When The Citadel football coaches met last Sunday to begin working on a game plan for Arizona, head coach Kevin Higgins had a question for his assistants.
"I said to our staff around the table, 'OK, what do we do now to get a game plan? We don't have anything to look at,' " Higgins recalled.
As far as The Citadel coaches could tell, Arizona has never played a triple option team in seven seasons under coach Mike Stoops. Research dug up a tape of a Stoops defense against a triple option team when he was a defensive coordinator at Oklahoma.
"We got that film from 10 years ago to see what he might do," Higgins said. "But who knows what he might do? We showed up to play Chowan on Saturday, and they played defenses they had never run before, that we had not practiced against. We just had to draw some things up in the sand."
Fortunately, The Citadel's defense chipped in three touchdowns, and the Bulldogs scored 28 points in the final 91 seconds of the first half for a 56-14 win over Division II Chowan.
They can't count on the same largesse from Pac-10 contender Arizona, which broke into the USA Today coaches' poll with a 41-2 victory at Toledo last week.
And as it turns out, the Wildcats' co-defensive coordinator is more than familiar with both option football and military school mentalities. Tim Kish coached linebackers and defensive ends at Army from 1984-1991, helping the Black Knights to three bowl appearances and a 1-1 record against The Citadel.
Charlie Taaffe's Citadel 1991 team won at West Point, 20-14, and The Citadel's 15-14 win over Army the next season marked the Bulldogs' last victory over an FBS team; they've lost 21 straight since then.
"What you know is that they're going to be very disciplined, they've got great work ethic and what you don't want to do is let them think they're in a game because their mentality is stronger and stronger as they go," Kish said this week. "Having been at West Point for eight years, I know that's typically the way the thought process is. And so we've got to do a good job early of not giving them something cheap."
Citadel freshman quarterback Matt Thompson passed for three touchdowns and ran for a fourth score against Chowan in relief of fellow knob Ben Dupree. But Higgins said there's plenty of room for improvement as Thompson prepares for his first start in front of a crowd of about 60,000 at Arizona Stadium.
"There were several times, with both of them, where if they had just pulled the ball, there were opportunities on the perimeter," Higgins said. "Probably each one of them had three of those types of reads."
One key will be how the Bulldogs handle Arizona defensive ends Brooks Reed (6-3, 256) and Ricky Elmore (6-5, 250).
"We'll have a big challenge against their big guys in terms of running the option," Higgins said. "The good news is we can option some of those guys; we just have to execute."
Two Bulldogs who might be equipped to make plays against Arizona are 6-5 receiver Domonic Jones and 6-5 tight end Alex Sellars. Jones caught three passes for 56 yards and two TDs against Chowan, while Sellars had one grab for a career-long 37 yards.
On offense, Higgins is most concerned with how to slow down 6-5, 230-pound quarterback Nick Foles, quick tailback Nic Grigsby and 6-4 receiver Juron Criner.
"They will spread you out and try to get matchups with their quick, fast guys against your guys who maybe don't move as well," he said. "And their schemes allow them to do that, a lot of wide receiver screens and bubble screens."
With a nationally televised showdown at Iowa looming next week, Stoops doesn't want the Wildcats to overlook The Citadel.
"Carrying the momentum forward, we don't want to go out there and not take care of business," Stoops said. "This team can be dangerous if we're not disciplined or prepared."
--Arizona is ranked No. 23 in the USA Today/Coaches' poll, but is not ranked in the AP poll.
--The game will be televised by Fox College Sports Pacific. That's channel FCSP 192 on Knology cable, FCSP 725 on Comcast.