More on Wofford's unique Wingbone offense
The more I read about Wofford's "Wingbone" triple-option offense, the more it makes sense that USF is using parts of two weeks to prepare for a I-AA home opponent. From a schematic and statistical standpont, the Terriers are unlike anything else USF will see this season.
"They count on you being undisciplined, so we kept talking about being gap-sound and assignment-sound," said George Barlow, who was defensive coordinator last season at James Madison, one of three teams to beat Wofford in 2008.
USF defensive coordinator Joe Tresey has said much the same thing in the past week, reiterating the need for each player to stick to his assignment, whether it be the option quarterback or the two backs trailing him as potential pitches. Wofford's depth chart shows a standard five-man line, with two halfbacks and a fullback that line up behind the quarterback -- one is often sent in motion as a wing -- with a single receiver and a single tight end. Get too focused on stopping the 'bone, and Wofford will wing it deep.
"They get you so locked up into stopping the option that when they do throw, their receivers are wide-open," Barlow said. "One of our major goals was not to give up a big play deep, and we did that well."
Wofford's top three receivers from last season are gone, and the top two on their depth chart each had just four catches last season. In defending against Wofford, Barlow said the middle linebacker is busy as always, but in most defenses, the free safety -- senior Nate Allen for the Bulls -- is hugely important because he's often the first extra defender greeting a runner who makes it through the line of scrimmage.
-- Barlow mentioned a statistical oddity that makes Wofford all the more frustrating to defend: The Terriers are unusually bold with going for it on fourth down. They led I-AA football last season in both fourth-down attempts -- 39 in 12 games -- and fourth-down conversions, with 25. That works out to a 64 percent success rate despite going for it more than anyone in Division I football. (Nobody in I-A converted more than 18 fourth downs last season). So the goal isn't always three-and-outs, so much as four-and-outs.
-- More than 82 percent of Wofford's offensive plays were runs last season, with rushing yards accounting for 73 percent of their total offense and 74 percent of their first downs. Despite being that predictable, they piled up 467.2 yards per game and 6.9 yards per play. The rushing attack was second in I-AA with 339.8 yards per game, and the passing game, as expected, was 11th from the bottom. The Terriers attempted just 145 passes last season, completing 93, including 10 touchdowns. Only two I-AA teams passed less, and the only I-A schools to pass less were service academies -- Air Force, Army and Navy.
-- For all that running, they're remarkably careful with the football, with just seven lost fumbles in 669 carries in 2008. Their 11 total turnovers last season matched the lowest in I-AA, and five of those came in a 70-24 loss to Appalachian State, meaning they had six turnovers in their other 11 games.
-- If turnovers are hard, sacks are even harder, with so few downs where a quarterback is actually dropping back to pass. Wofford allowed only five sacks last season, the lowest in I-AA and matching Navy for the lowest in Division I. Tackles for loss are almost 10 times easier to get, with 45 allowed last season.
-- The ball-control nature of Wofford's offense makes it harder to post a lopsided score against them. Consider the scores from their last four games against I-A opponents: Losing 23-13 to South Carolina in 2008, 38-17 to N.C. State in '07, 27-20 to South Carolina in '06 and 35-7 to West Virginia in 2005. The average margin is 31-14, which doesn't seem close until you look at the Big East's six games against I-AAs last season, which had an average score of 45-8. That puts Wofford three touchdowns closer than the average Big East I-AA opponent. That could make Saturday's game the closest of USF's first three games (at Western Kentucky, home vs. Charleston Southern).