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Kevin Schnepf, Published December 16 2011

Schnepf: Repetition helpful in digesting the triple option

Fargo - The triple option is overwhelming conversations in Fargo this week as much as a Triple Whopper can overwhelm one’s stomach.

Even a good friend with Esmond, N.D., roots offered his experience with the triple option – the run-dominated offense Georgia Southern will throw at North Dakota State in today’s FCS semifinal football game at the Fargodome.

My friend, a defensive back for an early 1970s Jamestown College football team about to defend the triple option, heeded these words from his legendary coach Rollie Greeno: “You got the pitch man. If you look anywhere else, you will be slingin’ chicken (crap) back in Esmond tomorrow.”

The threat seemed to work. Jamestown usually won against that triple option.

But it appears the best medicine for triple option indigestion is overexposure. That’s basically how Appalachian State limited Georgia Southern to 135 yards rushing earlier this season – far below its average of 334 that ranks second in the nation.

It was the third time in a span of four weeks that Appalachian faced the triple option, slowly improving its defense each week.

The Mountaineers saw it on Oct. 1 in a 28-14 loss at Wofford, the nation’s No. 1 rushing team that piled up 388 yards. They saw it on Oct. 15 in a 49-42 home win over The Citadel, the nation’s No. 3 rushing team that had 273 yards. Then on Oct. 29, Appalachian State’s defense put it all together against Georgia Southern.

“It certainly didn’t hurt preparing for it that often,” said an Appalachian State representative.

Other than big-boy Alabama, the only other team Georgia Southern has lost to in its last 14 games came in last year’s semifinals against Delaware. Like Appalachian State, Delaware had some familiarity with the triple option.

“We saw it against Navy the year before and most of the defense we had back played against it,” said head coach K.C. Keeler, whose team limited Georgia Southern to 257 rushing yards in a 27-10 win.

“I don’t want to use the word easier, but it makes it much more manageable when you’ve seen the triple option before. It’s really tough to prepare for in a week. You just can’t simulate it in a practice.”

And that is the challenge facing NDSU’s defense, which leads the nation in allowing only two touchdowns per game. They will find out quickly in today’s game just how fast Georgia Southern is.

“They are flat out fast,” said the man from Appalachian State.

And fast-moving. Georgia Southern marched to the Delaware 1-yard line on its first drive in last year’s semifinals. That’s when they lost the first of its four fumbles in that game.

If there is a kink in this vaunted triple option, it is turnovers. Georgia Southern has fumbled 38 times losing 15.

“Turnovers were huge,” said Keeler, who offered this piece of advice for NDSU.

“You don’t want to give them an extra possession in that first half,” Keeler said. “I’m usually a defer guy when it comes to the coin flip. But I wasn’t for that game. You want to slow them down anyway you can, even with time outs. All I remember is that first half was brutal. But as the game went on, we got them out of their rhythm.”

And if all else fails, maybe Bison coaches can resort to the Greeno method of persuasion.

Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor

Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549

or kschnepf@forumcomm.com