What’s the first rule of Fight Club? Don’t talk about Fight Club.
The same rule from the 1999 movie starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton applies to professional development among college football coaches. Colleagues are willing to divulge some of their secrets, just behind closed doors.
Boise State defensive coaches Jeff Schmedding and Spencer Danielson swapped stories with some of their counterparts this summer, and they’ll use a bit of that knowledge when the No. 20 Broncos face Air Force’s triple-option offense on Friday at Albertsons Stadium (7 p.m., ESPN2).
“We talked to quite a few different coaches,” said Schmedding, the defensive coordinator. “And it’s kind of like the CIA ... we can’t say who we talked to.”
Air Force’s triple option isn’t a foreign concept for the Broncos. Boise State (3-0) has played the Falcons (2-0) every year but one since joining the Mountain West Conference in 2011 and leads the all-time series 4-3. But familiarity does little to ease the task itself.
“It’s always a challenge, there’s no doubt about it,” said Schemedding, who has experience coaching against Cal Poly’s triple option from his time in the Big Sky with Eastern Washington. “You have a system that really hasn’t been broken for 100 years, right? It works, and they do a great job with it and they have their unique spin.”
Over the past 10 seasons, Air Force has ranked no lower than 12th — and as high as No. 2 — in the nation in average rushing yards per game. This year’s squad is averaging 353.5 yards on the ground — second only to Navy’s 371.5 — after wins over Colgate (48-7) and Colorado (30-23, OT). The Falcons threw just one pass against Colgate and then completed 7-of-12 passes for 155 yards and two touchdowns against Colorado.
“It’s not just triple option. They actually are very creative in their formations. They’re creative in how they attack each team,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “They try to find, like every offense does, a weakness and try to attack it. ... Offense is about execution, and they execute very well and at a high level, and they do it consistently.”
The Falcons have had success against BSU, including three straight wins from 2014-16, but have been contained in more recent meetings.
“Everybody thinks triple option is three yards and a cloud of dust. That’s not this,” Schmedding said. “They have explosive plays and they rely on explosive plays.”
In the three straight games Boise State lost to Air Force, the Falcons had 13 plays that went for 20 or more yards, including six that went for 40-plus. The Falcons also rushed for at least 287 yards in each of those contests.
In the Broncos’ wins the past two seasons, Air Force has rushed for 181 (2017) and 201 (2018), and totaled just one play of 40-plus. But those yards become a problem, Schmedding says, only when they lead to touchdowns.
“I really don’t care much about yards. It really doesn’t keep me up at night at all. Points do,” Schmedding said.
Referring to facing Cal Poly’s triple option when he was at Eastern Washington, Schmedding said that “even when there were plays that gained some yardage, no one flinched. Nobody flinched, they just kept staying with it and kept points off the board.”
He said it’s vital that the Boise State defense do the same against a bulked-up Air Force team, because if the Falcons’ linemen look bigger on The Blue on Friday, you aren’t seeing things.
An “Adjusted Athletic Assessment” was approved by Air Force in the spring of 2018, according to The Gazette in Colorado Springs, to “alter fitness testing requirements for a select group of cadet-athletes whose sport requires them to maintain weights outside of USAFA standards for athletic performance reasons.” The AAA essentially allows the Falcons’ big men to build strength and weight without having to worry about endurance or weight-based testing, at least until graduation time.
“Their offensive line is extremely talented, physical and quick at the point of attack,” said Danielson, who coaches the defensive line and is co-defensive coordinator. “They’ve always been that way, but this is a veteran crew now. They were good last year and we had a lot of issues up front. They’ve even gotten better.”
Boise State also did not see quarterback Donald Hammond III in last year’s meeting, as he sat out with an injury. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound junior has had a hand in six Air Force TDs already this season.
“He looks like he’s just relaxed back there and you get a little pressure on him, he takes off,” Schmedding said. “He’s a very good athlete. We’ve got our hands full.”
AIR FORCE AT NO. 20 BOISE STATE
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Albertsons Stadium (36,387, FieldTurf)
TV: ESPN2 (Dave Flemming, Jim Mora, Paul Carcaterra)
Radio: KBOI 670 AM/KTIK 93.1 FM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)
Records: Boise State 3-0, Air Force 2-0; this is the Mountain West opener for both
Series: Boise State leads 4-3 (last meeting: Boise State won 48-38 on Oct. 27, 2018, at Air Force)
Vegas line: Boise State by 8 1/2
Weather: 66 degrees, partly cloudy, 10-15 mph wind
Note: Boise State is staging a blackout and wearing black uniforms this week.