TCU vs. Air Force: Can Gary Patterson's Defense Contain Air Force Once Again?
Under AFA head coach Troy Calhoun, the Falcons have consistently destroyed the weaker teams in the Mountain West Conference and have never finished lower than fourth place in the conference.
Since his first season in 2007, he only has two conference losses to teams not named TCU, Utah or BYU: (1) A three-point loss at Albuquerque in 2007 to a 9-4 New Mexico team that went on to win its bowl game and (2) a two-point loss in 2010 at San Diego to the resurgent Aztecs, who also went on to win their bowl game.
In fact, even including TCU, Air Force under Coach Calhoun has only one home conference loss to current MWC teams. The loss came against the Frogs in an epic bowl where the only fans at the game were the cadets and the Frog fans.
With the departure of BYU and Utah (and the upcoming departure of TCU) to the Big East, Air Force is poised to be one of the top teams in the conference and contend for a conference title, even with the addition of Boise State and the entrance of Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada next season.
Air Force is a dangerous and disciplined team and has been especially so under Coach Calhoun.
Coach Calhoun played for Air Force in the late 1980s under his predecessor, Fisher DeBerry. His freshman season saw the Falcons finish 12-1, with a win over Notre Dame, a bowl win over Texas and a Top 10 ranking.
Coach Calhoun had several years in the NFL coaching ranks before returning to help return AFA to its winning ways.
Under Calhoun, Air Force has combined a great pass defense with its always challenging triple-option attack, utilizing brains as much as brawn to win games.
In 2009, Air Force finished at No. 11 in total defense, No. 10 in scoring defense and No. 5 in pass defense.
In 2010, the Falcons finished second in the nation (behind TCU) in pass defense. However, the defense began to show signs of decline last season for defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter, who is now with Texas A&M.
For TCU head coach Gary Patterson, limiting the Air Force offense has been a long-term project.
Coach Patterson first had a chance against the Falcons in his first year as a DC at New Mexico, when the Falcons (WAC co-champs that season) beat the Lobos, 27-24.
Patterson had his next shot at Air Force in 1998, as the DC for TCU. The Falcons (who finished the season 12-1 and in the Top 10) scored 34 points and gained 259 yards rushing on the Frogs. That was not enough for a win for Air Force, however, as a young LaDainien Tomlinson helped the Frogs score 35 points and secure the victory.
Also of note, TCU dominated the time of possession in the game, limiting the Falcons' scoring opportunities.
Since that game, Patterson and TCU have not allowed the Falcons to score more than 20 points in a game.
The last two games at Colorado Springs have been especially challenging.
In 2007, TCU was ahead, 17-3, with eight-and-a-half minutes left in the game when the Falcons scored their first touchdown of the day.
TCU later thought it had the Falcons stopped deep in their own territory with under five minutes to go. Instead, on a 4th-and-1 on their own 29, Air Force broke out for a 71-yard game-tying run—almost half of Air Force's total yards of the game.
TCU, who had previously missed a field goal, had an Andy Dalton interception in the end zone in the final minute of the game, when a field goal would have won the game for TCU.
The caution over the field-goal attempt proved wise, as the TCU kicker missed one in overtime and TCU lost the game, beating themselves as much as anything.
Additionally, TCU was without its running backs for the game and only managed 89 rushing yards against AFA's traditionally weak rush defense.
In 2009, sub-freezing weather kept most of the fans away from the game. Wind and mist covered the field and icy conditions contributed to three TCU turnovers, two in the red zone and one near the end of the game.
The final TCU turnover set up Air Force's second TD with under a minute to go. TCU recovered the AFA's onside kick to secure the win.
Saturday's game will have none of the weather issues associated with 2009. TCU will also have most of its deep corps of RBs available for the game.
The game will highlight the same questions TCU had going into the season.
Will new QB Casey Pachall perform up to his talents?
Will the new offensive line do well?
And, most important of all, will the new TCU defense actually get anywhere close to Gary Patterson's standards?
While it might be a battle for a while, look for TCU to win this one, 34-17.
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