For all of defensive coordinator Phil Snow’s accomplishments, and there are many on this last-go-round at Temple, an Achilles’ heel for him has been trouble defending the triple option.
That’s one reason why the Owls cannot sleep on the Army Cadets (7 p.m., Friday, Lincoln Financial Field). There are many more and we will outline those later in this post, but first let’s concentrate on Snow’s recent history against those teams. In three of the four games his teams have played against the triple option since 2010, his defenses have allowed those teams at least 31 points.
The reason for Snow’s problems have been simple. He stubbornly has played his base defense, the 4-3, against a speciality offense that requires a standard speciality defense. The way to stop the triple option is simple: 44 stack, nose guard over the center, the two A gaps (to the left and right of the center) covered by a tackle, eight in the box and force the triple option team to pass.
For some reason known only to God and Snow, he refuses to do that.
The most recent game was an abomination, a 31-24 loss to Navy played on a 92-degree day in September of 2014. (For those who say Navy was good that year, Western Freaking Kentucky—which I call WFK—beat them, 18-6. Their coaches found a way to stop the triple option.) In 2012, while coaching Eastern Michigan, his defense allowed 38 points against the Cadets. Fortunately, the EMU offense bailed out the Eagles, winning that game, 48-38. In 2010, his EMU defense allowed 31 points in a 31-27 loss to Army. The one outlier was a 33-14 win for Temple over Army in the 2013 game. The next year, though, the black-helmeted Owls sat back in the heat and waited for the triple option offense to attack them and often found themselves in 3-on-2 mismatches against a quarterback, fullback and pitch man. That’s how Navy won that game, 31-24.
After that game, I asked former Temple coach Wayne Hardin—who never lost to a triple-option team while at Temple (he did at Navy, but that was to No. 1 Texas in 1962)—how to defend it and he told me that the triple option leaves the backside unblocked for blitzes. If you have a particularly fast corner, you can give up the backside by blitzing him and blowing up the play before it starts. He said the one gamble is vulnerability to the throwback pass (ala Adam DiMichele to Matt Balasavage for a score in 2007), but that happens so infrequently it’s worth the risk.
For some reason, Snow has refused to do that. Maybe the Owls will try it with 4.3 sprinter Nate Hairston on Friday night.
The other reasons why you cannot sleep on the Cadets are rather obvious. First, their toughness is unquestioned. They are literally on the frontlines for this country. In addition, they play a fairly challenging schedule and are often in games against so-called Power-5 teams. Last year, they lost to a very good Navy team by four, Penn State by six and Wake Forest by three.
They will not be intimidated by the Owls and the Owls have to strap their helmets on tight Friday night. Hopefully, those helmets will be Cherry or White, not Black.
Wednesday: Army’s Vanishing Problems
Friday: Depth Chart Thoughts and Predictions
Saturday: Game Analysis
Monday: What’s New?