Defensive coaches always make it sound so simple even while their voices quiver. To stop offenses that run the triple option, all 11 defenders must do their job and their job only.
Boise State coach Bryan Harsin, a former offensive coordinator, went one step farther.
“I tell ’em, just tackle the guy with the ball,” he said.
Defensive coordinator Marcel Yates chuckled at his boss’ suggestion.
“Yeah, most offensive guys see it that way,” he said. “But he’s right. That is true. That’s the key. The hardest part about these guys is once you figure out who has the ball, that person is a great athlete.”
The Boise State football team will face the Mountain West’s pair of option-oriented offenses six days apart at Albertsons Stadium — Saturday against New Mexico and Nov. 20 against Air Force.
Last year, the Lobos rushed for 505 yards in a 60-49 loss in Albuquerque — the most rushing yards ever allowed by Boise State. The Falcons rushed for 287 yards and beat the Broncos 28-14 outside Colorado Springs.
First up: The Lobos who scored 42 first-half points last year but never have beaten the Broncos.
“If one guy is out of his place, they’ve got guys that understand this offense and how to make it work and they’ll make you pay for it,” linebackers coach Andy Avalos said. “So it’s really going to come down to our discipline as a whole, which is awesome, because it gives us a great challenge. Games like this you’ve got to prepare yourself and create that confidence within to make sure you’re looking at the right thing.”
The Broncos received a break from the schedule this year that could help them succeed against these unique offenses. They were on a bye last week, when coaches inserted option work into all four practices.
The offensive schemes are different but the defensive principles will carry over.
“Against this style of offense,” Yates said, “you have to harp on everybody being in the right gaps. You’ll keep hearing that from me because that’s the answer. I don’t have any great scheme I can tell you. You’ve got to fit your gaps. You’ve got to have good eyes.”
At least three issues can cause a defensive breakdown:
▪ The misdirection and ballhandling by option teams can trick the eyes. “Smoke and mirrors is what the triple option is,” junior linebacker Ben Weaver said. “It’s basically getting one guy to not do his job. That’s the tough part: Can you be disciplined for 80 plays?”
▪ The formations, and the quarterback’s ability to run, can give the offense more blockers and ball carriers than defenders where they want to run if the defense doesn’t make the proper adjustments. “The difficult part is accounting for the numbers in the run game,” Avalos said.
▪ And even when the defense does everything right, plays often lead to a 1-on-1 matchup between runner and tackler. Missed tackles are even more painful than usual. “You’re going to be playing in space a lot,” sophomore linebacker Joe Martarano said. “They have some fast guys. We’ve got to work on tackling all week and put that to use in the game.”
“It’s easy to watch it on film — you have a slow-mo button, a pause button,” Yates said. “Once you get on the field, they’re running the offense full speed. You can see how it’s hard for guys to necessarily do their job at times.”
Yates installs a new defensive scheme for option teams because the responsibilities are so much different than against a traditional offense. Last year against New Mexico, he said, he tweaked that scheme during the game and asked the players to do things they hadn’t practiced.
“It was happening so fast and in chunks,” Yates said. “As a coach, you’re trying to stop the bleeding basically. ... I made a mistake. I started to change up our defense and we did some stuff we hadn’t worked on during the week, which actually hurt the kids a little bit. That was on me.”
The Broncos have struggled against option teams since joining the Mountain West in 2011. Against these Air Force and New Mexico offenses, they’ve allowed 1,874 rushing yards (312.3 per game) and 19 rushing touchdowns in six games.
Against all other opponents, they’ve allowed 113.2 rushing yards per game and 61 rushing touchdowns in 56 games.
“A lot of the triple option focuses on singling out one person,” Weaver said. “There’s 11 people out there. There’s 11 responsibilities. When you play a traditional offense, a lot of times it’s just the whole defense playing hard and playing fast and rallying to the football.”
The person targeted varies by play. And the Broncos know full well what happens if that guy doesn’t execute his assignment or is looking the wrong way.
They still have their memories of last year’s trip to Albuquerque.
“Not fond ones,” Weaver said. “Ones I don’t like to remember, but stuff we definitely reflect on and use to get better this year.”
Plenty of options
Here’s how Air Force and New Mexico have fared running the ball against Boise State. Stats are listed as carries-yards-TDs (yards per carry).
Not an option team
New Mexico at Boise State
▪ When: 8:15 p.m. Saturday
▪ Where: Albertsons Stadium (36,387, FieldTurf)
▪ TV: ESPNU (Mike Corey, David Diaz-Infante)
▪ Radio: KBOI (670 AM), KTIK (93.1 FM); Bob Behler, Pete Cavender
▪ Records: Boise State is 7-2, 4-1 Mountain West; New Mexico is 5-4, 3-2.
▪ Series: Boise State leads 6-0 (Broncos won 60-49 in 2014 in Albuquerque).
▪ Vegas line: Boise State by 30