Defending the Falcon Offense

Sometimes it's called the flexbone. Other times it's called the triple option. It's a type of offense that BYU only has to prepare for once a year, and that's when the Cougars have to face the Air Force Falcons.

Head coach Troy Calhoun of Air Force wants his charges to execute what they do at a high level against opponents that have little time to prepare for their offense. This posses a challenge for any opponent and is why Air Force is always among the nation's leading rushing teams (currently ranked fourth in the nation) despite not having the best talent in the backfield.

"First of all, it's an offense based on discipline and execution," said Jordan Pendleton. "Everybody does their job exactly and they do it really hard, and that's what makes them really successful at what they do no matter who they play."

Generally when teams play each other, they can take the preparation they put in and the knowledge they gained and apply it to future opponents. That's because most teams have similar offensive or defensive facets that allow for the previous preparation to be transferred over. However, that isn't the case with Air Force's offense.

"A lot of teams that we play against, their offensive schemes are the same," said cornerback Brandon Bradley. "That means we don't have to relearn something each week. It's more like a refreshing of something we did last week or two weeks ago. Air Force's offense is ran so well, there is no room for a mistake or they're going to beat you no matter how talented you are on defense. This week we're learning the whole triple option thing all over again just for this game and we have to learn how to match their efficiency, which makes it tough."

"Air Force's offense is different from any other offense we play," said Pendleton. "What happens is your preparation changes because you have to take just a couple of plays that we feel will stop what they do and focus on those things. In the short amount of time you have, you have to focus on doing a few things really, really well to prepare for them. They run the ball 80 percent of the time, and so you have to focus on a few things and be ready to prepare for them in a short amount of time."

When preparing for the Falcons, BYU defensive coaches strip down the defense in a more simplistic manner so that they can erase the fog of war. In other words, they want their players to better execute and avoid getting caught up with all the ways Air Force tries to confuse defenses.

"We have to not get caught up in with all the other things that's going on," said Pendleton. "For us it becomes a matter of us trying to execute and be disciplined with the few responsibilities that we have and not get out of position. If someone else tries to do somebody else's job, you can get out of position really quickly and the play can break for 80 yards downfield."

"This always a pretty interesting game to play," said Bradley. "As a cornerback, this is one of those games where you have to really pay attention to one thing and one thing only. They run the triple option really well and know exactly what they are doing, and it's a lot easier for the points to get mixed up in what's going on and get caught out of position. When that happens, that's when the big plays can occur."

However, while simplifying a defense can help out, it can also be a negative as well.

"They know how to run their type of offense and they do it well," said Pendleton. "That means they know how to adjust to different defenses depending on what a defensive end is doing and what their linebackers are doing. They can switch up on how to block it and that's what makes them successful. It makes it tough because you can prepare for Air Force, but that doesn't mean that what you've prepared for will work because they might have an answer for it already. They're able to execute that answer much better than you've been able to prepare it."

Because the Air Force offense is so unconventional in today's football world, the chess match by opponents is often done on the fly. The Air Force will test the abilities of BYU's defense to adapt.

"They're going to try and come out and show us different stuff obviously," said Pendleton. "If they get a big gain on us, we have to come off the field and say, ‘Okay, why did this happen and how did they block it?' We then have to adjust to them."

When facing the difficult Air Force attack, the magic number is three.

"What we really want to do is not let them get four yards per carry," said Pendleton. "If we can hold them to three yards per carry, then we're good. It's a huge task but we feel like if we can hold them to two or three yards on first down we have a chance."

Doing so won't be easy, as Air Force averages 4.47 yards per carry.

Defending the Air Force Passing Attack

While the Falcons are ranked fourth in the nation at rushing the football, they're only ranked 118th at passing, just ahead of Navy and Army. In 11 games, the Falcon offense has passed 117 times and completed 62 with one interception and seven touchdowns.

"A lot of their passes come off of their run looks," said Pendleton. "You have to get the right reads, and really we want to play the run first because that's what they're good at. After that we'll fall off into the pass, but the main thing is for us to get our run keys first."

"For us as cornerbacks, we just have to stay with the receiver," said Bradley. "We have to kind of forget about everything else. If they run and the secondary can contain, we'll help out when we can."

Reading the run and passing keys against a more conventional offense is much easier than reading those when playing against Air Force.

"With a more conventional offense, you can read the offensive line a lot easier," said Bradley. "You can read the last person on the line and see if it's a run or a pass. Also in a more conventional offense, you can read the quarterback to know if it's a run or a pass, but with Air Force the line is going this way and the ball is going from here to there and the quarterback is going that way while the running back is going this way. All of those things can easily confuse you while the receiver is running downfield. In this game, our focus in the receivers and nothing else."

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