Sooners prepare for different attack: Air Force's option offense
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Writer
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
9/15/10 at 11:03 AM
Correction: A Wednesday Tulsa World sports story incorrectly stated the site of the Brigham Young-Air Force college football game last week. The game was played in Colorado Springs. This story has been corrected.
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NORMAN - Oklahoma's defense is gearing up for a unique and dangerous opponent that leads the nation in rushing the football by almost a hundred yards per game.
"It's totally different," said defensive coordinator Brent Venables.
It's Air Force, and this isn't your daddy's Academy.
The Falcons still run the option (boy, do they run the option). But the wishbone is a thing of the past.
Picture this: Barry Switzer's rushing output combined with Gus Malzahn's unlimited formations combined with Kevin Wilson's up-tempo pace.
No. 7-ranked OU faces Air Force on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. in Memorial Stadium, and hardly anyone is looking forward to it.
"Gimme Texas. Gimme somebody else," said linebacker Travis Lewis. "No, I don't want to play an option team. I'm a traditional 4-3 linebacker. I want to play, not think. But against this team, you've got to do both."
After scheming for Utah State's kitchen-sink offense and Florida State's pro-style spread, the Sooners now face a ground game that churns out rushing yards with assembly-line speed.
"If you think our offense runs fast," said football operations man Merv Johnson, "wait until you see theirs. It's just, 'bap-bap-bap-bap!' "
The Falcons average 50 points per game and rank second nationally in total offense (546.5 yards per game), with most of it (423) coming on the ground. Georgia Tech's option attack ranks second at 331.5 rushing yards per game.
Running back Asher Clark averages 102.5 rushing yards per game. Fullback Jared Tew, whom Lewis calls the team's most dangerous player, averages 71. Quarterback Tim Jefferson, OU coach Bob Stoops said, is an efficient triggerman who averages 172 yards per game total offense.
Coach Troy Calhoun (27-14 since taking the Air Force job in 2007) was a college assistant for 15 years, an NFL aide for four years and a 1989 Academy grad. Calhoun has refurbished and remodeled the ground excellence of former coach Fisher DeBerry, who helped guide AFA to an NCAA ranking of ninth or better in rushing yards in 28 of the last 29 seasons.
Lacking in elite size and speed - left to right, the Academy's starting offensive line this season weighs 255, 265, 250, 280 and 255 - Calhoun's mission is to deceive the opponent, to outthink them and outflank them.
"This is a team that's gonna bring a lot of different formations, a lot of different motions," Lewis said. "They just do a lot of weird stuff that in my years we've never seen before.
"They don't care if they pick up 3 or 4 yards a play, they just are gonna continuously pound you and pound you and pound you and wait until you make a mistake and then, boom, there goes a 40-yard run."
It's discipline and precision - a military operation at its best.
"They're creating seams," Stoops said. "It's your job as a defense to see where they're creating them and how to cancel them. And where they're trying to position you and block you, who's leveraging you where, cancel that gap. It's all mental as much as it is physical."
Said OU safety Jonathan Nelson, "The option is a tough read for just about anybody. You can't play the option by yourself. You just have to make sure that if you have the pitch, go straight to the pitch man. Don't even worry about the quarterback. If you have the quarterback, go straight to the quarterback. Because if you get to second-guessing and look at more than one thing, that's when the option takes over."
The Sooners worked on aspects of all their non-conference opponents (and a little bit on Texas) during training camp, but spent particular sessions scheming to defend Air Force.
Last week, the Falcons throttled BYU 35-14, amassing 409 rushing yards and 424 total. This year's BYU defense has six returning starters and plenty of others who held the Sooners to 265 total yards in last year's stunning upset over OU in Cowboys Stadium.
"They just do a lot of different stuff to jack you up," Lewis said.
Air Force makes its living by rushing the football on offense, but the entire team has the same makeup. Wilson has seen tendencies from the defense suggesting that, like their offensive counterparts, they won't back down on Saturday.
"These guys are trained to go to war. They're not sissies, now. They're trained to kill people," Wilson said. "They play hard, fast, violent. They fly around. They're a bunch of white hats with that little bolt on the side flying to the ball."
Original Print Headline: Different attack
John E. Hoover 581-8384
OU's Jamell Fleming tackles Florida State's Jermaine Thomas on Saturday in Norman. Fleming registered four tackles and an interception Saturday, a significant part of OU's improved defense. STEPHEN PINGRY/Tulsa World
Air Force running back Asher Clark averages 102.5 rushing yards a game, part of a Falcons offense ranked second nationally in total offense. JACK DEMPSEY/Associated Press
OU's Tony Jefferson takes out Florida State QB Christian Ponder. STEPHEN PINGRY/Tulsa World