Air Force sits at the midseason point with a 5-1 record. Highlights from the season's first half included a win over Navy, the first in several attempts and the critical first leg in securing the Commander-in-Chief's trophy. It also featured a near miss against the Oklahoma Sooners when the Falcons fell in Norman by a field goal.
Air Force is off to a 3-0 start in one of the country's more impressive conferences during the first half of the season. They are ranked in both polls. And they are well positioned to bring down a couple Goliaths in the season's second half.
The Air Force offense has been very good during the season's first half. The trio of quarterback Tim Jefferson, fullback Jared Tew, and halfback Asher Clark have been giving defenses fits all season. Tew has been particularly impressive, always churning out positive yards in the middle of the defense and giving up no negative plays.
While the skill of these three was not in doubt before the start of the season, their ability to run behind a green offensive line was very much an open question. The Falcons had no returning starters to pave the way for their runners, which is usually a red flag for an offense that leans so heavily on the running game.
But, the new offensive line gelled quickly and has opened plenty of gaping holes. They have also done an excellent job pass blocking for Jefferson, who has put the "air" into Air Force this year.
The Falcons ability to throw the ball with consistency is what really separates this year's team from some of the Falcons' offenses of the past. Jefferson has repeatedly found his receivers downfield, allowing the offense to convert plenty of third and longs, while also keeping defenses honest. It was the passing attack that enabled Air Force to build a big lead against Colorado State. And it was the passing attack that kept several drives alive against both Oklahoma and Navy. Even on obvious throwing downs, Jefferson has had plenty of success in finding his targets.
What keeps the Falcons from earning an "A" here were substandard performances against Wyoming and Navy. But, the Navy blip is understandable considering how well the disciplined Midshipmen know how to defend the Air Force option attack. And the struggle against Wyoming came after the emotional game on the road against Oklahoma.
Over the years, Air Force has frequently relied on its offense to win shootouts. But, this year's defense has down plenty to earn its keep. In fact, the defense has frequently outperformed the offense.
The pass defense has been spectacular, fueled by the conference's best pair of cornerbacks in Reggie Rembert and Anthony Wright. The Falcons held BYU to 88 yards through the air and are ranked seventh nationally against the pass, holding opposing offenses to an average of 149.3 yards through the air. Their excellence against the pass has turned a frequent Air Force Achilles heel into an area of real strength.
The Falcons are downgraded slightly for their rush defense, which has been inconsistent at times. It snuffed out Navy's rushing attack and more than held its own against Oklahoma. They held Navy's Ricky Dobbs without a rushing touchdown for the first time in his 17 game career as a starter. But, this is an area of emphasis for Air Force heading into the season's second half.
The Air Force Special Teams has notched at least one win for the Falcons thanks to freshman Jamil Cooks. Against Navy, he blocked both a kick and a punt. Those blocks resulted in a ten point swing in the score, which was more than the difference in the final score.
The special teams was also devastating against Colorado State with another blocked punt by Anthony Wooding, Jr. and a blocked PAT by special teams ace, Cooks, who literally flies over blockers.
Cooks may prove to be the best punt and kick blocking specialist in the country based on what we have seen over the last two games, defying the laws of gravity on a regular basis.
Jonathan Warzeka also returned a kick 100 yards for another score against CSU.
Where the special teams did not perform quite as well was against Oklahoma. The primary difference between Air Force and Oklahoma in that game was special teams, with the Sooners having plenty of success in their return game to setup short fields.
Still, the special teams has done enough to earn an A-, particularly with the role it played in the huge win over Navy. Air Force clearly puts a priority on special teams and has been rewarded for that commitment.
No team has been better at making half-time adjustments than Air Force, and that is directly attributable to the outstanding coaching. The defense has been almost impenetrable in the fourth quarter, finally surrendering points in that quarter for the first time in their sixth game, giving up a couple touchdowns in garbage time against Colorado State.
The coaches chose the perfect moment to unveil secret weapon Jamil Cooks against Navy, ensuring the Midshipmen were not prepared for his ability to hurdle blockers. This set the stage for two game changing plays.
The playcalling has also been very good, consistently keeping defenses off balance. CSU expected Air Force to come out running and found themselves in a huge hole early after giving up a series of big pass plays.
The Falcons are also not a team that beats themselves. They play disciplined and make very few mistakes, also a tribute to the coaching.
Troy Calhoun has rebuilt Air Force into a conference contender far quicker than anyone thought possible. But for a three point loss against Oklahoma, the Falcons would be in the BCS-buster discussion. Calhoun had the Falcons believing not only that they could win that game against the Sooners on the road, but that they should expect to win it. And he ensured they were ready for their next game against Wyoming, despite the letdown that came with the loss.
Calhoun is one of the country's best kept secrets among coaches and is a rising star. It will be interesting to see if he stays put at Air Force, his Alma Mater.
Air Force now enters the murderer's row portion of their schedule. Over the next three weeks, they face a tough road game against San Diego State before traveling to take on #4 TCU. They are rewarded with a home game against #11 Utah before going back on the road against Army.
But, under Troy Calhoun, the Falcons have played some of their best football in the seasons' second halves. This next game is particularly important, since it will serve as the launching pad into back to back matchups against the conference Goliaths.
San Diego State has also looked solid in the season's first half, losing a heartbreaker against #22 Missouri and dropping a surprising game against BYU this past week. While I think this game will be close, I like Air Force to win it in the fourth quarter. I also like Air Force to surprise Utah in Colorado Springs.
But, beating TCU on the road will likely be a bridge too far. Look for Air Force to give them a scare before succoming to the greater talent.
Still, the Falcons may represent the conference's best chance of beating the Horned Frogs, who may boast the nation's best defense, one that has looked nearly impenetrable at times. While the Utes have the good fortune to draw TCU at home, Air Force has an offense that is somewhat unfamiliar to TCU and could give the Falcons a chance. That offensive system, which relies so heavily on misdirection and assignment football, has the potential to be the great equalizer.
Final Record Prediction: 10-2