North Texas travels to West Point to take on a surprising Army team in a late October non-conference game Saturday. It's an especially tough task for the Mean Green because they'll need to prepare for Army's flexbone offense. It's an offensive scheme that only a handful of teams run and in today's spread happy game, the throwback option offenses a model of efficiency.
Let's take a look at a couple of wrinkles that Army throws into its scheme that UNT needs to be ready for.
First, why the flexbone? Typically the offense is beneficial for teams that won't have large physical offensive lines. The scheme doesn't require an offensive line to move the defensive line off the ball as much as other schemes. The offense is quick hitting and therefore requires lineman to occupy their counterparts rather and utilizes cut blocks extensively. The flexbone uses both the quarterback's ability to read and back movement to create favorable angles and leverage. Modern spread offenses are based on veer and option principles as they leave one or more "read" defenders unblocked, allowing offensive lineman to combo and get to the second level to the linebackers.
Army has been incorporating a fair amount of pistol into their flexbone playbook the last two years. The pistol, first made popular by Nevada several years ago, forces lineman and linebackers to adjust their eye level and target points. It's a midway point between aligning under center and in the shotgun. Moving the quarterback into the pistol can create issues for the offense as well.The pistol adjusts the "give" and "pitch" relationships between the quarterback and his backs. In an offense that lives or dies on efficiency and staying in front of the chains, any variation in the spacing or relationship between the quarterback and backs can cause timing problems.
So here are a couple of Army's pistol sets in their flexbone. They come from a comparable opponent, a week two matchup with Rice. Let's start with a classic triple option look. This is the Black Knight's first drive, 2nd down and eight to go. Rice has a single high safety and nine men in the box. Your going to see the A back to the field side, begin a "show" motion. Flexbone teams run a "show" motion either pre-snap, to see if the defense is going to adjust to his movement, or post snap to create leverage. Here the field side or play side A back starts to show just prior to the snap.
This is the old Houston Veer scheme, leaving the defensive tackle and end unblocked, or the first two men past the center, play side. Here, the dive read attacks the fullback or "B" back from the snap and Army's quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw moves to the defensive end or "pitch read."
The Owls initially defend this play well, but football is a game of leverage and the Owls lose it quickly. It's actually three on three on the perimeter, but once the defensive end loses contain, Army has a numerical advantage. Notice the stalk block by the play side A back on the corner, that's perfect. Rice has now lost outside leverage and Army is off for a big game.
The option offense is based on the idea that the defense will choose and if the offense reads the play properly, the defense will always choose wrong. It's a choose your own adventure where you always fall off the cliff. There are a couple of ways to attack the option on the perimeter, the key for any defense is regardless of how you attack it, you cannot lose outside leverage on the option.
The options for a flexbone offense are almost limitless. Here's another wrinkle, once again from a pistol set:
The first difference or wrinkle is that Army isn't optioning a dive, it looks like they are but they don't allow a dive read. The play side offensive linemen block down and they pull a backside guard. It's not a pretty pull but it works. Again, Army's movement and alignment create leverage. By blocking down, the left tackle draws the play side defensive end down. Similarly, the field side A back's movement or show causes the outer contain player to squeeze down, giving the Black Knights just a little more outside leverage. Again this isn't a dive read, but the dive action to the fullback forces the linebacker and safety, play side, to take read steps towards the dive. Again Army's creating angles and leverage.
The fullback now becomes a lead blocker on an option. The pulling guard and the fullback don't get knockdowns, but they get just enough of their defenders to allow the play to get outside. This time, they're optioning the edge player who, (we think) is a safety in Rice's 4-2-5. He's the pitch read. Bradshaw does a great job attacking the line of scrimmage and making the pitch read commit.
That play was actually called back due to a downfield block in the back, which brings us to three things to watch for on Saturday:
1. Army has to play ahead of the chains. The Black Knights throw the ball, but they certainly aren't comfortable doing it often. The need to stay in favorable down and distance to allow the the option optimal effectiveness.
2. Four Down Football. Army will go for it on fourth down as much as any team in the country. Again, the thinking is they'll make you the defense choose wrong. Army averages 5.2 yards a carry. They'll go for fourth down in positive or negative territory and on fourth and five or less if they feel good about things and depending on game situations. They're currently 7th in the FBS in fourth down conversions.
3. Neutralize the B Back. The B Back or fullback is the bell cow of any good option team's attack. If they can, again depending on how your play, Army will run him all day. North Texas will need to take away the fullback first and then play with great eye discipline and keep outside leverage.
One last thing, and it's a beautiful thing: Army, at times, employs the wishbone. Yes, that most beautiful and historic formation is alive and well at West Point. Here's a little wishbone for you and God Bless you Jeff Monken.