In a remix of 2007, Cal heads down to Fort Worth to take on Air Force. Air Force, unlike their name, runs the ball a lot. They are air adverse when it comes to football, taking the service academy route of eat, sleep, OPTION, repeat. The real reason for this is that the option is the ultimate equalizer. For a school that can't recruit massive human beings, due to them not being able to make the standards for the Air Force, they have to play in an offense that doesn't rely on size. The triple option does that through blocking schemes and taking advantage of the fact that nobody uses it anymore. There is a level of defensive discipline required to play the option, and unless you're playing a service academy or Georgia Tech regularly, you're not going to be exposed to it often. Luckily, more option concepts have been incorporated into the spread offense seen more and more frequently, so the concept will not be entirely foreign to the defense.
Air Force has a large collection of running backs and whatnot, as their rushing statistics note that sixteen different players have recorded a carry, with eleven recording 20 carries or more. Cal has eleven total. Air Force has about 2.5x the rushing yards to passing yards, so their offense is very obviously slanted in that direction. It all starts from the quarterback in this case, who is Karson Roberts. He has thrown all of 134 passes this season, which averages out to about 10 a game. He's hitting on about 52% of those, while having 9 touchdowns to 10 interceptions. When he does throw, it's going to be on play action or otherwise deep ball. Those are riskier and will lead to the mistakes that he's had. Luckily for them he doesn't need to throw too much.
The top three rushers for the Falcons are Roberts, Jacobi Owens, and DJ Johnson. These three have combined for over 2000 yards and 21 TDs. Owens is the sole 1000 yard rusher and is averaging over 5 yards a carry. Roberts is obviously going to be a threat on the option keeper, and Johnson is a solid second option. The dark horse for this game however is the unfortunately named Timothy McVey. He's averaging almost 9 yards a carry and looks to be their big play threat for the game. Look out for #33 on Tuesday then.
The only real receiver of note is Jalen Robinette. He's very explosive, recording over 27 yards per reception. He had a 210 yard performance against Utah State due to his home-run ability, getting behind defenders on deep balls. He also has to block well, being in an option offense, so look out for him to do just that.
Let's talk about the most entertaining thing in the world, option responsibilities. Unlike our good friend Keegan, who details the finer points of the Air Force veer option run game here, I am not a fan of the option. There's a lot to be aware of defending the option, as there are three reads. First is the initial dive read up the middle, where the read is the middle linebacker/defensive tackle. If the quarterback sees them go outside, then that hand-off will be the read. This is usually the safe play, since there isn't a pitch involved and you can usually get at least a couple yards that way. Since the normal gfys aren't working, we're going with a nice video of the Mountain West Championship game. Watch how at 10:28, San Diego State immediately swarms the ballcarrier on the dive.
Otherwise, there's two other options, and both of them come from reading the defensive end. Depending on the type of defense, the end will usually have the quarterback as his responsibility, leading the outside linebacker and the cornerback and potentially an alley filling safety to come down on the running back. That doesn't always happen though, which can spring one of the two for a big game. If the d-end bites on the running back threat, then the quarterback can cut inside, and take it for a large gain, a la Sunshine in Remember the Titans. Skip ahead to 1:35:29 for this one.
Then, there's the pitch, but I think that's kind of self explanatory when it comes to the run game. Keegan can go a little more in depth on the topic, so I highly recommend his piece above. Otherwise, we can take a look at the passing game, which doesn't have too much to it. It will be a pass coming out of an option look, with some play action thrown in. Roberts will take his option steps, pull back, and fire a deep ball on a skinny post or a go route, or will try to find something short. The passing game in the veer option offense often doesn't allow for intermediate routes, coupled with the size disadvantage the their offensive line will have. Therein, there will be short routes and quick deep routes. There won't be too much to worry about, as Roberts threw 11 passes for 35 yards his last time out. That trend will continue in Fort Worth.
I never really know what to think for these games. Cal will get to use a three linebacker set as their base defensive package for the third time all year (Stanfurd, SDSU), and they won't have a behemoth offensive line to contend with. I think it's highly possible that the Cal defense can clamp down after the first couple of drives. Then again, Cal has let me down a number of times, so we could see an implosion in Texas. I think the real happening will be closer to the former than the latter, so prepare yourselves Cal fans, this should be a good midday bowl matchup.