On the other sideline

By Whitney O’Bannon, Staff Writer

The Air Force Falcons were not flying offensively in the fourth quarter against Houston last week, but defensively held on for a close victory, 31-28.

For the first time all season, Air Force was not the first to score, allowing the Cougars an early touchdown off a pass completion by Case Keenum to Mark Hafner. The Falcons were not beat up on, however, as quarterback Shea Smith ran for three touchdowns in the contest, to go with a rushing touchdown by Savier Stephens and a Ryan Harrison 30-yard field goal.

Houston made a late run through the final quarter, but could not fully recover from the hole they created in the first half.

Air Force failed to complete a pass, marking only the fifth time in school history the Falcons went an entire game without a completion. Smith, despite his reluctancy to pass, ran for a career-high 93 yards.

“We should have had probably at least three touchdown passes this weekend if we executed,” Falcons head coach Troy Calhoun said. “But we didn’t execute as well as we needed to in that part of the game.”

Up to this point in the early season, Air Force remains unbeaten after downing Southern Utah, Wyoming and, most recently, Houston. Air Force has preserved a seven-game winning streak in Falcon Stadium with the last defeat occurring when Utah escaped Colorado Springs, Colo., with a last-second 17-14 victory in 2006.

This battle against Utah will send one team home with their perfect record altered, keeping the victor’s hopes of a flawless season alive.
Utah, however, has one of the best rush defenses ranked No. 15 in the NCAA, allowing an average of only 64 rush yards per game. This signals the need for the Falcons to revise their approach coming into Saturday’s showdown.

“I think you got to change (the attack.) That’s the way you have got to operate from week to week,” Calhoun said. “When you look at Utah, it’s just incredible defense. They just don’t give up prolonged drives; really, the only time they have relinquished points is due to a short field.”

Air Force leads in the overall head-to-head series 14-10.

Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham expects the atypical Air Force team that the Utes take on every year.

“Air Force is playing very well,” Whittingham said. “It’s my opinion they will be our biggest challenge up to this point in the season, hands down. They are a tough, disciplined, extremely intelligent team. We have our work cut out for us.”

The Falcons are looking to defeat an AP Top-25 ranked team for the first time since 2002, while Utah is looking for a little redemption. The teams will fight it out Saturday at 2 p.m. in Colorado, leaving only one team undefeated.

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