Michigan faces one of football's most distinctive offenses, the Air Force triple option, this weekend at the Big House. To get an idea of how the Falcons operate on both sides of the ball, I went back and watched their matchup with Notre Dame from last season, a 59-33 victory for the Irish. How can Michigan slow down the powerful Air Force rushing attack and take advantage of their 3-4 defense? Read on for the breakdown.
Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? None of the above. The option offense deserves its own category. Air Force operates primarily out of the flexbone and I-formation, and the design of their offense revolves almost entirely around the threat of the triple option.
Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? Both, actually. The option requires linemen, backs, and receivers to carry out a very specific set of blocking assignments, and those change depending on the defensive alignment: Tremendous has a great breakdown of when Air Force goes zone and when they utilize "veer" blocking—the rule of thumb is they go zone against 7-man fronts and veer against 8-man fronts. Air Force—whose starting linemen weigh an average of just 255 pounds—also requires their players to cut block like they're the '98 Denver Broncos. Mind the knees, boys.
Hurry it up or grind it out? A new category this week, as it was an oversight to not include a section on the pace of each team's offense. Air Force rarely huddles, utilizing a fast tempo (61.4% adj. pace in 2011) and a variety of formations that they run with the same personnel to catch defenses off guard and keep them from making substitutions. Here's an example from the Notre Dame game; Air Force runs a fullback dive from the flexbone, then quickly transitions to their triple-stack I-form and gets a big gain from another fullback run:
Just 22 seconds elapse from the time of the first snap to the second snap, yet Air Force is able to run from two entirely different formations while utilizing the same personnel group. It's paramount that the defense get their plays in quickly and communicate between snaps or the Falcons will eventually break one big.
Quarterback Dilithium Level (Scale: 1 [Navarre] to 10 [Denard]): Falcon senior QB Connor Dietz started three games as a redshirt freshman in 2009 and has otherwise served as a backup until this season. He did see the field some last year, averaging 6.6 yards on 38 carries, and rushed for 74 yards and a touchdown on seven carries in Air Force's season-opening win over Idaho State. The Falcons produce system quarterbacks and Dietz fits that mold; he isn't an elite athlete, and in an offense that relies on ruthless execution that doesn't prevent him from amassing some pretty impressive stats. I'll give him a 6, which turns into a functional 7-8 when the offense gets rolling.
Dangerman: The beauty of this offense is it doesn't rely on any one player to bear the load—14 Falcons tallied at least one carry against Notre Dame, 11 against Idaho State. If I must choose a focal point, however, it's running back Cody Getz. The flexbone formation features a fullback—or "B" back—lined up behind the quarterback, with two wing-backs—"A" backs—on the end of the line, a step back from the line of scrimmage:
Getz is one of those "A" backs (SB in the graphic above)—he's usually the pitch option and often motions into the backfield before the snap. While he rushed for just 102 yards in 2011, he's already surpassed that total in 2012 after picking up 218 yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries in the opener. At 5'7", 175 pounds, Getz is by no means big, but he's a senior well-versed in the system and has the speed to make teams pay for giving him the edge.
Zook Factor: Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun—a former Falcon quarterback under the tutelage of Fisher DeBerry—knows his team must play aggressive to overcome size and talent deficiencies, and therefore will never be confused with Ron Zook. In just the first half, the Falcons go for 4th-and-2 the ND 32, attempt a surprise onside kick, go for 4th-and-2 from their own 42, and successfully fake a punt on 4th-and-6 from their own 35.
After one half of football, I'm already a huge fan of Troy Calhoun.
It's no secret that Air Force will run, run, and then run some more. Last year, they ran 81.9% of the time on standard downs (national average: 60.0%) and 61.1% on passing downs (33.3%). The offense is designed to get positive plays on every down and stay "ahead of the sticks"—maintaining reasonable down-and-distance situations so the run is still the primary threat. Air Force finished in the top 37 nationally in all three advanced rushing stat categories (S&P+, Success Rate, PPP+) and were a top-60 offense, but on passing downs their efficiency plummets near the bottom of the national rankings. The key to stopping the Falcons is forcing them into obvious passing situations; this is, of course, much more difficult than it sounds.
