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Army’s Triple Option and How Missouri Can Stop It

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A detailed look into what Army does with their triple option, and how Missouri is going to have to attack it defensively.

Missouri v Arkansas Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

When Missouri was selected to join the Armed Forces Bowl, I think a lot of people had mixed feelings about the selection. It’s a non-affiliated bowl, further away than some of the other possible options, and it’s within an hour of the Braggin’ Rights basketball game against Illinois. It splits up your fanbase, which is not an ideal situation.

There are positives, though. You get the opportunity to play against a service school and a good one at that. This game is in the Dallas area, which has one of the largest alumni bases outside of the state of Missouri. Oh, there’s a chance for you to clinch a winning season for the first time since 2018!

These are all of the off the field narratives.

On the field though, we’ve spent the second half of the season watching this defense improve against the run and with Army being selected as their bowl opponent, we’re about to find out how improved this run defense really is.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 09 North Texas at Missouri Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Ask Any Defensive Coordinator in America...

and they’ll tell you that the triple option offense is one of - if not their least favorite - offense to play against. The misdirection, the cut blocks and the constant pressure of what being out of position means, keeps defensive coordinators up at night when they’re scheming against this offense. Look, it’s not an overly complex offense; they have a limited amount of formations that they run out of, but they’ll run the same 15-20 plays hoping to catch you playing undisciplined football.

I thought this would be an opportune time to kind of dissect what Army does well, and how they manage to beat teams while having a talent deficit.

Formations

Army runs approximately 5 formations regularly to semi-regularly: Base, Tight, Heavy, Trips, and Trips Tight. They all look pretty similar, with the primary differences being the personnel on the line and the alignment of where the outside receivers are. These aren’t the only formations that they’ll run out of, and you may see some variations of pistol and a few other things of that nature, but they just aren’t run to the same degree that these are. You can absolutely count on seeing each of these formations at some point against Missouri.

Base

Tight

Heavy

Trips

Trips Tight

What to watch for

Army runs zone run plays, the same way that Missouri does, the only difference is that they’re in different formations and all of the run plays are designed to pull defenders out of position and open up lanes.

For example, this is a zone dive play out of a tight formation. They’ve brought the receivers in, and everyone is in close. Hence its name, “tight”. The play itself may look rather ordinary, but after seeing this same action 5-10 times... It can be hard to continue to do your job.

So after you’ve called your dives a few times, you may see them move to what they call “triple” which is short for triple option. This play is ran out of pretty much every formation in some way or another. This play in particular though, is ran out of their base formation.

It has the dive component of the first play, but also an option for the quarterback to run through on a sweep or pitch it to the running back running off his hip. It’s extremely similar to how a QB in a spread offense would read a defensive end, just with the option to pitch the ball.

In addition to the dive and triple option, Army has a tendency to run a fair amount of quick tosses to try and get to the boundary. This may be referred to as “rocket”. With the amount of inside running they do, a quick toss is the perfect way to catch those outside linebackers and safeties cheating inside to help stop the dive.

Finally, Army doesn’t put the ball in the air very much. When they do though, it is when their receivers are set up with one on one man coverage, and usually when they’re looking for a chunk play. With all the attention given to stopping the myriad of option runs and dives, it’s only natural that you leave your corners on sort of an island.

Here, you have a relatively tame result... However, when you look at the top and bottom of the screen... You see both receivers, in man coverage, on an island.

It’s going to be important for the Missouri corners on those islands not to be lulled to sleep watching that triple option go through its motions, because that could very easily be six points if you have too many eyes in the backfield.

How are the Tigers supposed to stop this sort of attack?

Triple option teams are tough to stop because you just don’t see them very often. Playing primarily spread-based teams like Missouri has the entire year allows them to generate certain rules and other ways to defend certain actions. They’re going to have to scrap those, and learn on the fly.

All that means is— that discipline and assignment football are that much more important. Everyone will have to lock-in on their specific assignment each play, because trying to do someone else’s job against an offense of this kind will get you beat, and beat bad. Your defensive tackles are pretty much always tackling the dive, defensive ends will have quarterback responsibility, and outside linebackers will be responsible for the pitch man. This is high school level football, with older, more talented players.

It isn’t fancy, but it’s a rock fight Missouri has to be ready for, or it could be a long evening in Fort Worth.

Follow me on Twitter @iAirDry!