POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Nov 15, 2012
~~<p>Legend has it that when then-head coach Ken Hatfield first proposed installing the wishbone offense at the Air Force Academy, the athletic director, Col. John Clune, rolled his eyes in disbelief and said, “then, we’d all better get our resumes ready.”<br />
Legend has it that when then-head coach Ken Hatfield first proposed installing the wishbone offense at the Air Force Academy, the athletic director, Col. John Clune, rolled his eyes in disbelief and said, “then, we’d all better get our resumes ready.” Hatfield said Clune, “asked, ‘what do you want to do that for? Everybody says the option isn’t going to work here.’” But 32 years later, the Falcons’ embrace of an ever-evolving option offense to suit their recruiting limitations remains and so does the success it has spawned. Hatfield rode it to head coaching jobs at Clemson and Arkansas and his right-hand man and successor, Fisher DeBerry, earned a place in the College Football Hall of Fame. Their success prompted Navy and Army to take up option offenses. Now, even in a major rebuilding year, the Falcons (5-5) are bidding for a sixth consecutive winning season and, with a victory over Hawaii on Friday or Fresno State next week, will become bowl eligible. It is a far cry from when Hatfield initiated the then-curious and controversial option “experiment” in 1980 amid a string of seven consecutive losing seasons. Even Bill Parcells (3-8 in 1978) couldn’t win there. A lot has changed, too, since 2001 when Air Force and UH, two-decade Western Athletic Conference foes, last met, including the look of the Falcons offense. From the “Fish bone” of DeBerry, what the Warriors will encounter on Friday is a zone read running option, that, at times will come out of a shotgun. Head coach Troy Calhoun, a 1989 graduate of the academy who served on coaching staffs with the Houston Texans and Denver Broncos, has brought changes each of his six years, re-tuning and adapting. “Troy is doing a lot of option and some other stuff, too,” Hatfield said. “They have done a lot more than just the basic, pure triple option run and defensive coordinators find it is a lot more difficult preparing.” Calhoun’s belief is that a service academy playing in a conference where it sees the same opponents each year must evolve from pure triple option lest the opposition eventually catches up. Make no mistake about it, the Falcons still hug the ground, averaging 62 running plays a game, and do it well, ranking second in the nation in rushing offense at 335.3 yards per game and 5.4 yards per rush. They average 30.6 points per game, this with a team that has 24 first-time starters, ranking second in the nation only to UH (29). Which goes back to Hatfield’s premise in tying the Falcons’ fortunes to the option. First, Hatfield said, “we couldn’t get the quarterbacks and receivers that were going to places like Brigham Young, San Diego State and elsewhere. We also didn’t have the big, fast kids and were getting worn down on defense in the fourth quarter. But with the option we had a chance to control the ball for 40 of the 60 minutes, so our defense was fresher. Plus, it was an offense other teams didn’t see much of and it made it hard for them to prepare for us in just three days.” Three decades after UH first encountered the Air Force wishbone “experiment,” it gets a look at the newest generation.
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