Can’t Have it Both Ways

Troy Calhoun really doesn’t want to run an option offense. He said as much when he was hired, claiming that modern defenses were too fast to for his team to rely on an offense that, in his opinion, spends too much time in the backfield. Instead, he wanted a “balanced” offense, mixing in more passing with a tailback that would get 20-25 carries per game.

It didn’t take him long to change his tune. After suffering double-digit losses to BYU and Navy in his first season, Calhoun realized that Shaun Carney wasn’t quite the passer that he was led to believe, and that his offensive line wasn’t really built for pass blocking. To his credit, he adjusted by returning to the option, a scheme that was much better suited for the talent he had. Air Force responded by going 6-1 over the rest of the season, and talk of Air Force football’s bold new direction on offense was shelved for a while.

The pendulum appears to be swinging back in the other direction. When former quarterbacks coach Blane Morgan left to take the same position at San Diego State, he made a point of saying that Air Force wasn’t “just an option offense.” Air Force coaches are telling wide receiver recruits that they’re going to be throwing the ball more. Moving away from the option has become a theme that has gained momentum heading into the season. The train kept rolling yesterday with this tweet:

Jalen Robinette is very good. In fact, I think it does him a disservice to give partial credit for his (deserved) Biletnikoff Award nomination to a retooled offense; Air Force has climbed all the way from being ranked 123rd in passing to the lofty heights of 117th. Regardless, the point is still being made that times are changing, and the “option offense” label just doesn’t apply to Air Force anymore. If that’s the case, though, then today’s tweet from Briggeman about a pair of fullbacks is a bit odd:

As you can read in the link, Briggeman is comparing Navy’s Chris Swain to Air Force’s Shayne Davern. While it’s nice that Davern had a fine Potato Bowl performance, I don’t think one good game against Western Michigan outweighs the fact that Swain ran for more yards on fewer carries. That said, the statistics are beside the point.

Air Force is trying to shed the “option” label. Navy, on the other hand, embraces it. Think about what that means for the fullback position. At Navy, Swain is going to be a pillar of the offense. If Air Force is de-emphasizing the option, can you say the same about Davern? How many fullbacks are put on the Doak Walker watch list that don’t come from option offenses? Even when Air Force was more dedicated to the triple option, they didn’t rely on their fullbacks as much as Navy. That’s not going to change if the option is becoming less essential to the Air Force offense.

Last season, Air Force’s 3 main fullbacks (Davern, D.J. Johnson, and Broam Hart) combined for 960 yards and averaged 4.3 yards per carry. Chris Swain and Noah Copeland combined for 1645 yards and averaged nearly 7.1 ypc. Seven yards per carry from fullbacks, and Swain is less likely to split carries with this year’s less-experienced backups. If a “statement was made” by the nominating committee, as Briggeman says, it’s that they know which player figures more prominently into their respective teams’ plans.

Air Force can tinker with their offense all they want. There’s more than one way to move the ball, and if less reliance on the option works for them, then great. But you can’t have your cake and eat it too. If changing the offense means more notoriety for some positions, it’s going to mean less for positions that aren’t featured as much as they used to be.

9 thoughts on “Can’t Have it Both Ways

  1. JimBear

    Calhoun obviously has a jaded option of the option. I do think his staff have been creative in some of the formations they ran during their tenure and how they would switch up to a Power I or other formations when it suited them.

    I think you can run an option offense that throws more. Willie Fritz did a nice job with a option attack that threw the ball for Sam Houston State. The problem is that you need bigger offensive lineman who can zone block to do it. Those linemen usually don’t end up at a service academy.

  2. Adam

    So you’re essentially just taking odds with the tweets of one of the writers who covers Air Force? Sorry, don’t get why this is a big deal. Writers have to push content, coaches and players and going to adapt talking points to time and place, etc. Other than the fact that it might be talked about a bit more, how is this different from the preseasons where we’ve heard Navy coaches say they were going to try to take advantage of their personnel and pass more, or use more pistol sets?

    1. Who said it was a big deal? When a Navy player’s award credentials are being questioned, it’s an appropriate topic for a Navy blog. And writers get to say whatever since they have to “push content?” Come on, Adam. The guy wrote a piece looking for comments. I gave him one.

  3. I think it’s a bit misleading to say/headline this as “Air Force can’t have it both ways” when it’s a beat writer saying these things in what’s essentially an offseason fodder blog post of two paragraphs (although YOU didn’t say that…) It’d be different if a coach was like, “yea, our guy deserves that watch list over Navy’s” and then cites the same stats.

    You owned him, that’s for sure, and I don’t disagree Swain is more deserving. Briggman should probably know better than to say the list constitutes a “statement being made.” Everyone knows these lists go off a certain degree of reputation for a player/school, regardless of whether it’s up to date or not. I still have no idea of Chuckie Keaton can be on to O’Brian Watchlist given that he’s thrown for a stellar 2-4 TD-INT ratio over the last two years.

    1. “Air Force can’t have it both ways” isn’t being said TO Air Force, it’s being said ABOUT Air Force, at least in terms of the coverage they receive. Perception and the media are something that I’ve talked about a lot here. All it means is that if we’re going to drop the “option offense” label for Air Force, then it cuts both ways.

  4. Andrew

    Speaking of passing:

    For what it’s worth…

    1.) Do the receivers on both teams share equal quality/talent when recruited?

    2.) Does one program have better player development over the other for the receivers?

    1. Anonymous

      Jamir Tillman is every bit as good as Robinette. They are both exceptional Service Academy wide receivers. Greg Jones, Tyree Barnes are a couple of other top notch wide receivers that come to mine of recent vintage.

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