2012 Air Force Analysis: A Statistical Review

Triple-option teams and teams that are undersized need to possess an aggressive mentality in terms of fourth-down risk taking. Yet, as is the case with everything else in life, one must respect the need to set – and recognize – limits. Being a really good fourth-down team means a lot in football, but it doesn't mean everything.

In 2012, Air Force made just 4 of 10 field goal attempts. The first thought to emerge when apprehending such a statistic is that Air Force converted only 40 percent of its field goals. Undeniably, that's a poor success rate. However, don't overlook the fact that Air Force attempted only 10 field goals all season – that's also a cause for concern.

Yes, it's true that triple-option teams want to be in fourth-and-one situations. Part of the value of the triple option is that when executed well, it mentally wears down its opponents. The focus and concentration required to stick with assignments are not easy to maintain from play to play. Getting a defense into a fourth-and-one spot is precisely what enables a triple-option team to keep the ball for longer stretches of time while also planting seeds of anxiety in the minds of 11 defenders. When a triple-option team converts a fourth and one, the hope is that the opposing defense will say something to the effect of, "Great – now we have to stay on the field for at least three more plays and cope with this Chinese water torture offense." As soon as the opponent loses heart or composure, the triple option can then feast at the banquet table. A defense will let down its guard and fail to remain on task. Much as a hitter spoils good pitches in baseball to set up a fat one right down the middle, the triple option – by grinding out first downs on fourth down – increases the chances that it will tire out the defense and spring a long-distance run. Yes, being able to convert fourth downs is important; accordingly, a team such as Air Force doesn't want to attempt any more field goals than necessary. Students of the triple option understand this.

Yet, with all of this having been said, 10 field goal attempts is still a small total for a full season.

You will note that at Boise State, head coach Chris Petersen simply did not trust his kicking game in 2012. The Broncos eschewed field goals that could have made a difference in some of the close contests they played. It's not as though Boise State was wrong to go for first downs in light of the (non-) quality of its kicking game. The larger point of emphasis to be retained here, though, is that a kicking game needs to become more formidable, in order that a coach doesn't have to go for first downs on an unrelentingly regular basis. It's hard to shake the notion that this dynamic was not in evidence for Air Force in 2012, at least to a certain point.

No, Air Force should not find itself kicking 30 field goals next season. The Falcons do need to make at least 70 percent of their tries, though, and they do need to collect at least 10 to 12 successful three-pointers over the course of the coming campaign.

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