Stevens: Coach Mills Says 'Fun' Isn't The Right Word in Preparing for Air Force's Option

Oct. 18, 2012

New Mexico Lobos Football - Mountain West Conference - at Air Force Falcons

When/Where: 5 p.m. (MT) Saturday - Falcons Stadium - Colorado Springs
On The Air: 770-AM KKOB, Lobo Radio Network; ROOT Sports TV Network GameTracker, Game Story, Statistics

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/

If you want to see the Air Force Academy's triple-option attack in slow motion, you don't really have to slip into a film room in the New Mexico football office and shift a projector to half speed.

All you have to do is watch the Lobos' scout team try to run the Falcons' offense. It's half speed, too.

OK, we're joking here. But not entirely. It's possible that the only scout team in America that could simulate the speed of the Falcons' option is the Air Force scout team. And that team really isn't simulating it - they are learning it.

When asked how close the Lobo scout team is to running the Falcons' option at Falcon speed, Jeff Mills, UNM's defensive coordinator, says: "Not real close."

Which is no slap at the UNM scout team. It's just impossible to match in one week what the Falcons have been doing for decades.

"They run no huddle and they also have combined elements of modern football which makes it even more difficult," said Mills. "The wishbone is hard enough as it is and now you have an Air Force team that combines it with one-back and two-back sets and throw in a no-huddle.

"It's multiple and it's what college football is nowadays."

So, does that mean that Mills is having fun trying to figure out the Xs and Os to throw in front of this runaway train?

"I don't know if fun is the right word," said Mills. "You could say it's challenging and coaches like challenges. But I wouldn't call it fun to prepare for because it goes against what other teams do.

"It's so unique. To prepare for the speed of their option, that's a huge challenge."

The Falcons put speed into this attack with their no-huddle approach often followed by a quick snap. Air Force does not want to give opposing defenses time to think or talk. They want to force teams to react quickly and then the Falcons' look for holes - or mistakes.

The wishbone puts a high demand on assignment football. If you miss your assignment - or a tackle - the Falcons usually make you pay.

"You have to read your keys just like with any offense, but there's more of a discipline factor with Air Force," said Mills "When the quarterback is involved in the run game, it's different than conventional offenses.

"You have to make sure everybody is accounted for and with Air Force you now have to account for the quarterback. It will be a good test for us."

The discipline challenge for the Lobos is huge at all positions, but the mistakes the Falcons squeeze out of you in the secondary can cost on the scoreboard.

Air Force has run the ball 376 times and has passed the ball 67 times. They are No. 2 in the nation on the ground, but this stat might surprise you: they are No. 3 in the nation in pass efficiency.

That's because when the Falcons pass, they usually do it well and for big yards.

They average 17.97 yards per completion. That's No. 1 in the nation. Baylor, the No. 1 passing team in America, averages 16.6 yards per completion. Air Force also has thrown no interceptions so far in 2012.

There is reason the Falcon passes go for yardages: 376 reasons. When you are a defender seeing so much run, you want to join the tackling fun. You leave someone open.

"They try to get everyone thinking about playing the run," said Mills. "They fool somebody with a false key (look) and now somebody isn't doing their job. It's not difficult to be playing Air Force and be thinking run. That's what they do."

The key for a defensive back is to stick to his responsibility until that responsibility no longer is relevant to the play. There is a Catch-22 element here.

In order to stop a no-huddle, quick-strike option, you have to react quickly. If you react too quickly, you might get fooled -- and burned.