Air Force vs. Navy Preview: AF Falcons Option Wrinkles

The Air Force Academy meets the Naval Academy on the football field, each bringing an inventive rushing attack based on the option. Mark Schofield has a four-part preview of the running game matchup, continuing with the AF Falcons option wrinkles.

Familiarity breeds contempt in college football rivalries, but not when it comes to the service academies. These schools fight on the football field knowing full well that in the future they’ll be fighting side-by-side, for real. But familiarity does make for an interesting match-up on the field, especially when the teams run very similar offenses. Air Force and Navy meet for the 47th time on Saturday, and with both teams at the top of their conference standings, more than pride is on the line in Annapolis.

The Air Force Falcons currently rank #2 in FBS rushing offense, averaging 367 yards over their first three games. Right behind them? The Navy Midshipmen, averaging 363 yards. Each team uses the flexbone as their base offense to create rushing lanes with good blocking angles for their linemen.

In Part 1 of this preview illustrates the core elements of the Falcons’ running game. Part 3 focuses on the Navy option attack. Part 4 looks at what happens when Navy takes to the air. Here we break down the Falcons option wrinkles.

Air Force Run Game Variations

One of the ways the Falcons alter their offense is by running the same basic triple option from different formations. On this 1st and 10 play against Michigan State, Air Force has a 20 offensive personnel group in the game, lined up in i-slot right:CFBPreview5AFAPart2Play1Still1

This is something out of the 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers’ playbook. The triple option goes to the right out of this formation:CFBPreview5AFAPart2Play1Still2

Looking at the defensive front, you can see the dive play to the right is not an option for quarterback Karson Roberts (#16). The playside defensive tackle is head-up on the right guard, putting himself right in the path of the fullback dive. So, absent a stunt as the play begins, the QB is going to keep the ball and work through his second- and third-reads:

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After he keeps the football, Roberts looks to the play-side defensive end. The DE crashes inside on the fake to the fullback, opening up the entire right side of the field. Roberts could have keep the football here, but instead pitches it to running back Jacobi Owens (#28). The decision pays off, as the RB puts a juke on the safety in the open field and picks up the first down.

Diving with the Wingback

Another wrinkle in the Air Force running game is a variation of the standard dive play using a wingback. On the opening play of the game against MSU Roberts the offense lines up in their basic flexbone formation:CFBPreview5AFAPart2Play2Still1

Notice the pre-snap alignment of the wingback on the right, to the top of the screen. He is staggered off the line a few more steps than usual to give himself a better angle on the play:CFBPreview5AFAPart2Play2Still2

The defensive front makes the wingback dive into the A Gap appear to be an enticing option. On the playside, the defensive tackle is on the outside shoulder of the guard in 3 technique, while the defensive end is on the outside shoulder of the tackle in 5 technique. This gives both the playside guard and tackle good angles to seal off the defenders to the outside. The back-side DT is in a 1 technique to the left shoulder of center Alex Norton (#55), giving the C a good angle to wall off the DT to the other side of the play.

At the snap, Roberts hands the football to Owens angling inside. Only a tremendous individual effort from Malik McDowell (#4), the backside DT, prevents this from becoming a bigger play:

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The Toss Game

Option one is almost always the inside run, so Air Force deploys some inventive wrinkles on their basic template that attack the edges. They utilize a few toss plays and are not afraid to call them in any situation and anywhere on the field.

Against the Spartans, the Falcons face 3rd and goal on the one yard line. They line up in their basic flexbone formation, with RB Benton Washington (#24) the wingback on the left. Michigan State has their base 4-3 defense in the game and they are expecting an interior run, given the alignment up front and nine defenders in the box:CFBPreview5AFAPart2Play3Still1

Washington comes left to right in pre-snap motion, and then continues around the end, taking the pitch from Roberts:

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There’s no one home for MSU and the wingback easily scampers into the end zone. But if the Spartans had defenders on that side of the field, both RT Sevrin Remmo (#74) and Owens have pulled out in front, forming a convoy for Washington.

Finally, one  variation of the toss. For this 1st and 10 play the Falcons come out with their 21 personnel, and empty the backfield:CFBPreview5AFAPart2Play4Still1

Washington is again the wingback on the left, motioning into the backfield pre-snap, and then continuing around the edge on the toss play:CFBPreview5AFAPart2Play4Still2

As with the previous toss play, both Remmo and Owens pull out in front of Washington. But now the offense has an extra blocker on this play – tight end Ryan Reffitt (#85) – lined up in the slot. He is tasked with blocking down on the outside linebacker:

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All the blocks come together: Reffit cuts down inside on the OLB, Remmo pulls and seals off Shilique Calhoun (#89), and Owens picks up the play-side safety. Washington cuts inside the block from his fellow RB and picks up an easy 9-yard gain on first down.

Air Force might have a few more wrinkles in store for the Midshipmen when they meet on Saturday, but these are the bread and butter staples of their offense. Navy knows what is coming: They just need to stop it. Given the offense that they also play, the Midshipmen might have a few ideas they can use.

Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.

Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.

All video and images courtesy CBS Sports.

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