How Do You Even Begin to Prepare for This Air Force Offense?
LARAMIE -- Let's pretend you're a freshman linebacker.
Throughout your decorated high school career, you faced some of the best offenses in the state. All spread, all the time. Your opponents threw the ball 40-plus times a night. When they didn't, it was shotgun handoffs, ultimately giving the quarterback a run-pass option.
You signed on the dotted line to play for the Wyoming Cowboys.
After all, linebackers in these parts have been known to cash checks -- big ones. Logan Wilson and Chad Muma are both currently in the NFL. Cassh Maluia spent some time in the league, too. The guy in front of you, Easton Gibbs, was recently named the Mountain West's Preseason Defense Player of the Year.
Your training has prepared you to face high-flying offenses. Seeing five wide receivers trot onto the field is old news. You've covered some speedsters in the slot and have been known to shadow an oversized tight end or two.
You got this -- or so you thought.
Enter Air Force and its vaunted triple-option offense. This isn't a pitch left, pitch right attack, either. The variations and schemes, those are seemingly endless. Deception is the name of the game. Pre-snap motion can play tricks with the mind, the crouched-QB serving as Houdini.
Don't forget about that lone fullback.
Limiting him is the key to slowing down the entire operation. And if you can do that -- a that's a big 'if' -- don't be surprised to see a receiver cruising all alone behind the secondary.
How do you begin to game plan against this nightmare offense? I asked Wyoming's linebackers coach Aaron Bohl that very question.
"The first thing we talk about is see a little, see a lot," he said. "It's a phrase, meaning if you trust your key, it'll take you where you need to go. If you try to see too much of what's going on, you can get confused. So, really just be disciplined with our eyes to start. That's half the battle. The other is getting to the right spot. Then you have to worry about getting these guys down.
"If you don't get to the right spot, you won't get them down anyway. You just really need to trust your eyes."
MORE UW FOOTBALL NEWS VIA 7220SPORTS:
Troy Calhoun's Falcons, once again, feature the top rushing attack in the nation, averaging nearly 330 yards per game. Emmanuel Michel has been the top back through five games, rushing for 400 yards on 91 carries. That's an average of 4.4 yards per tote. He's also found the end zone eight times.
Quarterback Zac Larrier has been even more efficient on the ground, gashing defenses for 362 yards on just 62 attempts.
He's no one-trick pony.
The senior has connected on 14-of-19 throws for 410 yards and three touchdowns while leading Air Force to a perfect 5-0 mark, including a 3-0 record in Mountain West play.
"You have to make them earn things consistently," Bohl said. "They're good enough that it's hard enough to stop when they do that, but you can't let balls be caught or runs be made that, you know, I can make."
In last year's meeting between these two Front Range foes, Wyoming gave the visitors fits, holding the Falcons to a season-low 171 yards on the ground. It took 40 attempts to get there, too. That's an average of just 4.3 yards per carry.
The nation's leading rusher, Brad Roberts, was held to just 54 yards on 16 carries.
Haaziq Daniels, a three-year starter under center, completed just 7-of-14 passes for 101 yards. He did throw a pair of touchdowns in the 17-14 loss in Laramie.
Gibbs, who was battling an illness that nearly sidelined him in that game, finished with six tackles. His running mate, Shae Suiaunoa, tallied four stops and a pass breakup from the outside spot. Read Sun also added four tackles in his first-career start.
What was the key to that performance?
Bohl said, again, it's all about simplicity.
He means it, too.
"Overall, yes," he said when asked if each linebacker focuses on one player the entire game. "Now, what he does might tell you to, you know, go to a different guy in the next step your progression, but until you know what that guy does, you don't worry about anything else."
What above all the cut blocks and diving at the knees?
"Luckily, some of that stuff has gone away," he added. "Last year, they adjusted the cut rule, but still, those guys get on your fast. That's also why you need to trust your key because you don't have as much time to diagnose because those guys are going to be at the second level so much faster."
Wyoming's staff makes no secret about it, they prepare for this one, beginning all the way back in spring practice. The nuances, the schemes, the strategy. A scout team quarterback is tasked with mimicking the entire production.
Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl is 5-3 against Air Force since arriving on campus back in 2014.
That includes three straight wins from 2016-18. The margin of victory in all eight of these meetings sits at just over seven points, which mirrors the overall series. The Falcons hold a slight 30-27-3 advantage.
Air Force is averaging more than 411 yards per game this season to go along with 37.6 points per outing.
In the Bohl era, the Falcons have never scored more than 31 points. Just once, back in 2018, they rolled up more than 400 yards of total offense against the Cowboys. In that same game the Cadets rushed for more than 300 yards. That's the only time that has ever happened in Bohl's tenure.
How bad did the Pokes lose that game?
Wyoming trailed 27-14 with just 8:44 left in regulation. Quarterback Tyler Vander Waal, who replaced an injured Sean Chambers, threw a pair of touchdown passes, including a go-ahead 22-yard bullet to Austin Conway with 1:09 remaining in regulation. Vander Waal also scored on the ground in the improbable 35-27 win inside a snow-covered War Memorial Stadium.
How have the Cowboys had so much success against this team?
"A lot of it is the defensive tackles and the middle linebacker," Aaron Bohl said. "The front four are a huge part of that. Those guys have a tough job. It's really five on four, along with the fullback. We call it war on the core. You better be ready to go fight and I think we have a group that's ready to do that this year."
Wyoming and Air Force will renew their rivalry Saturday night inside Falcon Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 5 p.m. Mountain Time and the game will be televised on CBS Sports Network.
University of Wyoming’s Top 50 Football Players
Gallery Credit: 7220Sports.com
- University of Wyoming’s Top 50 Football Players