Thursday, October 8, 2009
The Air Force Fight song says, “We live in fame or go down in flame!” Let’s just hope they stick to the latter part, if only for this week. I’ve always felt like the academies have been the hardest teams to pull against simply because their athletes spend their post college careers protecting the country, but that was also before I became a fan of a team who has to face one every year. Fortunately, it gets easier every year and once Obama decomissions the military, we're going to have to find a new conference rival anyway. Is Boise State the Obama puppetmaster? That sounds like another post for another time...
In all the, “who is going to challenge the mountain west big three” chatter, it seems like everyone got wrapped up in a terrible UNLV team and a flash in the pan Colorado State team, overlooking the potential of Air Force, (3-2, 2-0). Having mostly been viewed as an also-ran academy team with a gimmicky academy offense, most people probably haven’t noticed that Air Force features one of the best defenses in the nation, ranking 9th in total scoring defense – several spots higher than TCU – and 11th in total defense. These guys haven’t been playing stat padding games to this point, either, as they have already played and won 2 conference games, as well as traveled to Minnesota and Navy and played those two teams very close in losing efforts. Frankly, this is the best team we have faced to this point on our schedule. BY FAR. Let’s see how it looks, on paper at least.
Offense – As you all should know, Air Force runs a triple option – read: run run run! – attack and has for some time. Fortunately for the Falcons, this has paid huge dividends this year as they currently rank 2nd in the NCAA in rushing yards with 291.8 per game. By comparison, TCU ranks 13th with 220, but we also move the ball through the air to the tune of 209.3 yards per game compared to Air Force, who ranks dead last in the country with 85. You’d think after all these games where opponents absolutely know beyond the shadow of a doubt what the Falcons are going to do they’d have to switch tactics, but obviously this isn’t the case. We just need to watch the film from 2007 to realize that when Air Force ran off a 71 yard 4th and 1 touchdown to send the game into overtime, where Manfredini was up to his usual antics. You know the run is coming – you just don’t know from where. Back Jared Tew leads the team this year with 291 yards on 83 carries and 3 TDs, but the Falcons have six guys this year with at least 100 yards on the ground and a touchdown. Did I mention that they opened up the season by scoring 77 points against Nicholls State? Sure, they’re no powerhouse… but look at how much we foundered against an overmatched Texas State squad? These guys don’t necessarily stack up all that well against the Turner/Wesley/Tucker attack we feature, but when you have 6 guys that can interchangeably move the ball, you have a serious offensive advantage on a lot of teams.
Passing the ball, Tim Jefferson only has 40 attempts, but he has completed 23 for 317 yards and 2 TDs. By comparison, Andy Dalton has thrown the ball 91 times while completing 62 for 814 yards and 6 TDs. We obviously hold a firm advantage here regardless, and now that Tim Jefferson is rumored to be out, we have a significant advantage and this is where I will obviously have to base my decision. By total plays, Air Force has run the ball 317 times for 1459 yards, which is very nice, but they have only passed the ball 52 times for 408 yards. For those of you counting at home, that’s a whopping 93/7 run to pass ratio. Yes, it works, but they also haven’t played a defense quite like ours – the closest being Navy, who gives up 100 more yards per game on the ground than TCU. Meanwhile, the Frogs offensive breakdown is like this: 189 carries for 880 yards and 91 passes for 814 yards, which comes out to roughly a 77/33 run to pass ratio. Yes, it still heavily favors the run, but at least we mix it up a little bit, and you have to factor in that we’ve run the ball quite a few times in games with a big lead and are simply cashing out the clock. Between the two, there’s simply no comparison – the Frogs are a much more balanced team and thus Air Force has to look for two different aspects. We average more offensive yards – 27th to AFAs 60th over all – and have one of the better offensive lines in college football. The biggest factor in all of this is going to be the weather which is looking to be a brisk 20 degrees and snowing at kickoff. You have to assume the run game will dominate initially as both teams try and get a feel for how the snow will affect their play, but if TCU can open up the passing game, I have no doubt we will put this one away.
