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Brad Rock: Utes hoping to debunk a tough myth

Published: Thursday, July 2 2015 12:56 p.m. MDT

AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — Military history is filled with myths. For instance, one long-held claim is that only one-fourth of combatants actually fire a gun. Now some experts say soldiers often overshoot. There's also a myth that Napoleon was a runty 5-foot-2, when in reality he was a normal-for-his-time 5-6.

As for whether Air Force football players are actually tougher, more disciplined and smarter than any other football team, that too could be a myth.

But that's the Utes' story and they're sticking by it.

"There is not one team in the country that's mentally more tough, or more competitive than Air Force," said Ute coach Kyle Whittingham.

Yes, but honestly, is that always the case?

"Every year. Every year," said safeties coach Morgan Scalley. "That's just how it is."

In any event, the Utes know this: It has seldom been easy to play the Falcons. In the last 12 pairings, only three have been decided by more than a touchdown and only five of the last 21. Average winning margin the last 12 games: 5.6 points.

Although Utah has won six of the last seven, only one was by double digits (14 points in 2004). That was the closest the Utes came to a loss in their Fiesta Bowl season.

In other words, don't plan on leaving before the credits scroll.

Utah hopes to draw one step closer to a perfect season today when it meets the Falcons for the 27th time. That's a short series, compared to those with teams like Wyoming (83 games), BYU (91) and Utah State (109). But that doesn't mean it hasn't been competitive.

Only 19 points separate the teams in their 26-game history.

Nothing fuels competition like a run of classic nail-biters.

Answers vary on why the Utes have such a problem with Air Force. AFA is the only Mountain West team with an all-time winning record against the Utes (14-12). While the Falcons might be tough and determined ("We're happy their the ones defending our country," said coach Kyle Whittingham), they're also small. How small?

Andorra small; Danny DeVito small.

Yet still the Utes have struggled.

Nevertheless, other comparable teams haven't had such problems. BYU has an all-time 24-7 record against the Falcons, 11-4 in Colorado Springs — and the games weren't always terribly close. In the first 17 times the teams met, BYU won 16.

TCU leads the series with Air Force 6-2-1.

So what do the Falcons have on the Utes? Utah has been winning lately — but barely.

"When you look at each game," said Scalley, "it's different things. Whether it's turnovers, or whether they brought in a scheme we hadn't seen and we're trying to adjust on the fly, it seems every year it's something different. But they're relentless and disciplined, and that's why they play teams well."

This could all be attributed to AFA's triple-option sleight-of-hand, except there's no explanation why other teams have figured it out but Utah hasn't. It's not like the Utes haven't scouted it or practiced against it. They worked on it several different times this fall as part of their practice schedule.

"You think you've out-manned them with athleticism, but they find a way to make you pay, which is to use your speed against you," Scalley said. "Overpursuit, misdirection stuff. You know going in that it's going to be a battle, and you know going in that they're going to expose you as a team for what you are. If you're really a tough team, and a tough group of players, you'll find out. If you're soft players, they'll expose that."

As for the Utes, they'd be happy just exposing the myth.

Utes on the air

No. 7/8 Utah (7-0, 4-0) at Air Force (5-3, 3-2)

Saturday, 5:30 p.m.

TV: CBS C

Radio: 700 AM

e-mail: rock@desnews.com

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