The basic play of the Air Force offense is the veer option. Fisher DeBerry's entire 1998 Air Force playbook is available online; this diagram comes straight from its pages:
Before the snap, one of the "A" backs (in this case, the one on the left) motions into the backfield, arcing behind the fullback and into a pitch relationship with the quarterback. The first read is the dive to the fullback, and if option coaches had their druthers this is where the play would go every time. If there isn't a crease for the fullback to run through the A gap, the quarterback pulls and heads for the edge, where he'll read an unblocked defender—in this case, the right defensive end. The quarterback can keep or pitch it outside to the "A" back.
[For the rest of the breakdown, hit THE JUMP]
News bullets and other important items:
- Taylor Lewan is fine.
- Blake Countess has not had his ACL surgery yet.
- WR Joe Reynolds is simulating the Air Force QB.
- Courtney Avery will start at corner. No final decision on Fitz yet, but he'll probably start.
- The player receiving the Oosterbaan jersey has basically been chosen.
Oh Taylor you're so fine, you're so fine you blow my mind, hey Taylor.
“Thanks for coming. Game week’s going well. Thought we had a good practice yesterday. Thought we were physical. Thought we had a great tempo. Did a lot, had to learn a lot. You’re playing a new offense and they’re unique defensively at the same time because of some of the 30 stuff that they do. We have a good work day again today. They’re a good football team. Troy’s always done a good job. [I] have some familiarity with the Mountain West from playing them. They’re always going to be a team that plays 60 minutes, and they’re going to run and be disciplined in what they’re doing on both sides of the ball, so we’ve got to be at our best.”
(After the jump, Hoke discusses Air Force, the secondary, tight ends, weight loss, twitter, and health)
[Programming note: UFR is coming today, but later than usual, say 4 or 5. For some reason I'm having trouble summoning the willpower to slog through all of it.]
Sponsor note. You may be driving in for the Air Force game and wondering where you will park. It hangs over you like a great dark cloud: where will my friends be? Will I have to walk through miles of jungle to get to them? Where did all this jungle come from anyway?
Well, skip that bit. Park 'n' Party solves those issues by organizing gameday parking. You can park next to your buddies, no intervening jungle. You can reserve a space just where you want it. You can do all of these things. Bonuses this year:
- A dedicated RV lot, plus RV spots at Fingerle Lumber.
- Event planning with Zingerman's and MGoPatio folk.
- Five bucks off Golf Course parking as long as you're in the Thursday before gameday.
Air Force parking awaits you. Soon they will debut a 2.0 website. Soon.
Holgo. I know they hate our guts and went all ex-girlfriend on us when Rich Rodriguez left, but I can't help but want West Virginia to tear the Big 12 up. They're weird, passionate, isolated from all recruiting hotbeds that are not Pittsburgh, they've got a history of putting up video-game numbers, and their coach says stuff like this:
I don't think it would go well if we hired that guy (learning: I has it), but I'll admire them from afar.
I am not sure you are up on recent events. Air Force coach Troy Calhoun on Michigan:
"There are a handful of programs in college football that are guaranteed at least 10 victories every season," Calhoun said, "Michigan is one of them. They clearly are the favorite to win the Big Ten Conference."
I'm imagining a world where this is literally true. I'm so happy, in this world. I wear sunglasses all the time and high five anyone I come across. I make pancakes a lot just so I can put a whipped-cream smiley face on them. If my car breaks down, I exclaim "aw, shucks!"
I chew bubble-gum nonstop.
my watch says it is STAB O'CLOCK
How did this not end in homicide? Serious question:
The misery wasn't over for some fans of the No.8-ranked Michigan Wolverines on Saturday night at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington when their team took a 41-14 pounding at the hands of then-No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide.
Many who planned to catch a taxi for the return trip to their hotels or other lodgings after the nationally televised football game were in for a long wait. Some complained of standing in line with dozens of other fans and waiting as long as two hours for a cab.
Beer + that game + two hour wait for cab == STABBY STABBY STAB STAB. The local news channel interviewing these folks says this lady is not mincing words!
Michigan fan Elizabeth Jahn minced no words. "If there's a system, and this is where the fans are supposed to be stationed and situated, that should be communicated to the cab companies," she said.
That lady minced those words, TV station. She took those words and made them tiny and even by chopping. If she was not mincing words she would have said "I STAB YOUUUUUUU."