Advantage – Frogs
Defense – As mentioned, Air Force may typically only be recognized for their offensive prowess, but they’ve got quite the defense and rank higher than TCU in several categories, most importantly points per game. The obvious point here is that a run-only team plays right into the Frogs hands and, for the most part, you’d be exactly right. Air Force came into last year’s matchup averaging almost 270 yards per game and left only having put up 150. Air Force was also held to 11 yards passing, so it wasn’t like we were simply loading up against the run and letting them fling the ball over our heads. The 44-10 victory was especially solid as Air Force was averaging close to 4 TDs per game and only scored a TD late in the 4th when we were up 37-3 and the game was in hand. However, looking at previous year's matchups is completely comparing apples to oranges, so let’s look at how things are shaking out this season.
Yes, yes, you are all well aware that the Frogs have a solid defense. You should also be aware that TCU holds the nation’s #1 rushing defense (guess who’s #2? You guessed it- UT. Suck it, Longhorns). That’s a bad, bad thing to be going up against when all your offense does is run the ball. With the probability of a backup QB, you aren’t exactly going to switch up your game plan, especially when your backup QB has only attempted 10 passes this season, not to mention the, you know, extreme precipitation. Even if Tim Jefferson heals by game time - and, even if he does, an ankle injury will surely slow him some - you still can’t be all that concerned with Air Force passing the ball. Admittedly, Air Force has had the benefit of playing and practicing in the snow over the years, so they know what they’re getting into, but even their deceptively fast white guys shouldn’t be able to get up to full speed in the conditions, and that should even the field given our superior athleticism.
Meanwhile, when we have the ball, they’re not going to make things all that easy on us, either. I’ve already filled you in on what Air Force has to offer on defense, so no use repeating myself, but they had a pretty good defense last year and that didn’t do much to slow down Andy Dalton and the Frogs. They weren’t as good as this year, but they were close. I expected the Air Force run defense to be their bread and butter this year, but strangely enough it’s the pass game where they really shut teams down: They give up 119 yards on the ground but only 140 through the air. That pass defense is good enough to be ranked 5th in the nation, although that should be skewed by playing a team like Navy who, much like the Falcons, are a run based offense, as well as New Mexico who is more of a non-yards gaining offense. Still though, something to consider and my whole, “let’s just pass the ball” theory just took a big hit. It’s very hard to call – we own the better rush D, but their pass D is a lot better than ours, statistically speaking. Regardless, even with the weather, how can I pick against our boys?
Edge – Frogs
Special Teams – Well, looks like our kick return game is pretty cleared up for the next two years. Air Force has a pretty solid return game themselves – 11.7 on punts, 27.4 on kicks vs. TCU 16.8 per punt and 27.7 per kick. However, they don’t have Jeremy Kerley clap clap clap clap clap, so what am I really supposed to say here? What Air Force DOES have is a positively Evansesque kicker in Erik Soderberg who has already missed five of 17 field goals this year, but, admittedly hasn’t missed an extra point. The Colorado Spring Gazette may describe Evans as a “standout” kicker, but we know better. Begrudgingly, I will have to give ole Ross the edge here, but BARELY. Their punting game is better than ours – 42 yards vs 34 – and hopefully they will be punting the ball a lot. So that’s 2 for the Frogs and 1 for Air Force. Let the homerism continue.
Edge – Frogs
Overall – Despite my rampant homerism – and it is substantial – I think this game will be a little tighter than we all hope, and that is mainly due to the weather. Fort Collins last year was miserable and this game should be even colder, although snow is much more desirable than the cold, driving rain against the Rams. The biggest change, though, will be having Dalton under center rather than Jackson, because although Jackson did a great job managing the game and pulling that one out, he’s no Red. On paper this game looks like it could be 2007 all over again except for one major difference – the TCU offense. There’s absolutely NO comparison to a redshirt freshman Dalton running that offense vs what we do now. This team averages 50 more yards of offense and 8 more points and is infinitely more in sync. Sure, you can say we gave that one away – and, partially thanks to ole Schultzy, we did – but the fact is we didn’t have near the firepower then that we do now, and that is going to make the difference. I have no doubt that Air Force will try and cram the ball down our throats, but I have no doubt that we will have no problem stopping them. Despite my proclamations, I don’t think it’ll be very easy to get the pass game going in this one on our side, but I know they won’t either. The weather will surely make this one a knock down, drag out trench fight, and I like our O-line and work horse tailbacks to beat down the Falcons and push our record to 5-0.
