The No. 7 Michigan football team (2-0) won’t see an offense like Air Force’s every week. For the most part, it’s an opportunity for the Wolverines to face an out-of-the-box scheme.
Michigan’s upcoming opponent presents a unique challenge. The Falcons (1-0) run a triple-option style offense that is full of deceit, trick plays and an ever-changing run game.
Air Force had the third-ranked rushing offense last season, averaging 317 rushing yards per game. In the Falcons’ season-opening win against Virginia Military Institute, they rushed for 473.
“It’s a well-run offense,” said sophomore linebacker Devin Bush Jr. “They’ve been running it for (11) years. … They know it down to the T, and they’re going to run it to their best ability.”
The Wolverines are 24-point favorites over Air Force, but in order to pick up a third straight win, they’ll need to stop an Air Force attack that is one of the best in the nation on the ground.
Bush and other members of the defense mentioned that staying disciplined was the most important factor. With so many different looks, the Falcons’ offense can lead defensive players into trying to make plays they shouldn’t. The Wolverines can’t afford to jump at the quarterback when he could toss a quick lateral pass to the trailing running back, who could beat them as well.
“It’s hard,” Bush said. “That’s one of the biggest things we’re gonna have to focus on — not doing too much. Not trying to always make that play. You have to trust your teammates.
“Do your job. Don’t try to do the next man’s job.”
Added sophomore safety Josh Metellus: “The triple-option offense is a lot. There’s a lot of deceiving plays; people going one way, and the ball going completely the other way.”
Playing in the secondary, the safeties aren’t as concerned with the triple option as some of the linebackers are, but Metellus noted that they have seen Air Force run a slew of play-action passes. If the safeties and defensive backs get caught sleeping, the Falcons are well positioned to attack through the air as well.
Nonetheless, amidst all the triple-option talk, the Wolverines’ defense is still exceedingly confident.
“They’re not going to pass the ball too many times,” Bush said. “If they do, we got something for ‘em.”
So far, Michigan’s defense has scored more points than it has allowed.
The young guns like Bush and Metellus, as well as sophomores Lavert Hill and Khaleke Hudson, are breaking down opponents. And ‘veterans’ like junior safety Tyree Kinnel and senior cornerback Brandon Watson are making the transition from last year’s star-studded defense practically seamless.
No matter how well the defense fared against Florida and Cincinnati, though, they admit that preparing for Air Force presents an entirely new challenge.
Defensive coordinator Don Brown has been preparing for this game since last April. The coaches talked about this game with players all offseason to make sure that they knew what to expect when this week arrived. Preparing for almost any other opponent wouldn’t call for a change in the game plan, and that’s why the Falcons are so dangerous.
“(Air Force) is just a different deal,” said Michigan secondary coach Mike Zordich. “What we have worked on from April through now, you just put that all aside, and you’re doing something totally different.”
Zordich also praised the scout team, as emulating Air Force’s running game is no easy task.
“Hats off to all our (graduate assistants) and analysts,” Zordich said. “… Every week they study the film of the opponent for the scout team, but there’s a bigger emphasis on it this week because it is such a different offense.”
The hardest challenge for Michigan, as Zordich discussed, will be all of the misdirection and deception.
In the Wolverines’ offense — which the defense faces every day in practice — there might a trick play here and there. But Michigan’s offense isn’t based around trick plays. Air Force is the opposite.
“Now,” Zordich said, “(We) have to be ready for it just about on every down.”