The Air Force football team has a simple formula for success:
- Run the ball at opponents 60 times a game.- Pass only enough to keep opponents guessing.
- Play swarming defense.
- Have disciplined special teams.
It's a formula particularly suited to the Falcons' biggest disadvantage: a lack of size. Without a behemoth offensive line to provide protection for a passing quarterback, Air Force goes with a wishbone offense that makes the quarterback another running back. It's a system that makes blockers out of wide receivers and emphasizes speed over bulk.
In other words, almost the complete opposite of the BYU football philosophy.
Through his previous six seasons as head coach at Air Force, Fisher DeBerry has made the wishbone work to the tune of five winning seasons and four bowl games. So far this year, however, the Falcons are 4-4 (DeBerry's worst record after eight games) and struggling somewhat. They have beaten Hawaii, The Citadel, Navy and Utah, teams that are also struggling. They lost a two-pointer to Colorado State and by 12 to Wyoming. The only good passing teams they have played, San Diego State and Notre Dame, each beat them by 30.
The Falcons' biggest problem this season was finding a quarterback to replace Heisman Trophy finalist Dee Dowis. Ron Gray started the first four games but was yanked after averaging just 3.7 yards per carry and having fumble problems. His replacement, Jarvis Baker, averaged 2.9 yards per carry and had fumble problems.
Finally, DeBerry handed the ball to Rob Perez, a junior listed as third string at the start of the season. Perez lost his first game, to Notre Dame, but then he beat Utah last week 52-21. He's averaging 5.7 yards per carry, and he ripped off a 60-yard run against Notre Dame. And he doesn't fumble.
With that problem solved, the Falcons are hoping to win at least two of their last three games and earn a bowl berth. With a victory over Army and a 6-5 record, Air Force will get an automatic invitation to the Liberty Bowl. But that means the Falcons also have to beat either BYU or UTEP, and they would rather lock up a victory at home rather than gamble on a win in El Paso.
With Dowis gone this season, the Falcons have relied on fullbacks Rodney Lewis and Jason Jones for most of the offense. The pair is averaging a combined 5-plus yards per carry while rushing the ball more than the Falcons' six other running backs combined.As mentioned, passing is not a common practice in Colorado Springs. The three Falcon QBs have thrown the ball just 69 times this season, with a completion percentage of about 35 percent and five interceptions.
Defensively, this is a typical Air Force team, with a lot of smallish, quick guys who never quit pursuing. The unit is led by senior inside linebackers Brian Hill (65 tackles) and J.T. Tokish (56 tackles).
The Falcons are strong in the placekicking department, manned by junior Joe Wood. Wood is a perfect 11-for-11 on field goals inside 49 yards, and he rarely has a kickoff returned.
Special teams are another Air Force strong point. The Falcons only give up an average of 15.1 yards on kickoff returns, and they have blocked six kicks (four punts, one PAT and one field goal) this season.