You’ve got to be pretty pleased through three games with the way your guys are playing.
“Three really unique challenges. Obviously Florida with their ability, and despite them having two top-notch players out they still have a lot of firepower and I thought we did a good job going into that environment for our first trip on the road. That was kind of the piece that I was most concerned about was young guys on the road for the first time, how were we gonna respond? Obviously things didn’t quite go our way in the beginning but stayed really even-keeled. Just kind of kept playing the game, stayed in the moment, and kept executing at what I thought was a very, very high level. We really kept the pressure on the quarterback, so that was week one.
“Cincinnati really did a good job with their rub routes. I don’t know if that’s the legal term but I think that’s what the offensive guys call it, rub routes. They did a good job with the screen game. I was unhappy with a couple of the blocks but the reality is those tunnel screens are tough and I gotta do a better job in making sure we’re ready to play those.
“And then flip your hat, and I really tip my hat to my guys: Tuesday and Wednesday we took 230 snaps of option football. The gameplan was called on the line of scrimmage because they’re a team that has certain formations where they’re going to run the triple and other formations where they’re not gonna run option football, so everything’s all on the line of scrimmage getting called and I think we had one error. That was pretty good.
“But three different, unique challenges. The piece that’s really stuck out to me through the first three games is we can run, now. We’re pretty fast, and we get off blocks and run to the football as well as any group I’ve been around. That’s kind of a good thing. Forget the scheme and all that nonsense. It’s when guys can get off blocks, run to the football, and one of the things that doesn’t go unnoticed, at least from my perspective, is I think we’ve tackled really, really well. Sometimes early in the year that’s not always the case, but it has been the case for us for the first three weeks.”
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Is this another unique challenge, would you say, coming up on Saturday?
“Um, you know, kind of back to what we’re used to. They’re a spread offense but I know Coach talked about they like to throw it all the time—they look fairly balanced to me. They’re running the ball pretty good, they’re doing running backs by committee, they know what they’re doing up front in terms of the blocks and the concepts they’re trying to run.
“Couple that with they’re gimmick crazy. I mean, they’re [whistles] whiit-whiit-whiit-whiit. So obviously that’s gotten our attention and our discipline, and they throw the ball very well, which is his history. They’ve played extremely well here early in the season. Dimantled Missouri.”
When you say gimmick, what do you mean exactly? Just try to fool you, trick you?
“Reverse, double reverse, pass, flea flicker, give the ball to the back, flip it back, see if you’re being disciplined down the field. They got it all. They got it all. If there’s a trick play out there—I don’t think Coach has seen a trick play he doesn’t like. So, they’ve actually rolled out, thrown the ball back to the offensive tackle behind the line of scrimmage. Keeps your attention, that’s for sure. And really good for us, because we really have to stay disciplined in our keys and reads.”
You knew these guys could run, you knew they were fast and athletic, but how much did you learn about their IQ last week?
“Well, last two weeks. Cincinnati presented a different challenge than Florida. Obviously they had a chance to see us on film for a week, so there were some challenges there. They got the ball out as fast as any group I’ve played getting the ball out, but still we were able to—I don’t know what it was, four sacks, I think, with 17 quarterbacks knockdowns. So, we still got around the, but boy, that ball was coming out quick.
“Then you go to the triple. Huge undertaking, and we had really one major gaffe. They brought #1 back inside, they brought him back out into motion, the corner should have hung onto him, the safety should have spun high, we ended up 2-on-1 over there and no post player. Everything else was pretty much squared away, but that’s on me. I didn’t do a good enough job of presenting that to them during the practice week. That’s the one play that you watch the tape and obviously pens and pencils are going off the screen when I see the play. But when you put it all together, holding that outfit to somewhere around 230 yards is no small achievement.”
But as a young group, it seems they’re absorbing information at a high level.
“High level. High level. The way Coach sets this thing up, in preseason you get quality meeting time, so by the time—and believe me, coming to a meeting, sitting there and taking in material is an art form. I mean, what’s important to me as a player and being able to absorb that information, write it down, take notes, watch the tape, listen to the coaches, and take that information, it’s really critical. Really critical to learn how to do that.
