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Published: Friday, 9/7/2012

Triple option to test Michigan's discipline


ANN ARBOR -- It's not how you react to the triple-option offense. If you're a defender in college football, it's how you respond.

When the Michigan football team's defense lines up Saturday against Air Force, it will face an offense that's not just befuddling. It's calculated. And it's a hallmark of Air Force football.

If you're defending against the triple option, it's a matter of making educated decisions instead of knee-jerk reflexes. It's a matter of each player maintaining focus on a specific assignment.

Michigan hasn't faced Air Force since 1964, so there's no recent collective familiarity. Michigan defensive end Craig Roh can't think of an offense he's faced in college football that's similar to Air Force's.

The last time Roh played against a team that ran anything like the triple option? His junior year of high school.

"They really test your mental toughness," Roh said of Air Force. "You have to key your man and do your responsibility every time. I think why Air Force chose this offense is because they're a very disciplined team. They're going to run their offense very well. It's an equalizer."

The triple-option offense essentially gives its quarterback the option to run or to hand the ball off either to the fullback or the tailback, in addition to the option of passing the ball. Those decisions hinge upon how a quarterback reads the defense on each play. In the case of the Falcons, who play a no-huddle offense, each decision almost comes on the fly.

"They give you a lot of looks," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. "Different formations. There's a lot of window dressing that goes along with it."

Roh had a simpler way to describe the triple option: "Mass chaos."

In a 49-21 win over Idaho State in its season opener, the Falcons thrashed their Football Championship Subdivision opponent for 484 rushing yards on 58 carries -- the highest number of rushing yards in the nation after opening weekend.

"We're still a tailback, zone-running football team," Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. "That's certainly what they [Michigan] see a bunch throughout the season.

"We're going to run our play-action passes off those zone runs. There's got to be an awful lot of tie-in with a large number of opponents they'll play this season. We're a toss-sweep, zone-run football team. That's what we do."

Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said that defending against the triple option requires sound technique and assignment -- something he said the Wolverines lacked in Saturday's 41-14 loss to Alabama. Against the Crimson Tide's pro-style offense, Michigan gave up 446 yards (247 passing, 199 rushing).

"We're going to have to be on our 'A' game on defense, there's no question," Mattison said.

When it comes to preparation, Mattison said the responsibility of simulating such an offense relies on the performance of the scout team leading up to the game. Junior receiver Joe Reynolds, whose high school team ran the triple-option, has been commanding the scout team at quarterback.

"When we win this football game, it's going to be because the scout team gave us a great picture," Mattison said. "That's always the case when you're playing a wishbone. That scout team can win or lose a game for you by how they give you a great picture all week in that kind of offense."

But, Hoke said, Michigan' scout team might never come close to replicating the pace or complexity of Air Force's offense.

There's no absolute way to prepare for it.

"If you put aside the smoke and mirrors and window dressing, and focus on what your key is, wherever it might be, then you've got a chance," Hoke said. "But if your eyes aren't where they need to be, if you're not physical at the line of scrimmage, then you're going to have problems."

FALCONS LOSE CENTER: The Colorado Springs (Colo.) Gazette reported that Air Force center Michael Husar injured his ACL and MCL in last weekend's win over Idaho State and is lost for the season. Husar's father, Michael, was an offensive lineman at Michigan from 1984 to 1989.

Contact Rachel Lenzi at: rlenzi@theblade.com, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.

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