LARAMIE – Upon hearing the term, all Wyoming defensive coordinator Jake Dickert can do is look down and shake his head.
The triple option: an unescapable reality the Cowboys (7-4 overall, 4-3 Mountain West) face just once a season. But when they do, it’s always a headache. The rest of the Mountain West Conference can attest to that.
The constant pre-snap motions. The (legal) cut blocks. The inevitable bleeding of the clock. The triple option has been a signature staple of Air Force (9-2, 6-1) for years now. But it doesn’t make it any easier to face, even if you know what’s coming.
“It’s hard,” Dickert said. “This isn’t just triple-option. This is multiple formations, multiple motions, multiple sets. To be lined up and be sound, I think, is very difficult. And that’s the challenge that they always pose.”
The Falcons are second in the nation in rushing with 304.4 yards per game. That’s nothing new, as Air Force has ranked in the top 10 in rushing every season since 2014. What is different, though, is the added threat of a dynamic passing game. Quarterback Donald Hammond III has thrown 12 touchdown passes to just five interceptions. Against New Mexico last weekend, Hammond threw for 327 yards and four touchdowns on just 10 pass attempts.
Air Force’s offense is always difficult to stop. But it’s even harder when the Falcons have their most prolific passing attack in a few years.
“It’s a challenge because it is so unique. And they recognize that. They’ll do certain schemes that hardly anybody else does,” UW head coach Craig Bohl said. “One of the reasons why they’re able to be successful is the guys that they have in the academy are disciplined. … They’re very physical, and they have a clear plan.”
Air Force has three different running backs with 650 yards rushing or more. Taven Birdow, Kadin Remsberg and Timothy Jackson have a combined 2,238 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns. Add in Hammond, who has 456 yards and a team-best 10 rushing touchdowns, and the Falcons’ offense provides one of the toughest challenges in college football. Their mission is to wear you down.
Air Force is No. 8 nationally in time of possession per game, holding onto the ball for an average of 33 minutes per game. Only San Diego State ranks higher in time of possession per game in the Mountain West.
“They control the ball, and their defense rests. I mean, there’s a lot of things in the formula of how those guys want to play,” Dickert said. “(It’s) kind of been perfect for them this season.”
So, how do you stop an avalanche? Maintain your assignments, even when it’s hard to. It’s about trusting what you see and knowing that your teammates will do so as well, according to redshirt junior defensive end Garrett Crall. Last season, Air Force ran for 362 yards in a 35-27 Wyoming victory in Laramie.
“It’s about having your eyes disciplined. We just talk about ‘Do your job,’” Crall said. “Trust your teammates. That’s often football for you … focus on what you have, keep your eyes right.”
Saturday should be a display of strength on strength. Air Force has a premier rushing offense. UW has the No. 7 rush defense in all of college football, surrendering 93.7 yards per game on just 2.69 yards per carry. UW has held seven of its opponents to less than 100 yards rushing.
Seeing an offense like Air Force’s is admittedly a headache, Crall said. But it also is a chance to see something different and, in a way, there’s excitement in that. In an era of Air Raids and spread offenses, the triple option is a breath of fresh air, even if that air is trying to suffocate you.
“I think it’s kind of fun to switch it up and get out of, like, the normal offenses,” Crall said. “I think it’s kind of fun … it’s different than what we see every day. So that’s kind of a new challenge.”
Michael Katz is a writer for WyoSports. He can be reached by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MichaelLKatz.