/Field Goals\ - SORE THUMBS

Cliches become part of our metaphoric lexicon because there is a measure of truth in them. There's one about sore thumbs which are said to "stick out," that is, they are easily noticed. The same is true of regular seasons recently concluded by Air Force and Virginia Tech. There were deteriorating elements of each team's play which were plain to see when their seasons took decided turns for the worse.

   MIRROR IMAGES. Air Force and Virginia Tech will bring strikingly similar records with them when the teams meet in the San Francisco Bowl on New Year's Eve in Pacific Bell Park. The Falcons began their season with a 6-0 burst through its first half dozen games before encountering an unsatisfying 2-4 conclusion to the regular portion of its schedule. The Hokies were a gaudy 8-0 and ranked third in the country as November began, but stumbled badly in losing four of their final five games before the post-season. It's understandable that both teams are scratching their heads in an effort to understand promising starts so mystifyingly run amok.

   GONE AWOL. Each team has completed a regular season which separates into easily identified segments. Call them before and after snapshots. Have a look at them.

    Air Force began its season utilizing a newly aligned defense which had the Falcons employing a 3-3-5 formation in lieu of the 3-4-4 configuration upon which it had relied as its base defense for more than a decade. By extracting a linebacker from the mix and inserting a fifth defensive back, the Falcons defensive coordinator, Richard Bell, placed an underlying emphasis on speed rather than size in AFA's new scheme.

   Through the first six games of the season the AFA defense recovered eight fumbles and authored nine interceptions for a total of seventeen turnovers, an incomprehensible rate of nearly three turnovers per contest. It's no surprise that as the defense provided the Falcons' offense with seemingly unlimited opportunities to initiate drives, Air Force averaged a shade over forty points a game, sped to a 6-0 start on the 2002 season, all the while showing callous disregard for the mediocre prognostications penned about them in advance of the season's outset. Even when the Falcons lost their first game of the season against an undefeated Notre Dame team, the Air Force defense did its part by recovering three fumbles, including one snagged in midair by Marchello Graddy, who promptly returned it twenty-one yards for a touchdown to give AFA a 7-0 lead.

   The Air Force defense had accounted for eleven fumble recoveries and nine interceptions in the team's first seven games. The final five games on the schedule saw AFA's voracious defense met by far stingier offenses.

   Air Force accumulated only six additional turnovers during the remainder of the regular season. A game against Wyoming in Laramie was the first contest of the year in which AFA's defense produced no turnovers. It was a factor in the team's uninspired performance that day as Air Force suffered an unexpected disappointment in a loss which hastened the team's elimination from conference title contention.

   Colorado State played flawlessly on Halloween Night in Falcon Stadium as Air Force was unable to separate the Rams from the ball all evening when the Rams posted an easy 31-12 win. The final three games of the schedule saw Air Force recover two more fumbles and intercept four passes.

   Whatever tenacious and ambitious elements of play were present in the execution of the Falcons' defense during the first seven games of the season, evanesced like a morning fog against a rising sun in the final half of the campaign. In order to topple the Hokies in the coming bowl contest, the Falcons' defense will need to conjure that transitory facet of its performance which was instrumental in catapulting the team to its prolific start. The Falcons should be forewarned VT is a team fully capable of sustaining time consuming drives with its productive ground game.

   Richard Bell's forces will need to recapture their aptitude for devastating the opposition's drives to enable the Falcons' ground based option to seize control of the game.

   VIRGINIA TECH SLIDES. It's no secret that Air Force will try to run the ball against the Hokies. What the Falcons' may not fully realize is how daunting a challenge this can be. When VT was busy running to an impressive 8-0 start with a third place standing in the national polls to go with it, the Hokies fashioned their success in great measure due to its staunch run defense.

   Arkansas State ran the ball 32 times for 24 yards for an average gain of .72 yards. For those of you without a set of chains to measure first downs that's a scant 25.9 inches per rushing attempt. Don't laugh at the Indians as they weren't the most exasperated team to face VT. That distinction goes to Rutgers as the Scarlet Knights pounded out seven yards on twenty-five carries, a whopping total of a shade over 10 inches a carry.

   Still not impressed with the Hokies' ability to thwart a running attack? Try these figures on for size. LSU ran for 28/80/2.86. Texas A&M (which beat Oklahoma) ran for only 28/38/1.36. Boston College (which beat Notre Dame in South Bend) managed a meager 26/83/3.19. In the first eight games of the season VT's opponents ran the ball 208 times and gained just 340 yards or 1.63 yards a carry.

   Six times this season Air Force gained more yards rushing than did VT's first eight opponents combined when playing the Hokies. Three hundred forty yards is impressive for most schools. For the Falcons it would barely be enough yardage for their backs to have broken a healthy sweat. Then again running against Army and Navy shouldn't be equated with successfully shredding the VT run defense.

   Just as AFA's ball hawking prowess waned in the second half of the season, so too, did Virginia Tech's ability to contain running attacks. Entering its game versus Pittsburgh with an 8-0 record and a third place standing in the polls, the Hokies allowed the Panthers to rush 44 times for 275 yards and a robust 6.25 yards per carry. The last two figures are season bests by VT opponents. Pitt's win signaled the start of a string of games in which Virginia Tech lost four times in five outings.

