Hello there again TRM, and welcome to the 2013 preview of the Air Force Falcons on Lobo Points of Interest.
It's come down to this lobo fans. Two option teams. Two schools six
hours apart in comparable elevation. Two teams that are below the
majority of people's expectations and with little left to lose in
front of the ESPN U cameras and their 70 million subscribers. They
run well. They match up well. They have similar experience in each
others' offense when 120 other teams need extra time for prep: All
in an abbreviated week game.
Obviously our head coach has the edge in the nickname department
(Footbawl Bawb vs. Hoody Doody) but the patterns themselves are
clear. UNM and AFA deserve to pull a win from this game and get to
decide who's going to stay in the MWC mountain division basement or
on their respective paths towards next season.
AFA is not going bowling for the first time in six years, an
impressive previous streak in the Troy Calhoun era. Troy is a pure
alumnus at the head coach position and the 6th head coach EVER in
Air Force's football program. He took over for Fisher DeBerry after
2006 and is facing one of the driest spells ever in his seventh
AFA is strange in the fact that they have three co-OCs. The
quarterback coach and wide receivers coach coordinate with Calhoun
and they also don't have a pure DC. Everything is fed through the
head coach. It's very unique. This seems to be Troy's show and
unique is the euphemism I'm going with .
AFA has been dragged through the ringer this year. 2-7 (one FCS win
and last week against Army) and a bevy of injuries on an anticipated
youthful roster has finally crushed the benefits of the Falcons'
superior equalizing scheme. To their credit it took a lot to get to
2-7. Time and time again critics would praise AFA for doing more
with less (compared to sizes in the conventional CFB world) and were
reluctant to vote them down with low returning starters and
questions in unit areas staring critics in the face. The bell cow
was still producing milk and nobody was able to predict anything
with this squad.
Unfortunately even the falcons have to experience how the bow breaks
from youth and until this year have proved many wrong.
Since the match ups with UNM's current rebuild are so similar, let's
take a look at how many differences we can find and how our current
guys look matching up with the cadets.
Air Force runs a 3-4 defense and probably always will. There's a lot
of factors that go into deciding what kind of scheme to run, but
many of the difficulties that come with a military academies
prospect list give Air Force a reason to fall back on the 3-4.
Although it would be interesting to see them in a 3-3-5 sometime in
the future, this straightforward and practical defense screams
military issue all over it.
Due to size and height restrictions, academic prowess requirements,
and the military commitment that comes with graduating from the
academy, fitting a special niche makes all the difference in the
world on the recruiting trail for Air Force. "All the difference" in
making it extremely difficult to pull in the guys you're looking
for! Lots of over-sized lineman and overly big cadets need not
apply. Air Force doesn't have the luxury to look for square pegs for
a square hole. The Falcons have to find square pegs tough enough to
fit into a smaller sized rhombus shaped slot with minimal leeway and
crafting sources. Easy? Not a chance.
Air Force will be primed and ready for a running affair. What do you
do when you need to stop the run? The good ol' 5-2 is one of the
classics for keeping the run under control:
Five guys on the line with the same three lineman they use on their
base makes it more difficult to run inside the tackles. If you don't
use a lot of lineman, this is what you can do for the run. Some
teams have more options with four lineman (plus their rotating back
ups) but this will do if you insist on having a linebacker in there
to stop people on the line of scrimmage.
After the ball snap it falls on the last two linebackers in the
stack to read and try to make a play in the fight in front of them.
There isn't going to be a lot of razzle dazzle in this match up.
Both sides are going to know what's coming at them (in theory) and
they don't need much finesse to know how to defend it.
There isn't a whole lot more formation lore to document here. If you
watched the Army game you literally saw the 5-2 dozens of times.
Strengths on the defensive side of the ball are in fact on the line
for the Falcons. They have the most upperclassmen there and tend to
have some comparable defensive ends to some other MWC squads. 250lbs
with quickness will help defend the edges but the falcons are
notoriously light across the board. The tackles are just slightly
bigger than the ends across the D-line and top out at 260lbs.
Thankfully they have returned the most starters here and probably
dictate the defense's success in any given game.
Linebacker is in big supply but they're just starting out in their
collegiate careers. Not a single senior in the bunch and they'll try
to out run you to make a play. Topping out at 235lb; you'll see some
guys closer to 210. Some linebackers on this roster have a lot of
fight in them, but resemble some safeties at the FBS level.
Secondary: Young, young, young. You're guaranteed to never see more
than the traditional four secondary players on the field at any
given time and they've had trouble keeping oversized receivers back.
You'll see them lined up fairly deep and will try to contain as best
This defense has become a touch more aggressive than other Air Force
squads I've seen in the past. Playing to their strengths, mainly
speed and tenacity, puts the occasional blitzing linebacker into the
A and B gaps. Definitely not as predictable as some other teams in
the league, but playing teams that get into a running rhythm has
seen the Falcons try to disrupt the backfield to try to force long
They're down right now, but not to be underestimated. True to form
these guys tackle well and fight well for their disadvantages. We
have some things we can do well against this squad and the same AFA
team we faced last year might not be the same story.
You know it. I know it. The cadets know it...Jack & Jill
Stevenson from Biloxi, Mississippi (along with Jill's pet
parakeet Petey) knows it because they caught a Falcon football game
once in an airport lobby. Everybody knows Air Force is going to run
the ball. Their method is very prevalent because of their
football history and the coaching staff go to the drawing board from
there...."there" being the opponents common knowledge of their
scheme. For one, it's not changing anytime soon but Air Force does
grow out of that base.
