Friday, September 11, 2009

Old School is New School

Stop me if you've heard this already, but apparently the Gophers will play on campus tomorrow in a brand new outdoor football stadium. No really, they are. I think you may be able to find an article or two in the local dailies. What's tougher to find? A scouting report on Air Force. And no, I'm not going to make the "Ground Force" joke, if only because other people thought of it before I did. But seriously, Air Force brings in the old-school wishbone triple option offense, which is going to be a doozy to stop. They thankfully don't have the athletes that Georgia Tech does to run their wishbone offense (if you haven't had a chance to see Tech yet, do yourself a favor and check them out next time they're on the tube. They've looked like 1980's era Nebraska out there. Head coach Paul Johnson is building a monster!), but it doesn't mean they're going to be cake to stop. I'd say they're at least on par with the athletes another service academy has, which would be Navy, who was THIS close to knocking off the Buckeyes in Columbus last week. And as much as I love our defense, we don't have the size or speed on D that Ohio State does, so if they had problems with the wishbone after having all summer to study it? Well, let's just say I'm more than a little nervous about the game Saturday.

Fuller's story in the PP which I linked to above talks all about what the Falcons will bring into The Bank tomorrow night. As he mentions, they racked up 576 total yards last week, 474 on the ground. The Gophers defenders he interviewed for the story like Lee Campbell and Kim Royston say all the right things about how to defend it, but saying it and then doing it on the field are two different things.

Tough to find much else on Air Force since they're a Mountain West school and a service academy, there's not exactly a ton of blogs or sites dedicated to them. The Colorado Springs Gazette has a good blog, and the guy who writes it, Jake Schaller, did an interview with that sheds some more light on what to expect from the Falcons.

While this will probably be the last option offense the Gophers will see this year, this is NOT "a nearly extinct" offense, as Fuller calls it. Yes, few programs run it anymore, but as the Gophers and others are starting to move away from the VERY trendy spread back to a more traditional offense, you're going to see more teams moving back to the wishbone option, or some variation of it, too. Navy and Air Force use it because it maximizes what you can do when you can't recruit the best of the best. There's so much misdirection and it relies so much on isolating defenders that you don't need the 300 pound behemouth lineman or a 6'5 laser rocket arm Peyton Manning-type QB. Running backs are growing on trees these days, and as we've seen with the spread, athletic QB's are too.

Andy Staples of has an excellent article about Tech's wishbone, and explains why it's been working so incredibly well for Coach Johnson so far, and why it can still work for other schools. His Yellow Jackets are ranked 15th in the country already, and with a win over a solid Clemson team last night, they're sure to move up again. Yes, it helps to have the best running back in the country in Jonathan Dwyer, but Tech's still having good success in a BCS conference without reeling in top 10 recruiting classes. In that same piece, Staples links to a post from Smart Football about just how difficult defending the wishbone is, even with today's athletes. He also goes on to poke holes in the reasons why almost everyone has gone away from a once dominant offensive system.

One is that kids don't want to play in an offense that isn't used in the NFL: that's ludicrous because while the "Wildcat" fad has started in the NFL, you're not going to ever see a full-blown switch to the spread option style that's swept college football. Yet you're still seeing plenty of players drafted from those offenses. If your team is successful (except at QB), you're going to get noticed no matter what offense you're playing in.

The other seems to be that even intelligent football people believe that today's defenders are too big and fast for the option to work anymore: well this one couldn't be further from the truth either. I've used this example before, but nowhere is there a better example than what Tech did to Georgia last year in their yearly day-after-Thanksgiving meeting. The Dawgs have a defense full of future NFLers, and highly touted recruits. They're an SEC defense that are as about as big and fast as it gets (Florida and LSU excluded of course, but you get the idea), with superior athletes all over the field. So why and how did the Jackets beat a Bulldog team 45-42 that was at the time ranked 11th in the country while rolling up 409 rushing yards on 7.3 yards per carry? Because kids today are less disciplined than ever, and tackling has never, EVER been worse.

Just as the Gopher players interviewed for Fuller's story were saying all the right things about how to stop the option, you know Georgia coaches were beating the same ideas into the heads of their defense all week, and I'm sure their players were saying all the right things the week leading up to the game. STAY HOME! CONTAIN! DON'T OVER RUN THE PLAY! STICK TO YOUR ASSIGNMENTS! And what happened on game day? Play after play after play where Georgia defenders missed their assignments and then missed tackles. Tech was getting the isolation on defenders it desired as they ran up and down the field all afternoon. Not only that, but even when Georgia was in position, their kids (just like everyone else's) were missing tackles because they were going for that "WOOOO!" hit instead of doing the boring, fundamental, SUCCESSFUL form tackle and wrapping up. I don't know if coaches today aren't spending as much time on tackling drills or if kids are just ignoring them wanting to lay out running backs and receivers like Troy Polamalu or Ray Lewis does, but tackling in our game has never been worse at all levels.

So the more coach Johnson and his Jackets win, the more obvious and acceptable it's going to be to other coaches that the old school wishbone offense can be as successful today as it was in the glory days, and that if you're trying to turn a program around and can't get the elite athletes the big boys get, the wishbone option can be just as, or even more successful, than the newfangled spread option. Old is new again. Let's hope the Gophers are prepared for it tomorrow.

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