With the football season more than half finished, we find that nothing much has changed for the University of Utah and the Air Force Academy football teams. Both are still trying to find replacements for their record-setting quarterbacks of a year ago.
Utah's Scott Mitchell is with the Miami Dolphins, Air Force's Dee Dowis has graduated to the sidelines as a graduate assistant coach, and their old teams are sinking to the bottom of the Western Athletic Conference standings. Utah and Air Force, who will meet today in a locally televised game, have identical records - 3-4 overall, 1-3 in Western Athletic Conference play, a half-game out of last place.For the sixth time in eight games, the Utes will change their starting quarterback. This time it will be junior Mike Richmond, back for his fourth start of the year following a 252-yard, 3-touchdown day against UTEP last week. Air Force, meanwhile, will start junior Rob Perez, the third man to get the call this year.
As you might have guessed by all the quarterback shuffling, both teams have struggled on offense. Out of 106 Division 1-A teams, Utah ranks 105th in rushing, and Air Force 106th in passing. Both are among the bottom three in the WAC in total offense.
Ute quarterbacks have thrown six touchdown passes and 12 interceptions. Air Force quarterbacks have thrown for an average of 40 yards per game and have yet to throw a touchdown pass.
Of course to run the Falcons' option attack, the quarterbacks is primarily a runner. Perez is the team's top running quarterback, with 244 yards. He made his one and only start of the year in Air Force's last game, a 57-27 loss to Notre Dame.
"Our offense is getting better," says Falcon coach Fisher DeBerry. "We had four drives of 70 yards or longer against Notre Dame."
The Falcons started the year with Ron Gray at quarterback. Gray injured his knee during warmups before the season's fifth game and was replaced by Jarvis Baker. Baker started again the following week, against Navy, but was ineffective and eventually was relieved by Perez. Perez started the following week against Notre Dame and became only the second Air Force player this season to rush for more than 100 yards.
Air Force's leading rushers are alternating fullbacks Jason Jones (338 yards) and Rodney Lewis (309). The Falcons are averaging 256 yards rushing per game, 100 fewer than a year ago.
Air Force's best weapon this season has been kicker Joe Wood, who has made 10 of 11 field goal attempts, his lone miss being from beyond 50 yards.
"Air Force will be real fresh after its bye week," says Utah coach Ron McBride. "They had time to prepare for our defense. They know the option better than anyone in the country."
Despite their offensive shortcomings, both Air Force and Utah have fielded solid defenses. The Falcons rank second in the WAC in total defense, the Utes fifth.
Linebacker Anthony Davis, Utah's leading tackler, has been bothered by a sprained ankle the last two games. He was unable to finish last week's game, but is expected to play again this week.