December 28, 2009

Texas Bowl: Navy's triple threat

There was a time when Missouri prepared for the triple option seemingly every single week. From 1970's through the early 1990's, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Colorado ran the triple option consistently. Each ran their way to at least one national title. But none of the current Tigers has ever faced a triple option offense. It is a scheme limited mostly to Georgia Tech and the service academies.

"When you see it on film, it's kind of scary at first," Missouri linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said.

With the Navy Midshipmen looming in Thursday's Texas Bowl, the Tiger defense has spent the last three weeks in a crash course on defending the triple option.

Assignment. That's the word that will come up more than any other when preparing for the option attack.

"It comes down to doing your assignment," said defensive end Brian Coulter. "There will be certain plays where you have to take the fullback, even if you see the quarterback take the ball and there will be certain plays where you have to take the quarterback, even if he gives the fullback the ball. Once you start guessing at defensive end, that's when they get you with a quick one up the middle."

Option number one is the fullback. The quarterback, in this case Navy's Ricky Dobbs, will turn to handoff to the fullback on a dive play. Dobbs will either give the ball to Vince Murray or pull it out and keep it himself. Weatherspoon says stopping the fullback is the top priority for the Tigers.

That assignment, largely, falls on the middle of the Tigers' defensive line.

"Defeat the cut block would be my first thing. They're gonna cut block, they get low and I got to make sure I do that," said defensive tackle Jaron Baston. "But at the end of the day, you know, my assignment is to hit the fullback and blow stuff up."

If Dobbs pulls the ball, he will take off parallel to the line toward one of the sidelines. He will be followed by a trailing pitch man, either a tailback or a receiver.

The Midshipmen rank fourth in the country in rushing offense this season (the three teams above them are Georgia Tech, Air Force and Nevada, who runs its own version of the option). To prepare for the attack, Missouri has had its scout team offense running with three, and sometimes even four, footballs. The point is to ignore who has the football and simply stay with your man.

"That is the hardest part," Baston said. "The first time we practiced with one football, we did pretty good with it, but I caught myself at times not taking my guy and kind of just looking who has the football. That's something that myself and the rest of this team has to get better at is make sure we take our guy and not follow the football."

Navy linebacker Ross Pospisil knows how tough the option can be to defend. He tries to do it every day in practice.

"There is so much misdirection, so much going on," says Pospisil. "You can get to point where you think so much … that it can slow you down a whole lot. You've got to think to a certain point, and then just kind of run and figure it out after that."

"I think that's the beauty, especially of the triple option, all the problems it presents," Pinkel said.

Can the Tigers solve the problems? To get win number nine, they will have to.

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