   Pittsburgh, Syracuse, West Virginia and Air Force and Virginia Tech will bring strikingly similar records with them when the teams meet in the San Francisco Bowl on New Year's Eve in Pacific Bell Park. The Falcons began their season with a 6-0 burst through its first half dozen games before encountering an unsatisfying 2-4 conclusion to the regular portion of its schedule. The Hokies were a gaudy 8-0 and ranked third in the country as November began, but stumbled badly in losing four of their final five games before the post-season. It's understandable that both teams are scratching their heads in an effort to understand promising starts so mystifyingly run amok. \r\n

   GONE AWOL. Each team has completed a regular season which separates into easily identified segments. Call them before and after snapshots. Have a look at them.

\r\n

    Air Force began its season utilizing a newly aligned defense which had the Falcons employing a 3-3-5 formation in lieu of the 3-4-4 configuration upon which it had relied as its base defense for more than a decade. By extracting a linebacker from the mix and inserting a fifth defensive back, the Falcons defensive coordinator, Richard Bell, placed an underlying emphasis on speed rather than size in AFA's new scheme.

\r\n

   Through the first six games of the season the AFA defense recovered eight fumbles and authored nine interceptions for a total of seventeen turnovers, an incomprehensible rate of nearly three turnovers per contest. It's no surprise that as the defense provided the Falcons' offense with seemingly unlimited opportunities to initiate drives, Air Force averaged a shade over forty points a game, sped to a 6-0 start on the 2002 season, all the while showing callous disregard for the mediocre prognostications penned about them in advance of the season's outset. Even when the Falcons lost their first game of the season against an undefeated Notre Dame team, the Air Force defense did its part by recovering three fumbles, including one snagged in midair by Marchello Graddy, who promptly returned it twenty-one yards for a touchdown to give AFA a 7-0 lead.

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   The Air Force defense had accounted for eleven fumble recoveries and nine interceptions in the team's first seven games. The final five games on the schedule saw AFA's voracious defense met by far stingier offenses.

\r\n

   Air Force accumulated only six additional turnovers during the remainder of the regular season. A game against Wyoming in Laramie was the first contest of the year in which AFA's defense produced no turnovers. It was a factor in the team's uninspired performance that day as Air Force suffered an unexpected disappointment in a loss which hastened the team's elimination from conference title contention.

\r\n

   Colorado State played flawlessly on Halloween Night in Falcon Stadium as Air Force was unable to separate the Rams from the ball all evening when the Rams posted an easy 31-12 win. The final three games of the schedule saw Air Force recover two more fumbles and intercept four passes.

\r\n

   Whatever tenacious and ambitious elements of play were present in the execution of the Falcons' defense during the first seven games of the season, evanesced like a morning fog against a rising sun in the final half of the campaign. In order to topple the Hokies in the coming bowl contest, the Falcons' defense will need to conjure that transitory facet of its performance which was instrumental in catapulting the team to its prolific start. The Falcons should be forewarned VT is a team fully capable of sustaining time consuming drives with its productive ground game.

\r\n

   Richard Bell's forces will need to recapture their aptitude for devastating the opposition's drives to enable the Falcons' ground based option to seize control of the game.

\r\n

   VIRGINIA TECH SLIDES. It's no secret that Air Force will try to run the ball against the Hokies. What the Falcons' may not fully realize is how daunting a challenge this can be. When VT was busy running to an impressive 8-0 start with a third place standing in the national polls to go with it, the Hokies fashioned their success in great measure due to its staunch run defense.

\r\n

   Arkansas State ran the ball 32 times for 24 yards for an average gain of .72 yards. For those of you without a set of chains to measure first downs that's a scant 25.9 inches per rushing attempt. Don't laugh at the Indians as they weren't the most exasperated team to face VT. That distinction goes to Rutgers as the Scarlet Knights pounded out seven yards on twenty-five carries, a whopping total of a shade over 10 inches a carry.

\r\n

   Still not impressed with the Hokies' ability to thwart a running attack? Try these figures on for size. LSU ran for 28/80/2.86. Texas A&M (which beat Oklahoma) ran for only 28/38/1.36. Boston College (which beat Notre Dame in South Bend) managed a meager 26/83/3.19. In the first eight games of the season VT's opponents ran the ball 208 times and gained just 340 yards or 1.63 yards a carry.

\r\n

   Six times this season Air Force gained more yards rushing than did VT's first eight opponents combined when playing the Hokies. Three hundred forty yards is impressive for most schools. For the Falcons it would barely be enough yardage for their backs to have broken a healthy sweat. Then again running against Army and Navy shouldn't be equated with successfully shredding the VT run defense.

\r\n

   Just as AFA's ball hawking prowess waned in the second half of the season, so too, did Virginia Tech's ability to contain running attacks. Entering its game versus Pittsburgh with an 8-0 record and a third place standing in the polls, the Hokies allowed the Panthers to rush 44 times for 275 yards and a robust 6.25 yards per carry. The last two figures are season bests by VT opponents. Pitt's win signaled the start of a string of games in which Virginia Tech lost four times in five outings.

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   Pittsburgh, Syracuse, West Virginia and