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The Hangover Of Facing The Triple Option

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Facing the triple option is not an easy task. It takes lots of discipline and willingness to get a bit beat up in the process. While that is tough, the week after can be even tougher as the bumps and bruises, as well as mind games can severely change the way a team plays.

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There has always been a belief that the week after playing a triple option opponent will be a bit of a letdown. The belief lies in the fact that everything changes in the week of preparing for a triple option and the physicality of the game makes a team vulnerable in the following game.

I have decided to look at Navy in this exercise because they are a successful independent, giving them the largest sample size of different opponents.

In the past five seasons (2011-2015), there have been 50 games played by teams directly after playing Navy. Bowl games were eliminated due to the next game being played in the following season as well as all season finales versus Army (no Army bowls during that time).

In those 50 games, teams have gone 26-24. Breaking it down year by year, it was 3-3 in 2015, 3-8 in 2014, 7-4 in 2013, 7-4 in 2012, and 6-5 in 2011. Looking at the record alone, the numbers would indicate that teams tend to do about average following game. When looking at the teams played in the following week, it tells a much different story.

A clear trend appears when looking at the schedules. Teams want to schedule what they would call a winnable game following a matchup versus Navy. Sometimes that works, other times it turns into WKU losing 44-16 to Indiana State.

The biggest hangovers have taken place in the 2014 season. During that year, eventual national champion Ohio State lost to a bad Virginia Tech team the week after a tough game versus Navy. Notre Dame and Western Kentucky also fell prey to the post-Navy letdown.

The 2015 season has been an outlier as only Air Force followed that pattern, struggling in a 31-17 win over the winless Wyoming Cowboys. Air Force, on their own, are an outlier in general as they run the triple option as well. Part of the change in pattern has to do with Navy joining the AAC and teams being a bit forced into playing them during weeks that they normally wouldn't.

East Carolina and Connecticut had to play Navy in AAC play right before huge non-conference games. They went 1-1 versus Virginia Tech and BYU. Notre Dame struggled to put away a reeling USC team, Tulane got destroyed versus Memphis and Colgate was dominated by New Hampshire, one of the best FCS teams on a yearly basis.

Players and coaches both agree that the defensive front seven is most affected the week after playing a triple option team. Part of the plan in the triple option is to use a series of legal cut blocks to take out the front seven. A few per game and it is no big deal, but constantly fighting off cut blocks on every single play is nearly as mentally demanding as it is physically.

Watching film of defensive linemen especially in the following weeks, there tends to be a slightly different style of play than in weeks before facing the triple option. The thought of being cut blocked is still in the head of the defenders and causes them to play differently.

In addition, the mental gymnastics of preparing for a triple option and then forgetting all of that to prepare for a more normal offense can cause mental lapses. An assignment that may have been second nature to the player has to be relearned.

Therefore, whether the effects of a post triple option letdown are as big as many think, there is something to it. Otherwise, why would coaches put such a huge emphasis on where Navy is added to the schedule?

Whatever the true effect, it is clear that the week after facing a triple option attack is a very tough week.