We discussed on Wednesday the power running game of Air Force's triple option rushing attack so now we have to discuss how to defend it. Going into Saturday's game there are a couple of things that OU fans need to know before they get to the stadium or turn on the TV. First, defending the triple option isn't as easy as it looks. It is a unique offense that the Sooners won't see again the rest of the season. It also has a knack of leaving defensive backs and linebackers in isolation coverage where one wrong read or a bite on a play-fake can lead to a big play. Second, the Falcons are going to get yards. Defending an offense like this requires a bend but don't break attitude. They're going to have some success on the ground but the Sooners need to keep them out of the end zone.
The key to defending the triple option attack is defending first down. If the Sooners can stop the Falcons to little to no gain on first down and force a second and even third and long then they'll drastically change the options that Air Force has for play calling. To do that, though, the Sooners have to have the right scheme and play assignment football.
Blitzing is typically a bad idea against the triple option because a good quarterback can read it and make you pay for not having a guy in the right place. So now we're talking straight up football so assignment and tackling become top priority. Oklahoma is going to have to play close to the line of scrimmage to stop the ball which puts you in danger if something gets behind you.
5-2 Defensive Alignment
One way of accomplishing this is to run a 5-2 set (Oklahoma typically runs a 4-3) which means putting five down linemen on the ball and having just two linebackers. You'd also bring the safeties up to play run support and leave your corners to cover tight ends or receivers.
Again, assignment is key so here we go. The safeties want to play off the hip of the man closest to them. This should remove an option from the quarterback because he won't pitch to a man with a defender directly on his hip. The risk of a fumble is too great in that case. This is why its important to play the assignment and not chase the ball because the second the safety steps away from the pitch man to attack the ball the pitchman will be gone down field with the ball. The defensive ends, tackles and nose guards are lined head up with their offensive counter parts with the nose guard directly over the ball. The ends crash off the hips of the guards and the tackles crash off the hips of the offensive tackles and the nose guard has to read the play and cover the A gaps. If everyone plays their assignments the all of the gaps are covered along the interior of the line.
Then we move to the second and third levels of the defense where the linebackers and corners are. The linebackers also key on the run play by following the running backs. If the running back is on their side of the ball then they mirror him until they get to the corner. At that point hopefully the safety steps in to take the running back and the linebacker is left one-on-one with the quarterback. This is where the sure tackling comes in. The linebackers will also have man-to-man pass coverage on the running backs.
Finally in the third level of defense the corners are left in isolation to cover the passing game man-to-man. They will draw any assignments with receivers and tight ends. If Air Force were to commit more than two players to running "dummy" passing routes then it takes away a key blocker in the option attack and leaves them exposed. Chances are that if they run more than two receivers then it is a legitimate pass and most likely one of the safeties draws the assignment.
Now that's not the only way to defend the triple option but it is a way and what Oklahoma does on Saturday will be some sort of variation off these principles. What they want to accomplish is being successful in these defensive keys.
Speed the game up for the quarterback - Get quick penetration into the backfield and force the quarterback to make quick decisions. Of Oklahoma defensive line can consistently blow the Air Force line back then they'll force the pitch or the hand off to happen prematurely and then we'll looking at potential for loss of yards on every play.
Create a guessing game - Like I said, that's not the only way to defend the option attack and Brent Venables knows a lot more about coaching defense than I do. Have the tight ends and offensive line guessing who they need to block by changing around some of the assignments. A great way to accomplish this (and something that Venables is very good at) is lots of movement before the snap.
Hit, hit and hit - The quarterback, fullback and tailback/halfback need to be hit on every play regardless of whether they have the ball or not. Bone jarring hits are the way to force turnovers and remember that on just about every option play the ball will be transitioned from one player to another while running at full speed. If they're looking for the person who is delivering the blows then they're going to miss the ball.