Alphabetical. Spencer kicks it off by talking about how Alabama owned Michigan. At least we're not alone:
Again, it is not a Big Ten thing: disabuse yourself of that notion immediately, Michigan fan. The last thing we want you feeling is special, because what happened to you on Saturday night in Dallas was not special. Slightly different than in past years? Perhaps: Doug Nussmeier's offense appears to be a bit more happy to turn A.J. McCarron loose, particularly in early innings, and the defense didn't pressure so much as constrict Michigan into tiny, useless spaces turning Denard Robinson into a doomed sub captain. Depth charges: Alabama has them
Unfortunately, his assertion that no one died does not account for the Countess injury. Sad face.
Bubble popping? I've muttered about how college football fans are getting close to the breaking point for a while now, and Pat Forde has just documented an opening weekend that was an attendance bust all around. I was shocked at more than one of these factoids:
There was exactly one announced capacity crowd in eight Southeastern Conference home openers. Before the Labor Day Georgia Tech-Virginia Tech game, six out of seven Atlantic Coast Conference schools had smaller crowds than their openers last year – some of them much smaller. Attendance was down at six out of eight Big 12 home openers from 2011. Five out of eight Pac-12 schools had smaller crowds as well, and Oregon's 13-year sellout streak was in jeopardy until game day.
I saw the Florida-BGSU game and was shocked at a corner of the endzone in the upper deck that was all but empty. Even the bluebloods are reaching their limit.
Michigan doesn't seem to have similar problems except when it comes to getting the students to show up on time, but they should benefit from this trend. They may have already after snagging one-off home games with Oregon State and Colorado in the near future. Would those have happened ten years ago? Probably not. Increasing ticket prices and the ubiquity of television are pushing the economics of college football back towards actual games between teams. Tomato cans aren't going away but we should see them gradually recede from their boring-ass apex. High five, epic ongoing recession!
O’Bannon seeks a judge’s permission to expand the class action to include current D-I football and men’s basketball players. O’Bannon does not ask that current players be paid while in college. Instead, he wants a temporary trust set up for monies generated by the licensing and sale of their names, images and likenesses. Players could access those trusts at the completion of their collegiate careers.
The O'Bannon plan sends half(!) of broadcasting and a third of video game revenue to the players. Even partial success here would be seismic. I'm in favor, obviously.
Austin Hatch to 2014. Everyone in the world speculated that Austin Hatch would take another year of high school after his tragic plane crash, and now that's official. He's a 2014 recruit now.
Michigan is now at 13 for next year's team will have open spots if Hardaway or Trey Burke head for the NBA, which is why they're still after some 2013 guys. The most prominent is Reggie Cameron, a 2.0 version of Smotrycz hopefully without the existential depression.
As for Hatch, if he doesn't recover to the point where he can play, Michigan will still honor his scholarship. Presumably they would give him a medical; I'm guessing in this situation the NCAA would provide whatever waivers would be necessary lickety-split.
!?!?!?!? Touch the Banner interviews JB Fitzgerald, and he says this!
(3.) If you had to choose, who was your favorite coach at Michigan, including position coaches?
"So many great coaches I had the privilege of learning from, which I expected going into a program like Michigan. Two coaches really stand out. First, Greg Robinson - truly a class act and the depth of football knowledge that I was able to gain from him is hard to put a price on. And then of course Coach Hoke."
Air Force stuff. Via mgovideo:
MVictors: As one of the representatives of Bennie Oosterbaan family, did the athletic department reach out to you to ask if the family would be interested in participating in the Legends program?
McCready: Dave Brandon contacted me last September to see what I thought of the Legends program. I loved the idea. He and asked if I could put him in touch with members of Bennie’s family. I was happy to put Dave in touch with Bennie’s surviving relatives (8 in all), most of whom Bennie and his wife Delmas were very close to throughout their lives. Dave sent letters to all of them. Every member of the family responded to Dave that they loved and supported the Legends Program and the "unretiring" of Bennie’s jersey.
McCready wants Jordan Kovacs to wear 47, which nooooooooooooooooooo.
Seriously, though, as the guy who famously hauled in Benny Friedman's passes, I'd hope Oosterbaan's 47 goes to a wideout. 47 would be a lot more notable on a WR than a defensive player, and Michigan already has to throw Gerald Ford's #48 to someone other than a lineman due to modern-day number restrictions. The Wisterts' #11 should end up on the DL somewhere; Ron Kramer should obviously be given to a TE.
Etc.: Quality diary featuring Hall and Oates. A dinged Rex Burkhead does not need surgery. He may be out a bit but should be fine by the time Michigan hits Lincoln. Texas A&M is going to get pwned. This Week in "John L Smith must stay forever": prank-calls reporter at presser. Comprehensive M blogosphere Alabama react collection. To his credit, Dantonio says MSU players need to shut up.
