Editor’s Note: We are always looking for new contributors and new ways to showcase our service academies here at Against All Enemies. One of the new ways we want to be able to do just that is to give you a more insider perspective and breakdown on the intricacies of running an option offense each week. This is the first in what will hopefully become a regular series from a couple of new contributors who have experience playing in and coaching the option. As always, feel free to give us any feedback or suggestions below!
Army vs VMI
Army was able to exploit VMI’s lack of discipline in defending the triple option all game long. The Keydets often had two men playing the same player on the option, which allowed Army to run their base play often and to perfection. The Black Knights were also much more physical at the point of attack and it paid off over the course of the game with an explosive second half and a season-high in rushing yards.
Let’s check out some of the highlights:
The first play is a long run on triple option by QB #1 Jabari Laws. Army is in their Double Flex formation which brings the receivers in tight, right next to the offensive tackles, giving them great blocking angles for running against a loaded box. VMI counters with a 7 man front with the two corners walked up on the line of scrimmage. This is the first example of undisciplined play from the Keydets. Both the defensive end and cornerback crash the dive to fullback #25 Connor Slomka, making an easy read for Laws. #83 Zach Saum blocks the playside linebacker and #5 Kell Walker is able to arc to the playside safety. Laws is now off to the races for a big gain for Army.
For VMI, this trend would continue. On Walker’s TD run at the 1:32 mark, both LBs to the playside take Army QB #8 Kelvin Hopkins Jr., leaving Walker all alone on the edge. At the 2:27 mark, two Keydet defenders play slotback #16 Malik Hancock, which opens a huge lane for Hopkins to take it in for the score.
At the 0:36 mark, Army executes a beautiful counter play for a big gain. They are in their spread formation, which is the classic flexbone look. This is an excellent play call by the Army offensive coaches as the defensive end to the near side lines up very wide. Army fakes option to the left while guard #63 Jake Baumert and tackle #60 Alex Herndon pull around to the right. Baumert kicks out that wide defensive end and Herndon leads Hopkins up through the massive whole the Black Knights have created. The entire VMI defense flows with the fake and receiver #14 Michael Roberts dominates the Keydet cornerback downfield, leading to a 42 yd run.
At the 3:27 mark, the Black Knights line up in Heavy Flex. The right tackle comes over to the left to create a heavy side and Saum replaces him in a 3 point stance on the right. The receiver to the playside comes in tight to give Army 5 blockers at the point of attack as they run Down G. Left guard #73 Jaxson Deaton pulls and kicks out the DE, creating a seam for Slomka to walk in for the score.
Lastly, shoutout to Army kicker #1 Landon Salyers forcing a fumble on a kickoff. #ForTheBrand
Navy at Notre Dame
In a top 25 matchup that many expected Navy to keep tight with a methodical rushing attack, the Mids put themselves out of the game early by turning the ball over to a team that they couldn’t afford to give good field position to. Notre Dame relied heavily on their athleticism and loaded up the box, daring Navy to block their pass rushers and throw the ball downfield. Because of their athletic advantage, the Irish were able to put a lot of bodies on the line of scrimmage and play man coverage, which forced Navy into uncomfortable situations in the backfield.
This is what caused the Mids problems until the game was well out of reach:
At the 3:01 mark, Navy is trying to run a reverse out of Double Flex to receiver #13 Chance Warren. Notre Dame has a 6 man front with a defender lined up in every gap to take away Navy’s fullback running game. This is actually a good call by the Navy play callers in an attempt to get the ball on the perimeter against an aggressive defense. However, the speed of the Irish front causes havoc on the exchange. Midshipmen right tackle #71 Billy Honaker attempts to block down on on the defensive tackle in B gap to secure the edge. However, #53 explodes past the block and hits Navy QB #10 Malcolm Perry as he’s pitching the football, causing a fumble.
At the 4:17 mark, the Midshipmen offense puts the ball on the turf again. Notre Dame has their safeties playing man coverage on the slot backs to get bodies to the football when Navy sends them in motion (you can see how effective this can be at 7:15). In response, Navy runs a counter play out of Heavy to try to get an advantage to the wide side of the field. Perry sends slotback #20 CJ Williams in motion to the right and then runs a counter option play back to the left. Right guard #73 Peter Nestrowitz pulls to block the defensive lineman, but he doesn’t get there quickly enough. The bad timing between Nestrowitz and Perry causes them to run into each other as Perry attempts to get upfield and the ball comes loose.
Navy QB #6 Perry Olsen attempts to pitch the ball to slotback #23 Myles Fells at 12:32 on a counter option play and Notre Dame turns it into a defensive touchdown. Looking at this play, it seems that the defender #13 surprises Olsen with how quickly he’s in the backfield and it throws off the timing of the exchange. The pitch isn’t as fast as it needs to be and it floats for the defender to snatch and take to the house. That being said, this is just a ridiculous play by the Irish and why coaches always say “You can’t teach speed.”
This game was a prime example that triple option football requires all 11 players to execute. The academies run the offense because they have smart but undersized players who can beat more athletic opponents by making fewer mistakes. Unfortunately for Navy, the mistakes and lack of execution during the game made fumbling a major issue against a lightning fast defense.
Air Force took advantage of Colorado State’s aggression in stopping the run to open up the passing game. The Falcons had decent success running the football early, but were unable to find the endzone. When the Rams started to commit more defenders to the run game, Air Force used the scheme against them to score on several downfield strikes.
Here are some great throws that led to scores for the Falcons’ aerial attack:
We see the first Air Force touchdown at 1:07. While timing is critical for an offense, it’s also important for the defense. The Colorado State linebackers all step up anticipating the run and are unable to help the secondary in coverage. This opens a window for Falcons QB #5 Donald Hammond III to find #20 Benjamin Waters on the seam route. The free safety tries to make a play on the ball, fails, and the result is Air Force getting on the board for their first score of the night.
Hammond’s second passing score of the night is at 1:32. Again, the Rams’ commitment to stopping the run burns them for a long touchdown. Air Force draws up a crossing pattern against Colorado State’s man coverage. The linebacker’s blitz, leaving a void just beyond the line of scrimmage for Hammond to find WR #7 Geraud Sanders on the shallow route. Crossers in man coverage are great because they create a natural pick play for the defense to contend with. Sanders catches the ball, turns on the jets, and leaves several CSU defenders tripping on each other on the way to the endzone.
The last touchdown through the air is at 2:11. Hammond fakes the rocket toss to the right, which causes the playside safety to fly upfield to play the run. The Falcons execute a Switch concept with the playside receiver and slotback, putting the corner in a serious bind. In man coverage, he stays with the receiver on the sluggo route, leaving Waters wide open on the boundary running the wheel route for his second touchdown catch of the game.
Throughout the game, Air Force showed off why the academies often lead the country in yards per completion. Defenses have to decide when and where to take chances to stop option with their secondary. When they guess wrong, good option teams make them pay like just like Air Force did three times.
This weekend, Army gets the week off while Air Force travels to New Mexico to take on the Lobos and Navy hosts #21 SMU.