I took so long for Part II because I am a little lazy…
Now, first, let me back up…
During the 1997 season, I was selected as a 2nd team All-American by the Sporting News and other publications. That’s partially due to the fact the Rice Owl offense averaged 332 yards per game rushing (and some felt that at least one offensive lineman should be recognized). We Owls were the second most potent rushing offense in NCAA Division I-A, after the Nebraska Cornhuskers, and this, to no small degree, was due to running an offense very different than what most teams saw throughout the season: the triple option.
Now, let me explain briefly why this offense gave the undertalented Rice Owls such an advantage. It’s based on deception. On any given option play, no one knows who’s getting the ball. For example, on our double option, we attacked the field outside of the defensive end (DE). The QB ran the ball outside the DE who was supposed to be reach-blocked by the offensive tackle (OT), causing the front-side LB to pursue the QB. As the LB or SS went to tackle the QB, the QB could pitch the ball to the RB following the QB, who would thus be free to run upfield. If the LB is hesitant to tackle the QB, because he is afraid of the pitch to the RB, the QB can run up the middle, and gain yards. Essentially, you’re forcing the defense to make a choice, and executing soundly always make their choice wrong. This confuses defenses, especially if they don’t see this offense all season from other teams. Thus, we had an advantage.
Now, the heart of the triple option, or wishbone, offense is the triple option itself. Unlike the outside double option described above, in which either the QB or RB will end up running the ball, on a triple option play, the QB will either hand off to the fullback, keep it himself, or pitch to the RB. Three potential runners! Three options! Deception.
On this triple option, the OT “veers”, or bypasses blocking the DE (unlike on the double option), and blocks the front-side LB. The DE is the first man optioned. The QB reads the DE. If the DE tackles the FB, the QB pulls the ball from the FB’s arms, and runs outside to execute what is very similar to the outside double option, either keeping the ball himself, or pitching it to the RB. (Our QB Chad Nelson from Lewisville, Texas had been running this offense since 7th grade, and could have led Sooners and Huskers to National Championships, I think.)
But defenses must first respect the fullback! If a wishbone offense cannot average 4 yards every time the QB options to the FB, the defense will not respect this inside threat. They will overcompensate defending the outside, thus effectively destroying the remaining QB/RB double option threat.
That’s where I came in. My job was to push my DL a yard or two off the line of scrimmage (LOS). And I was good at this. Yes I was strong, but, more importantly, my technique was very sound.
It was sound because of footwork. Feet are everything on OL! You must concentrate on stepping correctly, from the point of initial contact, to the end. Correct stepping allows you to maintain strong positioning throughout the progression of your block. No base on
your face! If your feet come together at some point, you lose your strength; you lose your block; and you look like a big wuss!
Keeping your base is unnatural. It takes a ton of practice. That’s why you take practice seriously! Yes, I hated football practice. One of the most miserable sensations I’ve ever known was putting pads in my pants at 2 o’clock on a Tuesday. Sweating profusely by 3rd period also sucked. But, it was important. Bench warmers only survive practice. Starters come to get better. Word to your mother!
Thus, because defenses did respect our FB, our outside game opened up magnificently all season. We had other plays too: midline options, counter isolations, fullback leads, so on and so forth. We did well with them. But, again, it all started with attacking defenses with a power and execution that no scheming could stop. And I would be an arrogant fool not to give credit to all other OL, the tight ends, the FB, the RB’s who blocked, and the RB’s who muscled extra yards after contact. Everyone worked together to make a beautiful machine that destroyed the wills of defenses, especially up the middle, and then outside. Man this season was fun…
So, getting back to the game, after that kickoff at 11:50 on the 27th of September in the year of our Lord 1997, with the sun shining, and the crowd roaring for their Longhorns at Rice Stadium, the butt-kicking began.. for both offenses…
I really just want to recount some sensations…
We got the ball first. We ran 9 plays for 66 yards and a touchdown. We were up 7-0.
After watching the highlight video, I remember something on that play vividly (at 1:00 of video). The call was 18. 18 was our outside double option. Guard and tackle were supposed to reach-block their targets, securing the perimeter for the outside attacking QB and RB.
I had a 1 – easy block. The right tackle had a 5. Reach the 5! But, Mark the Right Tackle didn’t. Mark ran 19. He thought he was on the backside of the play, and tried to scoop the front-side LB. You can see Mark’s missed assignment – his CRITICAL ERROR – easily here at 1:00. But, it so confused the outside LB out of position that he missed the tackle. Chad pitched the ball to Michael Perry, who ran his butt off forty yards for the first score. Rice 7 Texas 0.
Texas punted on their first drive. We got the ball again. We scored again. 14-0 Rice Owls.
We knew how to win. We knew we could run all over these Longhorn primadonnas, these look like Tarzan play like Jane’s. They knew we weren’t intimidated by the Burnt Orange. They knew we’d run up some serious yardage against Tulane and Northwestern, and it was happening to them right now! My gosh we were jacked!
But the Longhorns had an Ace-in-the-Hole. They had the #1 college football running back of all time: Ricky Williams. And they racked up some yardage on this day too…