The Call – Frogs 21, Falcons 7.
The game is at 6:30 on CBS College Sports HD so you all have no excuses not to watch it. Godspeed to WWHD, who will be attending in person. Wear a coat.
Game of the Week:
Utah (3-1, 0-0 MWC) at Colorado State (3-2, 0-1) (5:00pm Saturday, The Mtn)
-In previous weeks, the game of the week has usually involved one of TCU's non-conference opponents, since a conference foe winning against another will always somewhat counteract any benefit it provides by always dropping an 'L' on the losing team. But now that Clemson is messing up the Frogs' SOS, they'll be relying on BYU and Utah to be the marquee games on the schedule. With the Utes sitting just outside the Top 25 right now, they can probably break back into the rankings if they're able to string together another couple of wins in a row.
Other important games:
Virginia (1-3) vs. Indiana (3-2) (2:30pm Saturday, ESPN 360)
-Virginia seriously, seriously owes TCU after losing to William & Mary and starting the year 0-3. But they did upset North Carolina last week, starting what we all hope is a bit of a revival. This weekend they've got the Hoosiers coming to Charlottesville, and it's hard to figure out just how good/bad IU is. Their three wins came against MAC & Sun Belt weaklings, and their two losses were respectable ones to Michigan and Ohio State.
BYU (4-1, 1-0) at UNLV (2-3, 0-1) (9:00pm Saturday, The Mtn)
-Like the Utes, the Frogs really need the Cougars- who are ranked 18th and 20th currently- to keep winning games to creep back up in the rankings. It would be nice to see the Cougars sneak back into the Top 15 before the Frogs head to Provo on the 24th.
SMU (2-2) vs. East Carolina (3-2) (7:00pm Saturday)
-Now that we're done with Hate Week for another year, it's alright to go back to rooting for the Mustangs for the sake of the Frogs' SOS and for the sake of the rivalry. It's also perfectly alright for you to continue to wish for their football team to be wiped off the face of the earth and for the entire school to cease to exist. Either way, the Ponies play host this weekend to Skip Holtz and the ECU Pirates, one of the better teams in CUSA. ECU's two losses were at West Virginia and at North Carolina.
New Mexico (0-5, 0-1) at Wyoming (3-2, 1-0) (1:00pm Saturday, The Mtn)
-Jesus, New Mexico is terrible. I would say we ought to cheer for them to avoid having a winless team on the schedule, but I'm not sure it would do any good. Instead, a Wyoming win would give them a fighting chance of becoming bowl-eligible. So go Cowboys- we hope your quarterback isn't as shitty as the Cowboys that play over in Arlington.
Texas State (2-2) vs. Southeast Louisiana (2-2) (2:00pm Saturday)
-Again, I'm still not sure whether games against I-AA teams are even counted by the computers in determining strength of schedule, but you always want your wins to look better, right? I really, really hope the Bobcats don't lose to someone who only represents one-quarter of our corndog-smelling neighboring state to the east.
San Diego State and Clemson are both off this weekend. It'll give them time to think about what they've done.
TCU's sackmaster Hughes was 'puny little' RB Associated Press
TCU visits Air Force in pivotal Mountain West clash Sports Network
Air Force offensive line shines Denver Post
Calhoun knows the way to end criticism is to win Colorado Springs Gazette
Air Force notes: Tight ends have not been productive Colorado Springs Gazette
Special online video of TCU vs Air Force made available nationwide in HD GoFrogs.com
Mittie wants TCU to be tougher Star-Telegram
TCU women chosen preseason No. 2 in MWC basketball Star-Telegram
Mountain West vs. WAC: which is the better non-BCS league? Sports Network