Air Force's offense is generally referred to as the "flex spread".
The root of the phrase is from the "flex bone"; a formation that
they continue to use to run some option plays and the spread forms
they use to confuse.
Technically the flexbone has two skill players lined up
symmetrically just behind the tackles (observe the starting point of
the WR above at the "X") but Air Force chooses to run this one out
of a mini "I" formation. Notice where the RB is lined up: that makes
it an I formation. UNM itself ran a few of these motion plays last
week to mix things up in their own option game.
Without getting on too much of a tangent, I feel it's important to
point out several things that AFA does out of this formation:
- 1. They can run a moderate hurry up set and play on occasion;
it sometimes shakes the defense loose from it's once in a blue
- 2. They send the motion guy to the point of snapping the
ball...but they don't snap the ball. This is to get the defense
to show their cards and show any late blitzes that might be on
the way. Disruption through blitz is a vulnerability with such a
busy backfield and since Air Force doesn't mind burning clock,
they'll try to coax out a threat. A late blitz shift usually
isn't able to diagnose before the ball is snapped. This way AFA
gets a chance to audible.
- 3. The play snaps as usual at the normal point of motion.
Air Force uses their offense very intelligently.
Oddly enough though, Air Force has gone to several spread formations
to mix in their run and add short passing to their game. They've
been around at least four to five years now. They're still under
15-20 pass attempts a game (if that) but it throws something new at
the defense before they continue to run the ball the same way.
AFA is different from the Lobos Pistol Option in that they use a
formal fullback type blocker...even if that guy is simply a running
back. This helps when they're pulling a guard to power run
block and it makes a difference when they're using lighter tight
ends to block out of seemingly pass friendly formations. It's a good
example of packaging one of your weaknesses (lighter tight ends) and
turning it into a benefit
Air Force is in a 4 WR set and they send one of the larger hybrid
WR/TE's in motion on the path drawn. Shortly after the snap, a power
option follows the over sized receivers lead with the fullback
leading as the second blocker. The formation makes the defense
respect the threat of a pass and then matches an undersized safety
to a bigger blocker through isolation...it's ultimately a sneaky
power running play that ended up in a touchdown when the fullback
made a block down field...following the wake of the motion man. The
pitch RB took it to the house for eighty yards.
Injuries have been HUGE for Air Force and they continue to make
their season difficult. They are currently on their fourth starting
QB this year.
Let me say that again: FOURTH starting QB. Two season ending
injuries, one QB dismissed and deemed ineligible from the academy
and now they're starting a true freshman: Nate Romine. Romine is
fairly smaller than most dual threat quarterbacks but shows a more
consistent throw than past Air Force starters. He has some talent
but he's literally starting his second collegiate game ever on
Friday. Mistakes can be seen on the field in the form of several
busted plays against Army.
Because of this the offensive call hasn't been spectacularly
colorful and you can tell that Air Force is running with younger
pups out there. They returned an abysmal amount of returning
starters and it's odd to see them this down.
Two play making WR's have been out (Gagliano and MacArthur) and the
next guy up in the roster have tried to make their mark (Brown,
Huntsman). It's a recurring theme on their running back roster as
well. Anthony LaCoste set a personal best against Army by a country
mile. He had over 250+ yards on several 70+ yards plays.
Air Force just keeps plugging people in at skill positions and hopes
to create a play with their scheme. Keying in on an individual
player is fruitless in the end. Several 100 yard rushers have come
from a hodgepodge of different folks on the roster. You just have to
play disciplined ball and hope to stop them to a man.
So what do we do?
We show up for Brian Urlacher's jersey retirement, that's what.
Above what happens in the game, every UNM football fan should make
it in for this one time event. It's one hell of a once-in-a-lifetime
experience to say you saw and attended later in life. Show up. Do
it. There aren't many other retirement jersey ceremonies for a
reason and the man deserves your attention and applause.
As to Air Force, we have a good match up against their roster size
wise and an esoteric rep experience in defending their wacky scheme.
Even on a short week, the youth and injured on their squad makes
this hill slanted before the game even starts and UNM should get
We have great match ups against their secondary and we can go at
them with slight size advantages. These won't win the game
exclusively but outside of an utter big play shoot out, Air Force
will be hard edged to keep up if our defense is consistent enough to
deny them points. Even if those denials are at the end of long
Our defense is going to have to disrupt the line of scrimmage and
force the Falcons inside. Romine can be a solvent passer and the
Falcons might try to open up more passing for this game, but our
game plan has to revolve around being around a pressured pocket for
a number of reasons. His inexperience is a big plus...despite his
military training he should be more easily rattled and we need to
get him off his game.
AFA will be hard up on getting their tight ends into this game. Most
of them are tall enough to possess as much mismatch as possible.
Basic routes and out routes will be the security blanket to get
their QB through this game. Against another option team they'll have
to look outside of the box.
Expect Romine's mobility to show up on the draw.
Tackle, tackle, tackle, tackle. We have to wrap up properly. No
missed assignments with AFA's WR corps. They're quick but we should
get a good bead against these guys.
Our option runners match up well size wise and this might be long
day if the right blocks fall into place. It should be a higher
scoring game with lots of points on the board in general.
We should be able to take this game, though the cadets will fight
back bitterly. It should be a contest that's never completely
decided til the very end.