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Triple the fun: Can Boise State stop the option?

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Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Just when Boise State seemed to figure out the spread offense, another terrifying offense became commonplace on their schedule; the triple option. Used for years—and to great effect—by the lineman-girth-challenged service academies, the Broncos first got a heaping helping of the triple option in 2011 when Air Force came to Bronco Stadium and lost a hard-fought contest by 11 points. It was the first time Boise State had really played against the option in that iteration and it was to be expected that they were slightly behind the scouting curve on the oft-infuriating scheme. There were a slew of knee injuries in the game and the Broncos surrendered 264 yards on the ground. Not that bad, really...but when you're used to rushing offenses getting shut down, it was a bit eye-opening to see a team that was picking up first downs on 3rd and 15 by RUNNING the ball.

2013 signaled a hope that Boise State had made sense of the wacky offense, when they defeated Air Force by 22 and allowed just 188 yards to the Falcons on the ground. Then, of course, Boise State's coaching staff underwent a significant facelift, the least of which being Marcel Yates filling the booth space previously occupied by Pete Kwiatkowski. To say that Yates first intro to the triple-option (which New Mexico had decided to run in the meantime) was trying would be an understatement—it was an outright disaster. First Boise State went to Colorado Springs and laid an ostrich-sized egg...losing to Air Force in rather spectacular fashion. The Bronco defense, in that one at least, was not entirely responsible for the 28-14 loss...no, in that one the Broncos laid the template for this season's Utah State loss by turning the ball over 7 times, but still...the Falcons racked up nearly 300 yards on the ground and kept the ball out of the hands of the Broncos in between back-breaking turnovers.

Okay, but we won't make that mistake again and that type of turnover fest is bound to happen only every 30 years or so (this is an example of dark humor). Not so fast! Boise State strode into Albuquerque to take on the hapless Lobos last season (after a bye week, no less) and left town with what I'd describe as the ultra-rare "moral defeat". In other words, the Broncos lost the battle but somehow won the war, after surrendering 505 rushing yards and 6 rushing TDs. Yes, FIVE HUNDRED (and five) yards! To put that into perspective, in Boise State's first SEVEN games of 2015, they've surrendered 541 yards. That's not just amazing, that's downright demoralizing. I'm sure to a man (or woman), Bronco Nation would rather surrender that many yards—if not more—through the air every single game, than take that kind of medicine on the ground. So why is the triple option so effective, and why do some teams have little trouble stopping it? Well, first we have to look at how you SHOULD stop the triple option and then you can discern why we, well...don't have the best track record against it.

In this treatise about Georgia Tech's version of the triple-option from 2008, the writer discusses some of the finer points of the offense and details how, ideally, one would go about neutering it. The first thing on his list is also the most important thing to keep in mind...the offense is predicated on the quarterback making the right read during the play, not before. So, defensively, there isn't much Boise State can do pre-snap to throw New Mexico off, and "showing blitz" would just invite scoffs from the Lobos because that's what they WANT you to do. Blitzing is a bad idea because the option attack relies on leveraging unfilled gaps and overpursuing defenders.

Defenses have to play their assignments and limit big gains on 1st down. That seems like a defensive focus every week, but it's even more important against the triple option. You aren't gonna blitz, they aren't gonna throw (much) and you'd better get off your blocks and wrap up. It's unlikely the Lobos will find much daylight in the "A" gap, but you still have to fill it without committing all your defenders to it because once that gap is shut down, the QB has the option to kick it outside or lateral again at the last moment based on what he sees from the defense. The defense has to play as a unit, and they have to play smart, sound football. Even one misstep by a defender could draw others out of position and result in a big gain. Again, this would seem to hold up in any game, but trust me, it's more glaring against option attacks (preaching-to-the-choir alert).

To last year's debacle—most of the big gains were attributed to poor tackling at the point of attack or poor positioning—the latter caused by being overly aggressive, for the most part. Here's the bright side: Marcel Yates has the world's greatest case study that's been sitting on his DVR since November 8th of last season (unless his wife erased it to make space for the Dancing with the Stars finale). The yards are going to come...some on down-and-distances that will make you pull your hair out, but the defense has to trust their coaching and play within themselves or the next play could very well be an 80-yarder...and y'know what? That's not fun. And if the Broncos can't stop it this weekend—after a bye week and with a house or horrors in the film room—the Air Force game the following week won't be a revenge game, it will be a wake.