"I think they have the same mentality they've always had, and that's just go out there and bruise it," said David Nixon. "They still run the option, but it's only about 15 percent of their package now, instead of it being about 85 percent like it was last year. They put in a whole new package now with the throwing game, which obviously makes it more difficult for us as a defense because we have to prepare for a lot more. We're getting ready for it and we know it's going to be a dogfight out there. We're expecting some smash-mouth football."
"I'm just expecting a lot of speed from their guys," said Manumaleuna. "I'm expecting their offensive linemen to be flying all over the place, so some of the things that I'm trying to work on [are] being fast off the ball and staying low.
"When I'm watching film on them I try to picture myself in the game to see how I would react to what they're doing. I picture myself reacting to their formation and how they run their option offense. They don't have the really big offensive linemen, but they know how to beat you with the option. You have to use your hands a lot and have good footwork. We're expecting a quicker o-line than what we saw against Tulsa. Coach Kaufusi said for me to stay low and blow up the center."
"Their offensive line has been able to dominate so far," said freshman linebacker Austen Jorgensen. "They're not the really big guys, but they're tough and like to come back hard on crack back on you."
Last week, the Cougar defense faced a Tulsa offense that threw in multiple offensive packages. The Cougars are expecting much the same this weekend, and don't expect to be caught off guard this time.
"We're getting ready for a lot of different formations," Nixon said. "We're getting ready for different personnel they may bring in and try to run some things out of different looks. Air Force tends to run a lot of misdirection, which is kind of what we saw in the Tulsa game. We have to stay home on the backside and make the play when it comes your way, and also be ready for the trick plays.
"We need to be assignment sound, especially when you're playing against Air Force. If one guy is not doing his job, the ball will go for 50-60 yards. So, it's crucial that we're all doing our job, because if one guy is slacking or not tacking up one of the gaps, [Air Force will] take it for a lot of yards. So, that's one thing we're focusing on, is being assignment sound and doing exactly what we're supposed to do and not try and do someone else's job."
Air Force rushed the ball 49 times last year against the Cougars and come to Provo this year averaging 253 rushing yards per game. Against the U of U, the Falcons racked up 334 yards on 63 carries, and rushed 42 times for 146 yards against TCU.
"With their quarterback [Shaun Carney], I notice he's very confident in what he does in the option offense," said Jorgensen. "He's a pretty tough quarterback too, and you have to be in order to play in that offense.
"Their running backs are also pretty tough as well. They're quick and shifty type backs that are also really good at running straight ahead fast and hard."
On top of a difficult option rushing attack, Coach Calhoun has also brought in a much higher-octane passing package to complement it. Carney, a senior, needs 465 passing yards to become Air Force's all-time leading passer, and just 251 yards to become Air Force's all-time total offensive leader.
"The hard thing now is they have the option thrown in with all of the other stuff," said Kayle Buchanan. "Before, you could just focus on the option and get that down pat, and then deal with the pass when it comes. Now they have a much more diverse offense. We're not expecting the passing game to be more difficult than teams we've faced in the past, but we are expecting it to be more difficult than what we've seen from Air Force in the past."
"They're pretty much like last year but they do some things differently," said Manumaleuna. "We as a defense watched some film on their offense to see more clearly how to better stop their run game, [and] to see where we need to be in our positions and be masters of our positions. So, we went over being assignment sound against Air Force."
The Cougars currently rank second in the MWC in rushing defense and 21st in the country, giving up 82.3 yards per game. The Falcons, on the other hand, are ranked first in the MWC in rushing offense and 10th in the nation. Air Force is also ranked fourth in the MWC in scoring offense and third in passing efficiency, with an average passing efficiency rating of 141.7 per game.
"The biggest difference with Air Force is that they have a passing game," said Buchanan. "I think that's about it. They've done something different in each of their three games. I don't think it will be too much different [from] teams that have tried to attack us before. I really don't know what to expect from them other than the usual, and maybe some trick plays."
The Air Force Offensive Two-Deep Roster
LT: 79 Keith Williams (6-6, 275, Jr.)
70 Matt Markling (6-6, 270, Fr.)
QB: 5 Shaun Carney (5-10, 190, Sr.)
14 Shea Smith (5-11, 190, Jr.)
The Falcon offense may not be big, as one can see from the Falcon two-deep roster, but the threat of the Air Force passing game will once again challenge the discipline of this Cougar defense.
"We've noticed that the option isn't quite as a part of their offense as it used to be," said Jorgensen. "They'll get you backing up on their passing game and then they'll sneak in the option part of their offense. You just have to play your responsibilities and play each and every down.
"We have to stay within our defense and don't get outside of the defense to try and play a bigger role. If we do that, then we'll do great, but if someone misses an assignment or [we] try to do too much and play outside the defense, that's when things will go downhill.
"The Tulsa game was a big learning experience for us. It's not necessarily the whole defense that would break down, but maybe one or two guys not playing their assignments, and they can exploit that."
The Cougars hope to take the lessons learned from the Tulsa game and apply them for their contest against Air Force.
"We're going to fly around to the ball like we used to, but we're going to better execute where we're supposed to be," said Jorgensen. "We're not going to get beat on plays where we know where we should be covering. We'll be there for the option when it comes, and we'll be where we are supposed to be when the passing game comes."
BYU middle linebacker Kelly Poppinga expects the Cougar defense to rebound after giving up 55 points to the Golden Hurricane of Tulsa. Now you can listen to Poppinga talk about the up-and-coming game against Air Force, and how the Tulsa experience may have helped prepare them for their first conference game.