Before renewed catcalls are issued decrying the Falcons' fitness to challenge the Hokies in New Year's Eve's battle by the bay, an examination of the Hokies' pedigree is in order. Virginia Tech went to Syracuse and was able to parlay a 14-0 first quarter lead into a come-from-ahead overtime loss to the Orangemen. Syracuse was a dismal 4-8 on the year. The only other Big East team Syracuse defeated was the perennially dreadful Rutgers Scarlet Knights.
Tech's debacle in the Carrier Dome sounded a death knell to its hastily evanescing championship aspirations and set it on a course whose destination became San Francisco.
Every team's season has its nadir. VT's was a forgettable day against Syracuse. AFA's came in Laramie, Wyoming against the Cowboys. Vic Koenning, the former head coach of the Cowboys, and his team posted the only Mountain West Conference victory of his three year tenure as the squad's head coach, when Air Force paid them a visit in late October. Wyoming posted only one victory this season over a team in division 1-A football, its win versus the Falcons.
That every team against which Air Force competes has bigger, faster and stronger players than do the Falcons is a condemnation leveled with such frequency so as to have lost all credibility. If these accusations held any merit then an Air Force team peopled by "smaller," "slower" and "weaker" players would never win a game. Proponents of the notion assessing AFA as having no chance to beat heftier, more talented teams, can ruminate over the team's 52-9 dismantling of Brigham Young on national television in mid-October, right after they devise a rationale for the Hokies' abomination at the hands of the mighty, 4-8, Orangemen.
A lesson which more storied teams than Air Force learn only upon having been defeated by the Falcons is that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In Fisher DeBerry's tenure as AFA's head coach, Ohio State and Texas have both grasped this cold reality in the aftermath of suffering bowl losses to Air Force.
APPLES AND ORANGES. There are only a handful of teams in division 1-A football which use a ground based option attack as their principle offensive scheme. These teams are not to be--and should not be--confused with those which run some option plays on occasion. As it can take disciplined effort over the course of an entire game for this sparsely utilized offensive format to impart its devastating cumulative effect, so too, can it take dedicated effort to stop this offensive configuration from being effective on the fifty, sixty or seventy times a game a defense is forced to defuse what can be its latently explosive nature.
Quarterback Chance Harridge and his HB running mates Leotis Palmer, Anthony Butler, Darnell Stephens and Matt Ward are well kept secrets everywhere but cities in which the MWC has teams. This quintet has rushed for 2,623 yards on the season or 69.5% of AFA's rushing yards. These backs have averaged 218.6 yards a game and scored 32 TDs--a figure amounting to 80% of the team's TDs scored via the run. Individually and collectively they do not have the high profile or credentials of the Hokies' Lee Suggs, but if Virginia Tech underestimates the prowess of the group's efforts it does so at its own considerable risk.
The offense with which Air Force will confront VT on New Year's Eve is one which lulls unsuspecting defenses into a state of smug confidence. It takes merely one missed assignment by a linebacker or defensive back for a well executed pitch from Harridge to a trailing back to result in a game turning jaunt for a touchdown. Better teams than Virginia Tech's current squad have found out the catastrophic effect of playing in undisciplined fashion against a determined AFA option attack.
The second half of AFA's season has been marked by shoddy tackling on the part of the defense, which has led to a windfall of points by opposing teams and disappointing losses to Wyoming and San Diego State. A high scoring contest in the San Francisco Bowl would likely favor the Hokies. It's difficult to imagine a scenario in which Air Force could contain the high powered Virginia Tech attack unless the Hokies fumble the ball. It's an occupational hazard which VT recently has turned into something of a cottage industry.
In its past four games Virginia Tech has fumbled eight times and lost the ball on every occasion: three fumbles against Miami, two against Virginia, one against West Virginia and a pair versus Syracuse. VT posted a 1-3 record in those games. Only five teams in division 1-A football have lost more fumbles this season than has VT.
A large measure of the Falcons' early season success is attributable to the proficiency demonstrated by the defense for producing turnovers. It was a characteristic which was rarely in evidence during the final half of the season. Recapturing the ability to force fumbles and take advantage of Virginia Tech's propensity for carelessness would enable Air Force to post its second win of the season over a nationally ranked opponent.