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OU football: Air Force's triple option scarce, but the offense remains a threat

BY JAKE TROTTER, Staff Writer, Modified: September 16, 2010 at 9:44 am •  Published: September 15, 2010

The triple option has been used out of various formations. OU's wishbone (a fullback and two halfbacks). Houston's veer (two halfbacks). Nebraska's I (a fullback and a tailback). And the flexbone (a fullback and two slotbacks), something the service academies have perfected in recent years.

Switzer says for teams that aren't as big, as strong or as fast as their opponents, it's the perfect equalizer.

"In a (normal) formation, you run off-tackle, everyone converges at the point of attack. Defensive ends, linebackers, safeties," Switzer said. "In the option, no one can converge on you. You have to stay disciplined. Someone has to cover the dive back, the quarterback, the pitch back."

"I think it's a great equalizer," Niumatalolo told reporters just before his Midshipmen took Ohio State to the wire in Ohio Stadium last season. "But do guys want to do it? It's a selfless offense. You've got to block for each other, you can't worry about who's getting the ball, and we're in the age of the spread offense, of throwing the ball all over the place."

The service academies have had success recruiting those types of players. Other schools, as Stoops points out, not so much. But that's not the only reason the triple option is no longer in vogue.

"Nowadays, athletic directors think that fans don't want to see the option, they want to see the ball in the air," said former Nebraska coach Tom Osborne, who won three titles with the triple option in the 1990s, in Sports Illustrated's profile of Georgia Tech last year. "You have young coaches not wanting to do it, because they are afraid they can't get jobs."

As pass-first spread offenses engulfed college football last decade, the triple option faded out.

Said OU defensive coordinator Brent Venables: "The triple option is boring. Everybody wants more. A self-absorbed society. It's about me. I want to pay my money and get excited and get entertained.

"The triple option doesn't do that for most people."

Switzer doesn't see the triple option making a comeback, either. Despite its track record. Despite what Georgia Tech has accomplished in recent years.

"Like (former OU assistant Larry) Lacewell used to say, 'The wishbone isn't dead. The coaches that know it are dead.' There are no disciples of it out there anymore," Switzer said. "Today, everybody wants to throw the football. That's the new thing. And those assistant coaches have gotten the head jobs. No one has gotten head jobs from option offenses."

But while a dinosaur, the triple option is not yet extinct.

Come Saturday, Air Force won't be as big as OU. Nor as strong nor as fast.

But the Falcons will have one thing that will give them a chance to win. The triple option.