( Editor’s note: From now until the beginning of the season, CBR will periodically preview 2012’s “danger games.” Think Oklahoma St.-Iowa St. from a year ago or Oregon St.’s upset of USC in 2008 – those unassuming match-ups most likely to trip up the power teams. We start with a nasty surprise for the Michigan Wolverines in the second week of the season.)
Part of the beauty of football is watching 11 separate pieces filling individual roles come together in one cohesive whole. When executed correctly, nothing embodies that spectacular coalescence with the coordinated elegance of the triple option. And for unfamiliar foes, it is arguably the most bedeviling offensive scheme to prepare for.
This year, the supposedly up-and-coming Michigan Wolverines have one of those sticking-out-like-a-sore-thumb dates on the schedule. The Air Force Falcons travel to Ann Arbor in the second week of the season and look to be bringing a whole heap of trouble with them.
Even when the cadets don’t have a great team, they still manage to move the ball successfully on the ground. They routinely finish in the top 10 nationally in rushing yards per game. It’s not a matter of just “compiling yards,” either, as Air Force has ranked in the top 15 in yards per carry in three of last five year.
Option-based offenses are not only tough to defend. They’re also tailored perfectly to the classic upset formula: Milk the clock, limit turnovers and try to catch the defense napping on occasion with a big play.
Schooling their players in the art of defending the triple option will be difficult enough for Michigan coach Brady Hoke and his defensive coordinator, Greg Mattison. Compounding that challenge, the Maize and Blue will be coming off of an opener against none other than the defending national champions, the Alabama Crimson Tide, in a made-for-TV matchup at JerryWorld. Aside from the emotional letdown, the aftermath of the Tide’s physicality is one of those unquantifiable factors that hangs with a team a week after the fact.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, Hoke’s teams have had his fair share of struggles stopping the triple option. In his last four games against its pracitioners, his defenses have allowed 521 yards (Ball St.-Navy 2007), 346 yards (Ball St.-Navy, 2008), 243 yards (San Diego St.-Air Force, 2009) and 312 yards (San Diego St.-Air Force, 2010) on the ground.
Want one more curveball? The Falcons run a funky 3-4 base defensive scheme that brings blitzers from a plethora of angles and can generally ruin an offensive line’s afternoon.
Michigan surprised the nation in Hoke’s first season, leading the Wolverines to catch a whole lot more steam this offseason. We’ll find out pretty quickly if UM is a team on the rise in its opener with ‘Bama. We’ll know even more about its mental make-up a week later when Air Force comes to town.