! Baska tosses the ball forward to wideout MIkel Hunter who runs an end around the other direction. He has two lead blockers paving the way.

Boise State responds rather poorly.

In the diagram above, I've scribbled how the three defenders to the play side react. The inside guy, true freshman Corey Bell, takes a hard upfield rush, blocked to the inside by an Air Forcer. The second guy, an unidentifiable Boise State player, begins a dead sprint the wrong way. The third, J.C. Percy (No. 48), stays home on the backside because he has contain - it's his job to make sure no one gets outside him.

Fake_punt_run_medium

So at this point, the play is going about as well as Air Force could have hoped. The Broncos bit on the punter's fake, some random defender is about 15 yards out of position, and the play is blocked well for a big gain. The two yellow circles are the two Boise State defenders, Bell and Percy. They're the only guys left who can make a play, and Bell is engaged with a blocker and Percy is about to be.

But the Falcons underestimated Corey Bell, probably because he cannot grow facial hair. Big mistake.

Fake-punt-run-2_medium

At this point, Mikel Hunter should have the edge, but the play of Bell (No. 38) forces Hunter to think twice. Remember, Bell took a hard angle upfield and was blocked inside at the snap. The man blocking him (an Air Force jersey number in the twenties, so probably a skill player) had leverage. Bell fought back through the block, drove the blocker to the outside, and pushed his man upfield. Instead of trying for the corner where it looked like Bell was headed, Hunter figured he might have a better chance cutting inside.

Even on the cutback, Bell made a play. He was so thoroughly in control of his blocker that he could have taken him any way he chose. When Hunter did cut back, Bell threw himself and the blocker right in Hunter's path, Hunter tried and failed on a cut back to the outside, and J.C. Percy was there to force the fumble.

The fake punt begins at the 1:12 mark of the below video, and keep an eye on Corey Bell to see some terrific football.

Non-punt-related strategies and notes

  • The big question was how Boise State's defense would line up against the Air Force triple option offense. Turns out, the Broncos didn't play a whole lot different than normal. Boise State used its 4-2-5 personnel with a defensive end switching from a standing up position to a hand-down position. George Iloka played somewhat like a linebacker, closer to the line of scrimmage than he usually plays at safety. The spacing for the defensive linemen was wider than usual, which may have allowed for some easier inside runs.
  • Speaking of inside runs, when we discussed defending the triple option last week, one of the keys was to pick your poison - basically, defend one aspect of the offense while understanding that there's going to be another aspect you won't be able to get to. I felt like Boise State decided to defend Air Force's outside runs and let the Falcons have the fullback dives and sneaks. So yes, a fullback gained 100 yards last Saturday, but it may have been by design.
  • Bronco Nation likes to josh around about Doug Martin's preference to keep the ball for himself on his Wildcat / Wild Hamster plays. He scored on a keeper from the formation on Saturday, but once you see the play design, it's hard to blame him.

Wild-hamster_medium

With two players pulling to the inside, I'm not sure Martin even had a choice on this play. It may have been a Doug Martin dive all the way.

  • Anyone else notice a weird offensive formation with a tackle and tight end split out from the guard and fullback Tommy Smith sitting off the line of scrimmage in the hole between them? I'll draw it up in the coming weeks since we've now seen it a few times in Boise State's gameplan.
  • I like the idea of a Dallas Burroughs deep ball, but I doubt whether he lacks the polish as a wide receiver to chase down those throws. Both times Kellen Moore has overthrown him, but I'd like to see someone like Geraldo Boldewijn take a shot at those passes to see what he'd do with them.

Your turn

What did you think of the fake punt attempt? Glad to see Corey Bell making an impact? Any new formations or plays you noticed? Any questions on Bronco strategy? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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