“Now we’re in season and the meeting times are shorter and you’ve got to crunch the material in, but our guys know how to absorb so it’s really a tip your hat to the players [thing]. Last week, again, like on Tuesday and Wednesday, we asked them to run to the football in practice, and when you have 230 reps in two days, that’s a lot of running. Then Thursday you try to be a little more—take it off them physically, stay sharp mentally. Friday, the same, then go play the game 100 miles and hour Saturday, and I felt we achieved that.”
We talked about how unique an offense Air Force has, but are there things you can take from that going forward is it really just kind of a one-off thing?
“Well, no, I think there’s some things, especially in the non-option formations. I’ll be honest, though: we’re glad we don’t have to play them again. [wipes hands together] Whew. Because it really takes you out of your element, you know. Getting ready to defend that outfit and getting ready to defend the other 11 opponents is a difficult task, because everything is…it’s different.
“It’s dive, quarterback pitch. Block the dive key, replace for him, quarterback pitch. It’s counteraction. It’s unbalanced formations, get the extra guy over there, pound your head against the wall, make it split. All those things are just really difficult tasks, and then you know what we are, we’re a go-get-‘em defense. It’s a completely different deal.
“Now, the good thing that we were able to do against them was when they got into those non-option formations, we went and got ‘em. There’s no doubt about it. We were making a call every time and if they gave us a non-option formation Mike McCray checked it on the line of scrimmage and we went to work, so that’s really kind of a credit to him because he was kind of making the checks for me as we went along.”
Rashan was here the other day and said that you really haven’t opened up the defense yet and it’s scary what’s left. What is left?
“Oh, we got a lot left. We played a lot of three-down in the first week and when you break something out of the box and it’s working well, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist: hey, that’s working pretty well, let’s keep doing it.
“We were a little more diversified in week two, and then week three the whole element was put three big guys up there to stop the fullback, which is a piece that goes completely unnoticed in that game. They always hand the ball to the fullback and the guy ends up gashing you for like 40. Never happened. So, those three guys up front did an outstanding job and the flow backers. Then you’re dealing with the quarterback, and the one thing that we did do is force him to run the ball a bunch. If you look at his carries as opposed to the pitchback’s carries, we said ‘Hey, come on, try to beat us.’ Just some of the interesting elements inside that gameplan.
“Now we’re back to rush ‘em on third down, play balanced defense on first and second down, be ready for the screen game, be ready for gimmicks. It’s kind of back to normal football. Those service academies can wear you out, and it doesn’t just wear you out for that game, it wears you out for the next one. It’s nice to see us, we were all on our feet and practicing yesterday.”
To the untrained eye it looks like Chase Winovich has been kind of a Dude. Can you talk about the way he’s playing?
“He’s really playing at a high level. Just couldn’t be happier with him. He makes a play [where] they run the reverse, we’re a little unclean on the first one, he’s kind of down inside and just takes off hauling you know what and runs the guy down for about an eight yard gain. Really big play in the game because it was a red zone play. It kept us alive in the red zone, because if that goes in the end zone that’s really not what we’re looking for. So, we were able to on the next play throw them for a loss, on the next play the big sack by Devin and force the field goal.
“But he’s playing at a high level. He’s rushing the passer. The thing that he’s doing is he’s playing the run game at such a higher level than he ever played it a year ago. He’s much more physical. He’s great at the point of attack. He understands what blocks he’s getting and responding that way.”
Have you ever been surprised by Chase in that he kind of bounced around and how he’s picked up D-end?
“I don’t know. You’d have to ask probably coach Mattison. Since I’ve been here that’s all he’s ever been. He’s been a natural fit for us. He’s fast, he’s physical, he’s relentless. He can use his hands to rush the passer. He’s got a unique way of turning the corner on people. I’m really happy with the things that he’s doing.”