The doctor found the patient's case history to be encouraging. It showed the team's caretaker, Fisher DeBerry, to be well versed in restoring AFA teams to a hale and healthy condition when untimely midseason ills had plagued them. The patient was released without treatment and advised to heed DeBerry's instructions in the hopes its decrepitude would dissipate with all due speed.
ACHES AND PAINS. The Air Force team which limped its way through three unproductive exhibitions in October's final twelve days is in critical condition. Once pleasant daydreams of how high the Falcons might soar in the nation's polls have been replaced by a nightmarish three game slide in which Air Force has been dominated by opposing offenses and defenses.
AFA's ball hawking, turnover producing defense has lost any trace of the animation and ferocity which characterized its play in the first six games of the season. An option based ground game, which once ran so proficiently that it led the nation in rushing, has been thrust into the category of also-ran given its performance over the last two weeks. This is a Falcons' team which has been pummeled to the canvas by its past three opponents and is desperately trying to regain its senses before a knockout blow is delivered to its season.
In Fisher DeBerry's tenure as head coach at Air Force, the Falcons have posted a 31-6(.838) mark in Commander-in-Chief's trophy games. DeBerry will enter this week's game with Army having compiled a coaching record in which his teams have gone 14-4(.777) against the Black Knights. Air Force has won all nine games played between the teams in Falcon Stadium during DeBerry's regime. The Falcons are 5-4 in Michie Stadium, site of this week's contest, while DeBerry has prowled the sidelines. Air Force has beaten the United States Military Academy 12 times in the past thirteen meetings as well as having forged a current eleven game winning streak in CIC competition.
If there is a panacea for what ails the Falcons nine weeks into its current schedule, it appears to resemble the opportunity to play against Army. Neither the Mountain West Conference in which AFA plays, nor Conference USA in which Army plays, is strong this season. Of the eighteen teams which comprise the two conferences only the Colorado State Rams appear in the current editions of either of the two major college football polls. The play of MWC and CUSA teams this fall amply demonstrates why neither collective is included in BCS aligned post-season bowl games.
Army came close to securing its first victory of the season while hosting the University of Alabama-Birmingham on October 26 before letting a thirteen point lead slip away against the Blazers. UAB trailed 13-0 at one point until rallying to complete a TD pass with eight seconds remaining to be played. Army fell to zero and eight for the season and commenced two weeks of preparation in advance of its game versus Air Force.
RECOVERY TIME. Coach DeBerry is fond of saying that Air Force is capable of beating any team on its schedule if it plays well or capable of losing to any team on its schedule should it play poorly. The embarrassingly listless effort of the Falcons against Wyoming in Laramie, the same day Army lost to UAB, supports DeBerry's contention. The Cowboys ended a seventeen game conference losing streak, which dated to 1999, and posted their first win of the season against a division 1-A while defeating Air Force 34-26. It is difficult to imagine that an Air Force team, which was ranked fifteenth in the country when it faced Notre Dame on October 19th less than three weeks ago, is in a position of having to ask itself whether or not it can beat Army, a team widely accorded the ignominy of being the worst of the 117 teams in division 1-A football.
Momentarily lost in the rubble of the Falcons' recent demise, is the fact that the team is already bowl qualified and bowl eligible, sports a 6-3 record, may finish in sole possession of second place in the MWC, has a chance to post a 9-3 regular season record by defeating Army, UNLV and San Diego State, could secure yet another CIC trophy title with a victory over Army and is in line to finish the season by posting a win in a bowl game. It's conceivable, though unlikely, should Air Force win its final three games in the regular season and then post a bowl victory for a 10-3 record in 2002, that the Falcons could find themselves in the top twenty-five when this season's final college polls are compiled.
The first order of business is for offensive coordinator/QB coach/FB coach, Chuck Petersen, to resuscitate a fullback game which has been comatose for a month. QB Chance Harridge and a squadron of HBs haven't been able to sustain enough offensive output by themselves to help Air Force win a game since beating Brigham Young, 52-9, on the second weekend of October.
Failure to beat Army would result in the complete devastation of this team's already faltering confidence and rekindle ugly comparisons to the disastrous finish of the 2001 season. A victory against Army coach Todd Berry's reeling forces could reestablish momentum in the Falcons' psyche as the team heads into conference battles with UNLV and San Diego State.