Photo illustration by Michael Uribes
For the fourth straight game, the Fresno State defense will be forced to game plan against a mobile quarterback.
The difference with Cal Poly, however, is the Bulldogs’ defense will also have to strategize against an offensive style a Pat Hill-coached team has not seen since Rice six years ago: The triple option.
Led by quarterback Andrew Broadous and a plethora of other able ball carriers, the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) Mustangs make the trip to Fresno for the first time since 1985 with their high-powered rushing attack.
The triple-option offense, made famous by such teams as Air Force, Navy and Georgia Tech, relies heavily on quarterback reads of the defensive end and linebackers, low blocks from offensive lineman and, most importantly, deception.
The style of offense commands all defensive players, especially the middle linebacker, defensive end and safeties to honor their own assignments each and every down. The middle linebacker is often responsible for the dive back, while the defensive end contains the quarterback and the safety must shut down the “pitch man.”
A breakdown in assignments with the triple option can, if run correctly, result in big plays, a reoccurring theme in Fresno State’s 55-38 loss to Ole Miss last week.
“They’ve got an athletic quarterback, once again,” Hill said. “They really come off the ball, cut you and play low. It’s a different looking scheme. Once again it will be assignment football and we really need to limit big plays. We’ve done that in two games, we didn’t do that last week.”
Cal Poly has rolled to a 3-1 record so far this season, primarily on the ground, averaging 258 rushing yards per game to just 90 passing yards per game. Two of the Mustangs’ wins this season have come to FCS powerhouses, including then top-ranked Montana and last week’s blowout of No. 19 McNeese State.
The game marks Cal Poly’s only matchup in 2010 against a Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) opponent, and Hill stresses the Mustangs are up for the challenge.
“They’re off to a 3-1 start and I’ll guarantee you they’ll come in here and play five feet off the ground,” Hill said. “They’ll play very, very hard just like we do when we go into big venues. It’s an exciting event for us when we go on the road and play the UCLA Bruins or people like that. It will be the same atmosphere for them coming into Fresno.”
Senior Fresno State linebacker Ben Jacobs will have a key role in stuffing the inside run of Cal Poly’s offense. Jacobs said that although the defense may be “tweaked” slightly for Saturday’s matchup, assignment football is crucial to reverse last week’s poor outing on the road.
“We got some new schemes we’re going to work on today,” Jacobs said Tuesday. “We just got to get used to that and do our jobs.”
But preparing for the unique offense is no easy task, Hill said. In recent weeks defensive preparation has come a little simpler, primarily because opponents’ offenses have been similar to the Bulldogs’ arsenal.
But with the triple option’s unusual blocking schemes and multi-threat attack, mimicking exactly what the Mustang’s will show is nearly impossible without risking injury in practice.
“You can’t duplicate the cutting because I won’t,” Hill said. “It’s very hard to duplicate at that speed. The other offenses we’ve been able to duplicate a little bit better because we’ve got it in our playbook.”
The Mustangs’ heavy ground game has to travel only 140 miles for the contest, and Hill anticipates the Cal Poly faithful will arrive in big numbers for Fresno State’s second-annual Bulldog Football Fiesta Night.
“I expect Cal Poly hopefully to bring 10-15,000 fans with them. I think that would be great,” Hill said.