Site notice: "Museday" (at times also known as "Musenesday" and other things), is now and hereafter "Hokepoints." Because football is about having more points. Get it?
So we noticed something when doing that pre-season draft-o-snark thing: The receivers in our conference kind of suck. More accurately I should say that there are precious few proven wideouts coming back this year. Here's what the receiver draft board looked like, not counting RBs, TEs, or moonlighting defensive backs and whatnot:
|Jared Abbrederis||WIS||6'2||188||JR*||66.6||17.0||8||20 (Brian)|
|Keenan Davis||IOWA||6'3||215||SR||59.4||14.3||4||26 (Ace)|
|Kofi Hughes||IND||6'2||210||JR||44.7||15.3||3||41 (Seth)|
|Kenny Bell||NEB||6'1||185||SO||35.5||14.4||3||57 (Seth)|
|Kain Colter||NW||6'0||190||JR||35.2||10.7||3||74 (Ace)|
|Jeremy Gallon||MICH||5'8||187||JR*||34.9||14.6||3||65 (Seth)|
|Roy Roundtree||MICH||6'0||180||SR*||27.3||18.7||2||97 (Seth)|
|Kevonte Martin-Manley||IOWA||6'0||205||SO||24.9||10.8||3||84 (Brian)|
|Devin Smith||OSU||6'1||196||SO||22.6||21.0||4||103 (Ace)|
|DeAnthony Arnett||MSU||5'11||170||SO||20.2||10.1||2||22 (Heiko)|
|Kyle Prater||NW||6'5||215||SO||0.6||6.0||0||11 (Heiko)|
|Devin Gardner||MICH||6'4||203||JR||-||-||-||19 (Heiko)|
|MarQueis Gray||MIN||6'4||250||SR||-||-||-||60 (Brian)|
They're listed here by yards per game, which Mathlete says is a better gauge for receivers than hype. But however you rank them, we took many transfers and QBs before even considering the myriad Keenan Davisii who played Avant to the Braylons of departed McNutts. And by the end of the draft most of the available options were assorted Boilermakers dudes with about 30 ypg.
Whence all the receivers in our once receiver-rich league? A few theories to test:
- Higher than normal attrition: Graduations being a relative constant, were there more juniors departing of the NFL, transfers, etc. than usual?
- Comedown from riches of 2011: Maybe the best receivers last year were inordinately productive, leaving little opportunity for the rest. Test by % of production not returning vs. previous years.
- Cascade effect from recruiting shortfalls: Perhaps there was a league-wide lull in receiver recruiting in '09-'10 that we're not feeling the effects from.
- Quarterbacks: the more they run the less they pass: This one's obvious but the conference has gone more spread-to-run, even at the top programs, meaning there's a lot fewer opportunities for WRs to show what they've got.
We dig in after THE JUMP.
MGoQuestion: If you had to play Alabama again, what parts of the game plan would you keep that worked well Saturday? What parts would you want to change?
“Very little would I change. Very little. Almost none. But that’s probably harder to grasp because of the way we executed. The game plan didn’t look very effective, but the whole thing was geared to if they loaded the box up, we were going to throw the ball. If they left the box light, we were going to run it. We ran the ball into a light box 12 times and had plus-four runs three times out of the 12. And we hit two out of 10 shots down the field. So the other alternative is to plus-one run with the quarterback. We did some of that, too, but they weren’t going to let you do that. As much as you wanted to give that a shot, that wasn’t going to happen. No one’s done that to them. Look at the numbers in the past. No one’s done that to them.”
(After the jump, Borges answers questions about Denard, Denard, Devin, Denard, and Air Force but does not answer a question about bubble screens.)
“Well, first of all, you saw the game, and obviously we weren’t pleased as a defense. A lot of things we stand for and the things we set out to do each year, we weren’t successful in a number of those situations. The biggest thing is missed tackles. We can’t have that in our defense. We had way way way too many missed tackles. And another thing that led to missed tackles as you watched the tape was we had missed techniques. We’re not good enough right now to be able to not play perfect technique, and when you don’t play great technique, somebody’s going to have to make an open field tackle or somebody’s going to have to make a tackle that you hope the ability of everything to stay inside and in front would take care of. That’s really a lot of what happened in the game.”
(After the jump, Mattison talks about the secondary, Alabama's offense, linebacker technique, Air Force's offense, and the defensive line)