When Tim Jefferson was knocked out of Saturday's game against New Mexico, backup Connor Dietz came in and the offense hummed right along. Dietz led the Falcons to 34 points in a little more than two quarters.
"Even when Tim goes down, we don't have any doubts," senior receiver Kyle Halderman said. "He showed today, he took care of business."
Dietz played a lot last season, as Jefferson dealt with a variety of injuries from the first game on.
Coach Troy Calhoun said there would be a competition for the starting job coming into the season, but that was mostly talk. Jefferson spent each day in training camp with the first unit and never was close to giving up the job.
Jefferson has had a strong season, and Dietz has waited his turn. He hadn't thrown a pass this season before Jefferson was forced out of the game because of a bloody nose.
Dietz was in the huddle at the start of a two-minute drill at the end of the first half, and drove the team right downfield for a score. He hit Zack Kauth for a 28-yard touchdown with four seconds left in the first half, a score that pretty much ended the Lobos' chance at an upset.
"It was a long time coming," Dietz said. "I never had a problem with my role, but it was definitely nice to be on the field and be a contributor, and show the guys I can go out there and play."
Jefferson could have come back in the second half, but Calhoun decided to stick with Dietz. Dietz completed 5-of-7 passes for 67 yards and a touchdown. He rushed for 34 yards and a touchdown.
Calhoun doesn't like to proclaim any player as a starter. So even though Jefferson is very likely to be back at quarterback for Thursday's regular-season finale against UNLV, Calhoun wouldn't say he is the starter.
"We've got to see," Calhoun said. "We'll see."
--The Falcons started the season with four consecutive games of 350 rushing yards or more, and led the nation in rushing offense. Air Force has slipped a bit behind a couple other teams in that category, only getting 300 yards once in its next six games. But the rushing offense of early in the season was back against New Mexico, as Air Force rushed for 373 yards and six touchdowns. "It's good to know we can control the line and move the ball and be the rushing team we are," RB Asher Clark said.
--Although there is a coaching vacancy at Colorado, and Air Force coach Troy Calhoun would be an obvious candidate, there haven't been any indications of interest from either side. Calhoun's approach to job openings and other schools being interested in him has been to say nothing on the matter. "I'm going to think about getting our guys ready to go this Saturday and see what we can do to make sure there's a really good freshman class coming in the summer of 2011 to the Air Force Academy," Calhoun said last week.
--Air Force's senior class got a lot of credit for keeping the team from pointing fingers during a three-game losing streak. Now the Falcons have rebounded with two straight wins. "We're willing to take the role that comes along with being a senior," LB Andre Morris said. "For younger players that haven't experienced winning and losing, and highs and lows, they look to the seniors to see what happens when you face adversity and things go wrong, and things will go wrong, just like in life."
GAME BALL GOES TO: QB Connor Dietz -- Dietz came off the bench to relieve Tim Jefferson and played very well, throwing for one touchdown and running for another. Dietz gets a lot of practice repetitions in Air Force's high-tempo workouts, so he seemed well prepared for the moment. He is a confident player who has full confidence of his teammates.
KEEP AN EYE ON: RB Cody Getz -- Getz is a quick sophomore who hasn't gotten a lot of playing time because of RB Asher Clark's solid season. But he got some first-quarter carries against New Mexico, and might be the Falcons' kickoff returner in the regular-season finale if Jonathan Warzeka, who has a head injury, can't go. Getz could be a playmaker for the Falcons in his final two seasons.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You keep reaching and grabbing and finding different ways here, and we probably went down a new avenue tonight." -- Coach Troy Calhoun after his team's victory over New Mexico.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: Air Force's offense is starting to click again. The linemen, not facing huge front sevens like they did against TCU and Utah, are starting to win the line of scrimmage again. The Falcons have a passing game that can be effective, enough to keep opposing defenses honest. Air Force needs to get its running game going the way it was early in the season. There were signs of rejuvenation against New Mexico.
STILL NEEDS WORK: For some reason, Air Force does not start games well. That happened again against New Mexico, when the Falcons fumbled on their first offensive play and the Lobos marched in for a 7-0 lead. The early-game problems are tough to figure out, because the Falcons are well coached and their discipline is obvious, but it has been an issue since the beginning of the season.
--Starting WR Jonathan Warzeka didn't play the second half because of a head injury. The Falcons have a quick turnaround with a Thursday game this week, so there's no guarantee Warzeka will be back against UNLV.
--Starting WR Zack Kauth appears to be healthy again. He missed two games because of an ankle injury, but is back and serving his role as a deep threat. Kauth caught a 28-yard touchdown pass at the end of the first half against New Mexico.
--Starting QB Tim Jefferson was out in the second half against New Mexico after suffering a bloody nose. Jefferson was cleared by trainers and wanted to return, but the coaches stuck with backup Connor Dietz because he was playing well. Jefferson should be able to start against UNLV.