On the other sideline: Air Force displays new attack formation

By By Jason Peterson

By Jason Peterson

Week one’s disaster left U coach Kyle Whittingham and his staff with far more questions than answers.

For Air Force, however, the clouds are starting to clear up after a somewhat enlightening season-opener.

The Falcons, led by first-time head coach Troy Calhoun, helped to soothe the uneasiness of fans in Colorado Springs, Colo., over a possible fourth consecutive losing season.

Just the sixth coach in Air Force’s history, Calhoun brings with him a wealth of experience, most recently as Offensive Coordinator for the NFL’s Houston Texans.

Falcons players and fans wondered whether Calhoun’s NFL-tested playbook would effectively supplant legendary coach Fisher DeBerry’s option plays that have defined Air Force football for 23 years.

Before their Sept. 1 opener against South Carolina State, Calhoun assured the Falcons would still keep the triple option and a few other DeBerry staples, while adding an array of offense-expanding, defense-duping trickery.

The Bulldogs of South Carolina State became guinea pigs as Calhoun tinkered with the offense, calling for such unorthodox schemes as five-wideout and triple-running-back sets

“Their offense is a lot different than the triple option they used to run,” Whittingham said. “It is now a hybrid of the triple option, the West Coast offense and the spread, They played well last week but we know that they didn’t use everything in their playbook.”

The Falcons shredded the Bulldogs for 455 yards — including 176 passing — courtesy of fourth-year quarterback Shaun Carney. The Davy O’Brien Award candidate also rushed for 50 yards on 11 carries, vaulting him to the eighth-best rusher in Air Force history — an impressive feat for a quarterback.

While Carney’s rushing total is a sign that the old Air Force playbook isn’t completely out the window, last Saturday’s game had Calhoun’s fingerprints all over it.

For example, Carney threw three times to tight end Travis Dekker for 64 yards and a touchdown. Before this season, tight ends were virtually nonexistent in the Falcons’ offense. Over the last five years, Falcon tight ends averaged less than five catches per year.

Another telling sign that Calhoun is serious about passing more frequently is the switch made by Chad Hall from running back to wide receiver — a move many questioned because Hall was an all-conference back last season.

Hall performed admirably against the Bulldogs with 31 receiving yards, 21 rushing and 48 yards split over two punt returns.

Kip McCarthy stepped in as the top running back and he didn’t disappoint in his first career start — garnering 129 yards on 22 carries. The senior tailback has been suffering all week from bursitis in his knee — an arthritic condition from repeated impacts to the joints — but he said Thursday afternoon he is ready to go for Saturday.

Carney’s effectiveness, as told by last year’s 64 percent pass completions and 152 efficiency rating, is in large part due to a talented frontline led by Rimington Award candidate Blaine Guenther at the center spot.

The Utes’ defense will have its hands full trying to shutout a Falcons offense that has scored in 169 straight games — the nation’s eighth-longest streak. The last time Air Force failed to register a point was in the 1992 Liberty Bowl against Mississippi, a 13-0 decision.

While the fans can breathe easier in Colorado Springs, they should keep in mind that the first test was against a former Division-II college. The Utes will certainly provide a tougher challenge for Air Force despite being depleted at critical positions.

While the Falcons held South Carolina State to 160 yards of total offense, linebackers Drew Fowler, John Rabold and Hunter Altman — who combined for 13 tackles last week — will be unable to take Tommy Grady and the Utes’ offense as lightly.

Fowler is on the watch list for both the Lombardi and Butkus awards while Altman and Rabold bring plenty of experience.

The Falcons also boast a talented secondary that returns three seniors this year, including safety Bobby Giannini. Cornerback Carson Bird had a strong game last week with a fumble recovery and an interception that led to 10 Falcons points.

Air Force leads the all-time series with the Utes, 13-10, and are 6-6 in Salt Lake.

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