"[The Falcons] do a lot of veer option and do a lot of variations off of that," said Cougar defensive end Jan Jorgensen. "It's their basic play and they try to do a lot of misdirection or play action pass. It's mostly stuff off of that to try and confuse and create a lot of havoc off of that and get the defense going one way while the ball is going another way slowly but surely down the field."
On any given play the ball could be in the hands of any of three particular players: the quarterback, fullback or tailback. Jorgensen talked about how a team must defend against the triple option.
"The key is stopping the fullback," Jorgensen said. "When you can stop the fullback it really makes the offense more one-dimensional. If you can't stop the fullback when he's getting four or five yards per play, then you're in trouble. The key to stopping their offense is stopping their fullback."
The defense is at a disadvantage due to the flexibility of the option attack, which is designed to attack undisciplined players or blown assignments. The Cougars have to be disciplined, focusing on their personnel and individual assignments up front. In a kind of football twist of irony, the defenders can't focus their attention on simply trying to locate the football in the backfield.
"The key is not to watch that," Jorgensen said. "All of us have our individual keys that are blockers and guys that are going to go out and block. For me, it's the tackle and that's who I'll be watching. For other guys it may be a specific back, so you can't get caught up in all the junk that's going on in the backfield. You have to focus on your individual keys and go off of that."
The Falcons have lost quarterback Shaun Carney and all-purpose back Chad Hall from last year. Stepping behind center is freshman Tim Jefferson, who is just the fourth starting freshman quarterback in school history and has a 5-0 record since becoming the starter.
"There isn't really too much of a difference in style of play there between [Carney and Jefferson]," Jorgensen said. "Carney was a competitor and he ran that offense to perfection. He had it down and knew the ins and outs of it, so he ran the option part of it perfectly and he also threw the ball well. So as a freshman quarterback to come in, [Jefferson's] done a good job. He's not quite to the level of where Carney was, but he's done a good job of picking it up and trying to fill those shoes."
The quarterback has to be both quick and smart in order to be effective. He has to be able to read if his offensive guards has blocked or chipped the defensive tackle well enough on his way to the linebackers before handing off to the fullback. The key for triple option, or veer option, quarterback is to have the ability to quickly process this quickly and affectively. The task would be a difficult challenge for any freshman quarterback.
"I think it would be incredibly difficult [to be a freshman quarterback in that offense]," said BYU quarterback Max Hall. "I think of when I was a freshman down at Arizona State, I don't think I could have come in and ran even that style of offense, absolutely not. They do run the ball a little more, which might make it a little easier, but you still have to do all of your run checks and be good with the ball. It says a lot about a kid who is a freshman and is staring as a quarterback. He's a good football player."
In Falcon head coach Troy Calhoun's first year, Air Forced utilized more of the passing game mixed in with the option. Carney's ability to pass the ball gave the coaches more options and made the AFA offense multifaceted. However, due to the youth and inexperience of the Falcon offense this year, the coaches have simplified the offense.
"They've gone back more to the old Air Force," Jorgensen said. "Last year they did a little more shotgun spread offense and ran the option from that formation, where they gave Carney more freedom to throw the ball. This year they're not doing that and are back to the old Air Force option offense."
"Less passing, but when they do you'll see that most of the guys are wide open, and that's where they get most of their points," Coach Mendenhall said when describing the Falcon offense this year.
Because the Air Force offensive linemen are generally smaller than most defensive tackles, the Cougar defensive line will have to deal with a blocking technique used by the Falcons called the "chop block," where the offensive linemen are blocking at an angle towards the defenders' legs. Coach Mendenhall said the Falcons block very well and are very effective with the tools that they have.
Although the defense will mostly see the option attack, a great test of discipline will be how well the Cougar cornerbacks maintain their focus on coverage assignments. They must not become complacent in regards to defending against the passing game, because they can then be beaten downfield.
"As a cornerback, it's most important for us to focus first on the pass," and Andrew Rich. "That's going to be our first responsibility. With Air Force, they like to run and run, then go over the top of you with the pass. My key is to first cover the pass and make sure that if a receiver is cracking down on someone else, to obviously come up on run support. But first and foremost, my responsibility is pass, pass, pass, because they'll run it consistently and then run a gadget play. It's something that we've kind of struggled with this year and we need to step it up. We're expecting them to try and run those kinds of plays, so we have to be ready for that."
The cornerbacks will have the mindset of pass first and run second, and will be better able to read the type of play being ran based on the tendencies of the receivers. The cornerbacks will play off the receivers in order to be able to better gauge those tendencies, and to do so more quickly.
"We'll probably play with more depth and further back," Rich said. "Their receivers block well downfield and will cut you. It's just another thing we have to be aware of and it's going to be a tough game. They play hard and we have to be really disciplined to beat them. They have a little bit of everything. They have a mix of finesse and physical receivers that they use."
Freshman defensive end Matt Putnam gives Cougar fans his scouting report on the Falcon option attack in the audio interview below.