FOOTBALL: Fitz, Cats gear up to face Army’s ‘unique’ formations on both sides of the ball

Colin Becht

Pat Fitzgerald switched between his coaching hat and his teaching hat at a press conference on Monday, doing everything but pulling out a white board to demonstrate the intricacies of Army’s offensive and defensive schemes.

The Black Nights, Northwestern’s opponent this Saturday, feature unique formations on both sides of the ball, running the triple option on offense and the double-eagle on defense.

“Schematically it will be a challenge, mentally it will be a challenge, so we’re going to have to rise to the occasion,” Fitzgerald said. “I bought a couple extra bottles of Tums for (the coaching staff). It’s been a whole program approach in the offseason, for going and researching it, watching what Army has done.”

In the double-eagle, Army brings five defenders, and potentially a sixth as well. The nose guard lines up directly with the center, flanked by two defensive tackles who typically rush in the B-gaps, the space between the offensive guard and the tackle. The two defensive ends, one of whom typically is flex linebacker-lineman, are split wide of the offensive tackles.

“The thought process behind it is to put a lot of guys on the line and be aggressive, try to create and cause confusion in the gap,” Fitzgerald said. “There are also twist games and schemes they run. It’s unique.”

Asked about the weaknesses to be exploited in this unusual formation, Fitzgerald was mum. “Do you really think I’m going to answer that question?” he said.

Fitzgerald did highlight converting on third downs as key to NU’s success on offense this weekend, though that had more to do with the other lesson of the day: the triple-option offense.

“We’re going to be in some third-down situations on Saturday and we’ve got to possess the ball,” Fitzgerald said. “I can’t come in here next Monday and say Army had the ball for over 35 minutes and expect us to be successful. That just can’t happen. If they’re over 40 minutes, we’ve got an opportunity for a recipe for disaster.”

Army’s triple-option emphasizes ball possession, running the ball down a defense’s throat with three possible ball carriers, all of who could end up with the ball on any given play. The first option is for the quarterback to hand the ball off to the fullback for a dive play up the middle. If the defense sucks into the middle, the quarterback will fake the handoff to the fullback and break towards the sideline and up the field, utilizing the second option. However, if the defensive end pursues the quarterback, he will go to his third option, which is to pitch the ball to a trailing tailback.

“Sometimes they’ll be in the wishbone when they have three backs in the backfield, sometimes they’ll have two-thirds of a bone and motion a guy back in,” Fitzgerald said. “They have the triple and double-options but they also have the non-option plays that make it so difficult to prepare for.”

“You have a whole gamut you have to prepare for. If you stop chapter one of an offense, they go to chapter two, you stop that they might go back to chapter one or chapter three. They know exactly what they’re doing in their plan, they’re very physical, they run a lot of guys through and they execute it very well.”