A first round playoff matchup with No. 5 seed Harding (Ark.) is forcing No. 4 seed Northwest Missouri State to get re-acquainted with the particulars of defending the triple option.
In a day and age where spread and zone read attacks dominate the college football landscape, Harding (9-1) is one of the few teams left that runs the old-school offense.
Northwest has already faced the triple option once this year against Missouri Southern, providing the Bearcats (9-2) with a better understanding of how to stop it.
"It's a big advantage," said Northwest Missouri State head coach Adam Dorrel. "Rich (Northwest defensive coordinator Richard Wright) probably didn't sleep last night. The way you set up your practice is entirely different than a normal week. You're going to have a dive drill. You're going to have a perimeter drill. You're going to have a quarterback drill. If you went to practice, it would look really funky. So the fact that we've already gone through that, it's going to help us a lot."
Ranked second in the MIAA in rush defense, Northwest Missouri State gave up a season-high 253 rushing yards to Southern but only two scores in a 38-14 win on Oct. 20 in Joplin.
Southern finished the year ranked second in the MIAA in rush offense with 276.6 yards per game.
Second place GAC finisher Harding has been even more dominant with its ground attack, ranking fifth nationally with an average of 322.2 yards per game.
Henderson State and Southern Arkansas are the only two teams on Harding's 10-game regular season schedule to hold them under 200 yards rushing.
"I don't mean this to be disrespectful; it's not even close," said Dorrel comparing Harding's run attack to Southern's. "They run the option a lot better. They're a lot more crisp. They're a lot more violent on the offensive line. They crack and they chop through. It's an entirely different deal. They throw the ball a lot better. Their offensive line for a triple option offense is what you want. They're not 300 pound guys, but they're mobile and versatile."
Harding has eight ball-carriers with more than 100 yards on the season and seven with more than 200.
All of them average over four yards per carry.
Sophomore running back Romo Westbrook is the team's leading ground gainer with 649 yards. Senior quarterback Kelvin Martin, whose attempted only 97 passes, ranks second with 613 yards and has a team-high 10 touchdowns.
The Bison have run over six times as many running plays as passing plays this year, leading to a huge advantage in time of possession. Harding controls the ball an average of 34:25 per game, leaving its opponents only 25:25 of possession time.
This puts an emphasis on Northwest Missouri's state's high-octane offense to make the most of every possession, knowing there will likely be less of them than usual.
Page 2 of 2 - Northwest fared well under these circumstances against Missouri Southern, flipping the time of possession in their favor by nearly 10 minutes.
The Bearcats outgained Southern 446-258 and ran 24 more offensive plays.
"Offensively, we usually go into a game with X amount of plays," said Dorrel. "When we play an option team just like we did at Joplin, we're going to cut our script down knowing we're not going to run as many plays and that's fine. So we're going to be really good at the one's we're going to run. In other games, you try to set stuff up a little bit more. In a game like this, I think you try to fire your big guns early and try to get a lead and maybe make a team like that play from behind. I think it's hard for a team like that to do that."