Death by a million tiny cuts: Surviving the Air Force triple option

Ethan Miller

Triple the fun.

The Broncos get an early taste of conference action on Friday night when the Falcons of Air Force visit The Blue. It should be an exciting ESPN-ready matchup, but if you are excited about this game...well, you shouldn't be. Air Force employs a deadly brand of football known in most circles as the "triple option", and watching it is like watching a rhino being dropped by a swarm of bees. Boise State, deservedly or not, has developed a reputation over the last decade as a "tricky" team...or at least one that employs a rather deceptive offensive scheme (whether we're still that team is open for debate with Robert Prince). However, the triple-option is predicated on deception and misdirection, and I dare say, Air Force runs it better than anyone in the country. So, are we doomed? In a way, yes.

Our own Kevan Lee wrote a lengthy treatise on the subject before the Falcons visit in 2011, so hop in the OBNUG time machine and read his piece (complete with diagrams!) if you want a more in-depth look at the death by degrees Air Force will lug into Bronco Stadium Friday evening. In the meantime, I'll tell you what you're likely to see this weekend and what you're unlikely to see. I doubt you'll like either very much.

In all likelihood

Air Force will get their yards...many more than you'd like.
In Boise State's last meeting with the Falcons (a 37-26 Bronco win), the Broncos were still stacked with defensive experience and talent with names like McClellin, Crawford, Iloka and Winn. The Broncos gave up 264 rushing yards in that matchup, and allowed Air Force to successfully convert 4-of-5 4th down conversions...which leads us to this:

Air Force will convert a lot of 3rd and 4th down tries they have no business converting.
This is inevitable. It takes sure tackling, discipline and teamwork to shut down Air Force's onslaught...Boise State's 2011 defense was barely up to the task (heck, eventual MWC champ TCU allowed 250 rushing yards to the Falcons as well) and this year's defense lacks the experience, sure-tackling and whatever other thing I mentioned.

Air Force's offensive attack will be less potent than in 2011.
The 2011 Falcon squad may not have won a lot of games, but QB Tim Jefferson was a polished passer and runner and ran the triple option to perfection. This season's version lacks Jefferson's star power, but also that of starting QB Kale Pearson, who tore his ACL in the opener. Backup Jaleel Awini struggled in the passing game against Utah State and may elect to keep things on the ground...something still lethal to the Bronco defense in 2013 without performing the basics.

Cut blocks are happening. Watch your knees, everyone.
The Falcons obviously have to employ a more novel offensive scheme to gain leverage on their opponents, but they also have to get creative with blocking techniques to negate the fact that their lineman are undersized by Division 1 standards. It makes sense, really...how many 300 lb. guys can fit comfortably in a cockpit? Still, the cut blocking can be a nuisance for opposing defenses and we'll see our share of gimping lineman in this one...hopefully not for more than a few plays.

Don't get your hopes up

Blitzing not a main course.
Demarcus Lawrence should be returning to the lineup, but sacks aren't on the menu. Boise State will rarely, if ever, deploy many blitzes on Friday night as they elect to keep the Air Force attack firmly in front of them.

Eat your clocks.
Quick 3-and-outs aren't something generally on the menu for Air Force. Just when you think you've got them stopped, they get just enough to extend their drive and then gash you on the next play. In 2011, the Broncos looked to have the game in control out of the gate before the Falcons went on a 90-yard, 17 play drive that ate up nearly 8 minutes of clock. On that game-tying drive, the Falcons converted a 4th down, a 3rd and 9 (they ran for it) and another redzone 3rd down try. That kind of drive can be demoralizing...but:

Relatively low score
Don't expect the Broncos to score a ton of points. We saw on Saturday that the Broncos can score in bunches, and Utah State was able to drop a fifty-burger on the Falcons last weekend. This is not the norm against Air Force. The triple-option not only chews up yardage, but also the aforementioned clock...if the Broncos can't turn drives into points, we're playing right into Air Force's hands.

Take heart

Take the novel Air Force offensive attack out of the equation and the Broncos have several advantages on Friday night. The biggest one should be home field advantage, where the Broncos are lucky enough to play the Falcons on their own turf for the 2nd time in our two meetings. The 2nd would be that for all AFA's yardage-chewing prowess, defense is not their strong suit. Last weekend, the Falcons allowed nearly 600 yards to the Aggies at home. The Broncos should be able to put points on the board with our tuned up offensive attack. Thirdly, the Falcons slow pace is their trump card when the other team doesn't get points on the board, but if they face an early deficit, they are forced out of their comfort zone and will feel the need to score quickly, which generally means putting the ball in the air. Screen passes may very well play into this, in which case, we should all be a tad worried, but the Broncos won't be giving up many deep balls. I think we win this one, but I'll be happy to have this game in our collective rearview mirrors..

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