/Field Goals\ - A Passing Fancy

The NCAA keeps stacks of statistics which detail the performances of teams and individuals during the course of the division 1-A football season. Heading into its bowl game the Air Force Falcons lead the nation in rushing yards per game. The Falcons also lead the nation in the slightly more esoteric category of yards per reception.

APPETIZING. Like the presence of the holidays, bowl season is now upon us. Tomorrow night's New Orleans Bowl kicks off a veritable endless stream of contests serving as hors d'oeuvres which must be ingested until the chefs at the BCS have fully prepared the main course: Miami versus Ohio State, on a bed of Tostitos, for the mythical national championship on some intolerably distant date in early 2003.

   If you're an Air Force fan the New Orleans Bowl matching Cincinnati and North Texas may be of at least marginal interest to you since the North Texas State University Mean Green is scheduled to face Air Force during the 2003 season. However, AFA fans shouldn't feel pressed for time in the race to begin their bowl game vigil. There'll be ample opportunity to obsess over last minute shopping, fret about how to seat relatives around the dining room table on Christmas Day, make an exchange for the solar powered toothbrush Aunt Maude gave you and consume the leftovers from your holiday ham or turkey before the Falcons take the field on New Year's Eve.

   When Fisher DeBerry's forces line up against Frank Beamer's Virginia Tech Hokies they will do so as the nation's leading rushing offense. Almost incomprehensibly the Falcons also led the nation in yards per pass reception during the regular season. How is it an Air Force drive is ever stopped before it results in a touchdown if the team runs for more yardage than anyone and gains more yardage per pass completion than any of the other 116 teams competing in division 1-A football? As always, the figures can be a bit misleading.

   UPON FURTHER REVIEW. As a team, Air Force has completed 63 passes for 1,084 yards and 12 TDs thus far on the season. The lion's share of those figures were registered by Chance Harridge (60comps./125 atts./971yds./10TDs), the team's starting, and principle, quarterback. (HB Leotis Palmer is the only other Air Force player to have completed a pass this season having hit on 3 of 6 passes for 113 yards and 2 TDs.)

   Seven of Harridge's ten completions for TDs accounted for 276 yards or 28.4% of his passing yardage on the year. The scoring strikes averaged a gaudy 39.43 yards a play. It must also be pointed out that one play greatly inflates Harridge's yard per completion mark for the season and where his TD throws are concerned. In the Wyoming game Harridge completed a short pass to wide receiver Anthony Park--perhaps ten or twelve yards past the line of scrimmage. Securing the ball near the sideline, the speedy Park left three Cowboys' defenders flailing the breeze as he outpaced them a shade more than sixty-five yards into the endzone. If you read a boxscore the following day and thought Air Force had thrown and completed a bomb, nothing could be further from the truth. Park's speed, rather than Harridge's arm or accuracy, deserves full credit for the heroics which resulted in six points for the Falcons. It was a short pass completion to which a spectacular sprint was affixed by the junior from Las Vegas.

   While Harridge's seven longest TD passes averaged more than 39 yards a play, his fifty-three remaining completions yielded a mere--by comparison--11.23 yards a catch. What is interesting to note here is whether AFA fans spend time contemplating Harridge's figures as the team's starting QB or the entire squad's passing totals for the regular season, they should do so with the realization that only one team in division 1-A football passed for fewer yards this season than did Air Force and that team was Ohio University. The Bobcats, like Air Force, run an option based ground attack.

   Ohio University finished dead last--in 117th place--in division 1-A football when it came to passing yardage in the regular season. AFA finished 116th. Navy, which also runs a ground based option attack--finished 115th. Rice, which also runs a ground based option attack--finished 114th. Spotting the trend yet? Of those four teams only the Falcons posted a winning record on the season. As a parenthetical note, these are the only four teams in division 1-A football which passed for less than 100 yards a game--and all four run ground based option attacks. North Texas State--which plays tomorrow night and faces AFA next fall---finished 113th in passing at 100.1 yards per game. When AFA and NTSU play next fall be prepared for collegiate football ground warfare at its finest.

DonClarkVsUtah200x105
Don Clark Vs. Utah (AP)

   THE ELEMENT OF SURPRISE. When Air Force implements the pass in its game plan it does so in full assurance there will be a measure of surprise attached to it. In fact, there is a double helping of surprise accompanying the Falcons' passing game. Since the Falcons threw fewer passes and completed fewer passes than any of the 117 teams competing in division 1-A football, it is, in fact, a surprise when Chance Harridge throws the ball. Since Harridge completed exactly 48% of his attempts it's also a statistical surprise when he completes a pass.

   In a season in which it was permissible for division 1-A teams to schedule and play 12 regular season games, only Utah State, South Florida, Utah, Stanford, TCU, and Rice played fewer than twelve games with each squad playing just eleven times. All six teams threw more passes than did Air Force while playing fewer contests than the Falcons. If you're looking for aerial action in Falcon Stadium either get there in time for pregame flybys or wait until the visiting team has the ball.

   Air Force lost four games in the regular season and in three of the four contests Harridge completed less than fifty percent of his pass attempts, connecting on only 24 of 54 passes for a 44.4% rate. Conversely, there were six times when Harridge completed at least fifty percent of his attempts and the Falcons fashioned five wins in those half dozen games. Har


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