To gain an inside perspective on the Michigan football team’s upcoming matchup against Air Force, the Daily reached out to Brent Briggeman — the Falcons beat writer for the Colorado Springs Gazette.
On Wednesday night, we spoke on the phone with Brent to discuss Air Force’s triple option, Falcons running back Tim McVey and what needs to happen to put Michigan on upset alert.
Here’s a look into our conversation:
The Michigan Daily: The big talk around here is the triple option. How do you think it could fare against this defensive line that Michigan has?
Brent Briggeman: I think it’s proven over the years that it can work against any defense, you know what I mean? It’s so hard to stop just because it doesn’t matter how big you are. It’s just a matter of picking up the ball. The deception and quickness in it is really difficult for a team that doesn’t see it very often. Also, it allows Air Force to leave a man unblocked on every play, and they don’t have to sustain blocks very long. That really helps them being undersized. It eliminates a lot of the disadvantages that come with being undersized.
And Arion Worthman at quarterback is the fastest quarterback I’ve seen operate this system. And since he’s been in, that’s why they’ve won seven in a row. It’s hard to understand what that looks like until you’ve actually played against it or seen it in person. They know where they’re going and the defense doesn’t, and they get there quickly. It’s such a different game for defenders to play.
TMD: Along those same lines, do you think it’s even further of an advantage for Air Force that — as talented as Michigan’s defense is — they don’t have a lot of college snaps?
BB: It sort of puts them at a disadvantage I would think. It’s just not a natural way to defend. Talking to Air Force defenders — seniors who have played against this in practice for years, and then play against New Mexico, Army and Navy every year who run a variation of the triple option — they’re still picking up nuances of how to defend it. To think that a team could learn it over spring practice and then in the week leading up — you’re not gonna learn it. You’re just gonna have to learn enough of it to try to get by.
It’s not like Air Force is gonna bust every play. Michigan’s gonna make plays. But Air Force hasn’t been shut out in something like 30 years — maybe 20 years, it’s been a long time — and there’s a reason. It’s really hard to stop this. And the minds that go into creating this offense, you know, (Air Force coach) Troy Calhoun was an NFL offensive coordinator, so it’s not like he only uses the triple option. And Mike Theissen, who’s the offensive coordinator, was an academy graduate, played quarterback here and was a professor for a little while in mathematics. So obviously, these are some pretty bright minds. It’s not like these are guys who just run it because they don’t know anything else. They run it because they understand that it works here. And if you’re a defender getting your third college start, it’s gonna be eye opening.
TMD: Is there any chance that Air Force could air it out more often than they normally would, given that Michigan’s secondary hasn’t really been tested at all in the air yet?
BB: I would think. I wouldn’t expect them to throw more than 12 to 15 times. They pick their spots well, because obviously they have to get that ground game established. Once guys are starting to cheat a little bit … suddenly a back is running loose and catches the pass, or one of the receivers is in single coverage. So yes, they will throw. It’s not a trick play for Air Force to throw the ball, but because the ground game becomes such an emphasis for the defense, that usually when they do go to the air somebody can find a way to get open.
TMD: Tim McVey, I feel like he might fly under the radar given that he goes to Air Force, what have you seen out of him? I mean the amount of yards he has racked up is kind of ridiculous.
BB: I mean, he’s Air Force’s all-time leader in yards per carry, he’s second in yards per reception and he’s third in yards per kickoff return. He’s been the most efficient weapon in program history.
It was shocking. When he was a sophomore — and he’s only 5-foot-8, 185 — and he’s putting up all these numbers in garbage time. … They were impressive numbers but it was like, ‘Well what’s he gonna do against a first-string defense?’ Then he got a bigger role and it was exactly the same, and it hasn’t stopped now for three years. He’s got really good vision and acceleration, and he’s a 4.4-speed guy. He can burn and he understands where he needs to be, and then obviously he’s in an offense that gives him a chance. And he’s even more effective with Worthman at quarterback, because Worthman will get the option three or four yards downfield before a defense has to collapse on him, and then he’ll flip it out to him. So he’s a very explosive player. He doesn’t pass the eyeball test. He’s not gonna wow you when he gets off the bus, but when he gets the ball in his hands, he just finds a way to make plays.
TMD: Is there any talk of him trying to go to the next level?
BB: There’s always talk for big time Air Force players, especially with last year, when the rule changed so they can explore that immediately. … I think he’s a guy (who will) get in an NFL minicamp if he can prove himself. Two years down the road he’ll be serving active duty; maybe he’ll get a training camp invitation and see what he can do. I don’t know that he has the strength to make it to that level. If they could use him as a third-down guy — because he can catch the ball and he can run the ball. I think somebody might find a spot for him, but there’s a good chance he has reached his max as a really good college player.
TMD: Is there one thing that Air Force has to do to pull off this upset?
BB: There’s gonna have to be some luck involved, and part of that is they’re gonna have to get to the quarterback at Michigan. By and large when they’ve lost over the past few years, it’s because quarterbacks have picked them apart with the deep ball. Air Force does a lot to stop the run, and they’re really good against the run, and they’re pretty good against short passes. But because they blitz so much, they’re asking their corners to do a lot of one-on-one coverage, and not many corners are gonna win that battle once they’re 25, 30 yards downfield. If a quarterback is accurate enough to hit that pass, they don’t stand a chance.
They need to get to Speight with those blitzes, or they need Speight to be inaccurate downfield. If those combinations hit, then Air Force can stay in this game.