Air Force Falcons Tested in Oklahoma Loss: Ready to Challenge For Mountain West
While I'm not a big believer in moral victories, the Air Force Falcons came about as close as you can to achieving one in pushing Oklahoma to the brink in their 27-24 loss in Norman.
I felt going into the game that Air Force needed to be the beneficiary of a couple breaks to pull off the upset on Oklahoma's home turf. The closest they got to a break was a muffed snap that disrupted one potential Sooner drive. That wasn't enough.
But, the Falcons played very well on both sides of the ball throughout the game. In fact, the difference in the game was on special teams, with Oklahoma gaining good field position due to several good returns and kicking errors, while Air Force consistently had to drive most of the length of the field.
While this loss will sting, the Falcons have to feel good about their ability to compete the rest of the way. Texas Christian may be even better than Oklahoma and they also have tough draws against Utah and a Navy team that typically matches up well.
Here are my quick thoughts on the game:
Troy Calhoun has returned the Falcons to where they spent most of the 80s and 90s before they started to flounder. They are a very good team who can play with just about anybody, especially early in the season. They are disciplined, surprising fast, and resilient.
This is one of the most dangerous Air Force offenses that they've fielded. The big three of the offense is quarterback Tim Jefferson, halfback Asher Clark, and fullback Jared Tew.
Tew was particularly impressive against Oklahoma in pounding out tough yards against the middle of their defense.
These guys are very hard to stop, as witnessed by the 351 yards they amassed on the ground against an elite and very fast defense.
But, the offense also is much better in the passing game than most Air Force teams, as the Falcons converted first downs through the air on several third and long situations.
Unless I miscounted, the Air Force offense only had one three-and-out the entire game, consistently eating up yards against a very fast and talented Oklahoma defense, a defense that is consistently one of the stingiest in the nation against the run.
Their ability to control time of possession enabled the defense to stay fresh throughout the game.
Oklahoma's superb linebacker Travis Lewis paid the ultimate tribute to the Air Force offense, saying after the game, "I never want to see this kind of offense again. I love Coach Stoops and the way he schedules our nonconference, the tough ones. But not this one."
I suspect plenty of Oklahoma defenders, who frequently found themselves flat on their backs following open-field blocks, would agree.
The only other defense Air Force will see that is in the same caliber as Oklahoma's defense is Texas Christian, so expect these Falcons to put up a lot of yards, and points, throughout the rest of the season.
Air Force's defense did a stellar job of containing what I believe is a very good Oklahoma offense. Except for one drive in the third quarter that started in excellent field position, the Falcons gave up very few big plays down the field and forced Oklahoma to earn every yard.
The secondary did an excellent job of controlling the damage from Oklahoma's dangerous passing game. Ryan Broyles certainly did his damage, but it could have been a lot worse.
Broyles is one impressive receiver, quick as lightning with the ability to switch direction on a dime, and I expect he will one day star on Sundays.
Sill, most of the Oklahoma passing damage was done by quick passes underneath and screens.
The pass rush also did a decent job of keeping Landry Jones off rhythm. While the Falcons' defenders only recorded two sacks, they got close enough to Jones throughout the game to prevent him from getting into a groove.
Considering the size they were giving up, the defense held in there well against the Oklahoma ground game. Like Broyles, DeMarco Murray did his damage. But, he was forced to earn every yard.
I was a bit surprised that Oklahoma did not pound the ball a little more aggressively in the middle portion of the game considering their size advantage, especially considering how effective that strategy was on the opening drive.
Even with the loss, Air Force likely gained national respect, and with a solid win over Wyoming, has the potential to climb into the rankings.
At this point, they have to be considered a serious threat in the Mountain West Conference. They are the Mountain West team with the greatest potential to upset TCU, who they also have the misfortune to draw on the road.
Wyoming is now a potential trap game for Air Force. The Falcons are coming off a heartbreaking loss against a national title contender and will be heavy favorites against the marginal Cowboys.
Calhoun will have his work cut out for him to ensure the Falcons don't dwell on the loss and bounce back in time for the conference match-up.
Following the Wyoming game, the Falcons are facing a make-or-break October with four very good opponents on the docket.
They play rival Navy, an improving San Diego State team that pushed Missouri to the brink, Utah, and TCU during what will be a very tough month of football.
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