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    BLOG: Friday Quick-Hitters

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    We are walking with Mike Hankwitz, the 'Cat defensive coordinator, and we wonder what makes the triple-option offense his unit will face Saturday at Army such a pain for a guy like him. He smiles and then he is off...

    "It's just a unique offense that very few people run anymore and, in one week, it's very hard to simulate the timing and all the schemes that they do run," he begins.

    "I have respect for (Black Knight coach) Rich Ellerson and what he's done wherever he's been. The offense has so many parts to it that you're never sure which scheme you're going to see. They have different ways to block the option. And it ties in with the type of kids they recruit, who are extremely tough, and they sell that to the kids. 'Hey. We're physically tough, mentally tough, we're going to keep running this offense.' Defenses are going to have a hard time matching that toughness because they don't see it, A, and they're not used to playing it day-after-day. That's what they count on. They count on the fact that you lose your edge. You're getting chop blocked, they're just running at you play after play, and since you're not used to doing that a whole game, they feel they have a chance to wear you down."

    Can you, as the saying goes, play downhill against it?

    Here he offers up a rueful chuckle before saying, "That's what's hard because of the way they block you. They've got guys coming off the ball, they've got guys looping to cut you, you just can't play downhill every play. They're going to double some guys, they're going to gap block some guys, that guy who's getting double-teamed, he's got a hard time coming downhill. They know their craft well, and they know how to scheme you and how to load a guy or seal a guy or have angles on you. The hardest thing is they're extremely good at what they do, cut blocking. It's all legal. It's not like they're coming from your blindside. They're right in front of you. But they're coming 90 miles-an-hour straight at you going low. You just don't see a lot of that."

    We presume, with all the options involved, that the defense has to do a lot reading.

    "Yeah, you do. You have to be very disciplined in your reads and responsibilities. That's the other part of it. They get your eyes moving one way or the other. But if you're supposed to take the dive, you've got to take the dive. You can't sit and look and see if the guy has it or not. It'd be too late. Or if you got the quarterback, you can't look and see if he gave it to the dive. He'll be by you. Then they have a great play-action scheme off their offense, where they get the secondary guy biting to go to the option when it's a pass. Or they'll run some boot-waggle type things and it's the same thing. Get your eyes in the wrong spot and that receiver's wide open. They maximize their passing game that way."

    Is there one most-important thing his unit has to do to be successful?

    "I don't know if there's one. You've got to be extremely disciplined to do your job. Then you've got to be tough and be able to beat blocks. There's going to be a lot of times there's a blocker on us and we've got to beat blocks to execute our responsibility."

    SOME BACKGROUND:
    The triple-option is a descendent of the wishbone, which was first used in college football by Texas way back on Sept. 21, 1968. That is why Emory Ballard, then the Longhorns' offensive coordinator, is generally regarded as its creator. But in "Bootlegger's Boy," his autobiography, former Oklahoma and Cowboy coach Barry Switzer claims it was actually invented by a guy named Charles "Bud" Carson when he was coaching at Ft. Worth's Monnig Junior High School in the '50s. It was then, naturally enough, called the "Monnig T." But after the Longhorns revived it, their head coach Darrell Royal was asked what he called the formation. "I said, 'Well, they're kind of in a shape of a Y back there. Call it the Y,'" he recalled in his own book. "I mean I didn't care what they called it, you know. Mickey Herskowitz (a Houston sports columnist) said, 'That's not very original. Why don't you call it a wishbone? It's in the shape of a wishbone.' I said, 'You got it, Mickey. It's a wishbone.'"

    IN ANY CASE:
    Texas tied its first game and lost its second after unveiling the wishbone, and then ran off 30 straight wins and captured two national titles with that offense as its motor. But Switzer, after he took over at Oklahoma, who perfected it and, using it, his 1971 Sooners set a single-season rushing record that still stands. That is no wonder since their numbers were, well, mind-boggling: an average of 66 rushes per game for 472.4 yards.

    BACK TO THE PRESENT:
    The Black Knights may be 0-2. But against Northern Illinois, they rolled up 24 first downs, 303 net rushing yards, 409 total offensive yards and held the ball for nearly six minutes more than NIU. And against San Diego State, they rolled up 25 first downs, 403 net rushing yards, 446 total offensive yards and held the ball for nearly 25 minutes more (42:11 to 17:49) than the Aztecs. "You're not going to stop them. That's unrealistic," says 'Cat head coach Pat Fitzgerald. "You've got to contain the run, you've got to create turnovers and get off the field on third down. . . I can't come in here next Monday and say Army had the ball for 35 minutes and expect us to be successful. That just can't happen. If they're over 40 minutes, we've got a recipe for disaster. So it's a combination of, one, our offense has to possess the ball and sustain drives and score touchdowns. And, again, our defense has to get off the field and create turnovers." 

    TRIGGER MAN:
    Trent Steelman is the Army quarterback and here is what Fitzgerald says of him. "He's a tough guy, he throws it well and that's your biggest concern. You're loadin', loadin', loadin' the box and playing the option, playing the option, and then he drops back a little bit and has vertical throws down the field trying to catch you napping a little bit. That guy (a receiver) has been coming out to arc and cut ya, arc and cut ya, arc and cut ya, now here comes a wheel route out the back. They've made a living off of guys being undisciplined, and then their execution. We're going to have to be ready for both."

    THE SOLUTION:
    "We're going to need to hit their quarterback, their fullback, their running back," says 'Cat linebacker Bryce McNaul. "We're going to need to hit everybody."

    IN ADDITION:
    McNaul's brother Austin, who is now in Afghanistan, is a graduate of West Point, so the 'Cat is familiar with the place. "The first thing that hits you," he remembers, "is you're having your car searched as you're pulling up to campus. Then, once you're there, you see a lot of people in formation, everyone's in uniform obviously. Right there on the Hudson, castle-like, it's almost medieval with all the architecture there. Obviously there's an attitude on campus of seriousness and getting stuff done and people are always going somewhere for a reason. I'm sure that's transcended the football program. Obviously they're disciplined at what they do. We have to be ready for that."

    "We've got to avoid distractions," echoed Fitzgerald. "I'm sure there's going to be a ton of pageantry with the different things they do in their pre-game ceremonies. I know we played at Air Force and a bomber came over. Shook me to the core a little bit. From my research, they do a nice job of making the visiting team be a little bit distracted."

    AND FINALLY:
    Fitzgerald, earlier this week, on preparing to face the triple option offense and the double eagle defense and the scene at Army: "It's a great challenge for us as a staff. I bought a couple extra boxes of TUMS for us."

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