NCAA Football Preview - Air Force FalconsAug 19, 2011 - 4:11 PM Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - 2010 SEASON IN REVIEW: Sporting the second-strongest rushing attack in the nation in 2010, the Air Force Falcons rumbled their way to a 9-4 overall record and a mark of 5-3 versus the rest of the Mountain West Conference under head coach Troy Calhoun. The academy ripped off five wins in the first six outings and would have been undefeated if not for a narrow 27-24 setback against Oklahoma on the road in the middle of September. The hard-fought battle versus the Sooners was rather substantial, given that OU finished the campaign 12-2 and closed out the season with five straight wins, including a lopsided 48-20 romp over Connecticut in a BCS bowl matchup.
The Falcons were bound to have a few bumps in the road and those came versus San Diego State (27-25) and TCU (38-7), but beyond those two league defeats the squad also stumbled against Utah at home as well, 28-23. Air Force regained its composure after the setback versus the Runnin' Utes and used a 42-22 pounding of the Army Black Knights in New York to capture the Commander- in-Chief's Trophy for the 17th time, thanks also to a 14-6 win over Navy a month earlier. The prestigious award, presented to the academy that performed the best against the other two institutions, was the first for the Falcons since 2002. The win over Army generated enough momentum for the Falcons to also take down both New Mexico and UNLV, two of the weaker programs in the MWC, to close out the regular season with eight wins in 12 opportunities.
The Falcons capped off their successful regular season by facing off against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the Independence Bowl, a matchup which pitted the top two rushing teams in the nation. Air Force was held to just 170 yards on the ground, compared to 279 by Tech, leaving the academy's defense to do most of the heavy lifting and limit the Yellow Jackets to just a single touchdown in a 14-7 decision. Air Force finished the campaign with a staggering 306.5 ypg on the ground and even though the passing game was still lacking in terms of yardage (119.3 ypg), quarterback Tim Jefferson actually gave opponents something to think about as he threw for close to 1,500 yards and 10 touchdowns.
OFFENSE: The Air Force passing offense has been notoriously absent from most game plans for quite some time now, yet Jefferson has tried his best to resurrect the aerial attack and at the very least has forced opponents to keep that potential on their radar. Last season, Air Force ranked 118th in the country with just 119.3 ypg through the air, but there were several moments when Jefferson was able to catch defenses off guard, which might not be an easy trick this year since he's let the cat out of the bag. Nevertheless, coach Calhoun sees Jefferson as a special talent and a great individual.
"Service academy football has been played for over 100 years and there's one quarterback who was able to lead his team to a bowl game as a freshman, there's one quarterback in the history of service academy football that's led his team to three bowl games as a starter and yet ultimately, he'll tell you, that it's because of everyone else around him."
But make no mistake, the Falcons are first and foremost a running team through and through, placing second in the country in 2010 with more than 300 ypg on the ground. Back again this season is Asher Clark, who last year led the way with his 1,031 yards and scored five times for the Falcons, but for all the hits he took Asher generally left the scoring to Jefferson who hit the end zone 15 times on 154 carries. Jonathan Warzeka averaged just about three carries per game, but he managed an average of more than seven and a half yards per carry and scored four times so there's potential in him this year as well. Warzeka, who has been named to the Hornung Award Watch List, also proved to be the top receiver for the program in 2010 with 406 yards and three TDs on 18 catches, so defenses will have to be prepared for that aspect as well. Mikel Hunter was also a contributor on offense last season, but early on he doesn't appear as a prime weapon according to the depth chart, although that could change once the games actually begin.
DEFENSE: Good news for the Air Force defense is that four of their top five tackles from a year ago are slated to be back this year. Linebacker Jordan Waiwaiole did a little bit of everything for the squad in 2010 with his team- best 96 stops, including 7.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. Fellow linebacker Patrick Hennessey tied for the team lead with 10 TFLs and contributed a pair of sacks as well as he made just 60 stops overall, clearly capitalizing on the opportunities he generated for himself. The Falcons were seventh in the MWC and 103rd in the nation in TFLs with just 4.69 per game, so having a couple of experienced hitters reprising their roles in that area are key for the team keeping the pressure on at the line of scrimmage.
Strangely enough, for a team that runs the ball so much and sees it happening in practice all the time, the Falcons were rather weak in defending that part of the game last season, allowing opponents to post 201.5 ypg, which was sixth in the conference and 103rd nationally. Hopefully defensive backs Jon Davis and Anthony Wright will be able to handle their business in the secondary and add support closer to the line of scrimmage in order to cut down on such an obvious deficiency. However Davis, who tied for the team lead with three interceptions last season, cannot make that sacrifice if it means giving up his main responsibility.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Aside from avoiding sacks, something a triple-option offense can do for a team, the Falcons also led the Mountain West in net punting a season ago with an average close to 39 yards per kick, a responsibility handled mostly by punter Keil Batholomew. However, Bartholomew is no longer with the squad and that leaves junior David Baska as the leader in that department heading into the new campaign. The placekicking duties will be reprised by Erik Soderberg who was called upon just 10 times to attempt field goals in 2010 and missed all four of his chances from 40 yards and beyond. When it comes to returns, Warzeka and Davis are set for double duty as they handle kickoffs and punts, respectively.
"I do really like playing multiple positions, especially in our offense," Warzeka says of being the ultimate utility man. "We do have multiple sets, obviously running the triple option, we're not afraid to get into shotgun, go single back. I'm trying to tell coach Calhoun to put me out at quarterback a couple times, hasn't worked out just yet...I also tried to get on defense too, but that's not working out either."
OUTLOOK: Calhoun has had the Falcons flying high since he took over in 2007, leading the squad to a 34-18 record overall and 21-11 in the increasingly difficult Mountain West, so when will Air Force hit a snag in its development? It won't take long to find out where the Falcons rank against the rest of the MWC because right after they open with a meeting against South Dakota State, they are set to host the TCU Horned Frogs, and that one meeting could tell a lot about their character. After completing a three-game homestand to open the campaign by hosting Tennessee State, the academy has a brutal four-game run to contend with versus the likes of Navy, Notre Dame, San Diego State and Boise State, so by then they should know what they need to do in order to make it to the postseason once again. If nothing else, the Falcons can feel comfortable in knowing that they have three straight home games in November versus Army, Wyoming and UNLV, opponents which should all bow quite easily to the Falcons, before closing out with a road date against Colorado State.
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