Taking a Look at the Falcon Defense

The Air Force Academy may not have the best athletes on the field, but they are a team looking to be placed among those often fighting for the top three spots in the MWC. Despite what they may lack in both size and speed, Air Force has become a competitive force under Coach Calhoun in recent years.

The Falcons of Air Force defeated UNLV last week 45-17, the straw that broke the coaching back of Rebel head coach Mike Sanford. The Falcons are currently in a three-game winning streak, having beaten UNLV, Army and Colorado State.

"You really have to hand it to Air Force, and they really do a great job with what they have and with how they do things," senior Cougar quarterback Max Hall said. "I think their head coach is a great guy and he does a lot of great things for them and they're coached well. It's always a battle playing them and they're always up to play the game. On top of that they're always right up there with the rest of us and Utah and TCU."

The Falcons took Utah into overtime before losing 23-16, and only lost to TCU (currently ranked fourth in the nation) 20-17. What's impressive about Air Force's program under head coach Troy Calhoun is despite their recruiting limitations due in part to military obligations, the Falcons have focused on turning some of their weaknesses into strengths.

"Yeah, they are very similar to us and recruit similar guys," said Hall. "They are very disciplined and are coached very well. They do what the coaches ask them to do. They play hard and like playing an execution-based game, being an execution-based team. I think it's tough for Air Force to recruit because of the circumstances that revolve around their program, but they do get some great guys to come in there. It's an emotional game and again execution-based, but guys are still getting after it, but Coach Calhoun always has his teams ready to play and they're always up there with us, Utah and TCU."

"They're very fundamental in their schemes on both sides of the ball and they know how to score points," said Cougar wide receiver O'Neill Chambers. "On defense they're hard workers and are very fundamental and get the job done. It's going to be a good [game] and we're going to go out there and have fun. They're a team that focuses on discipline and execution to try and make up for some things."

The Falcon athletes are generally on the smaller side due to the strict qualifications required to fly military planes. In order to be able to pilot, they must have a standing height of 64-to-77 inches and a sitting height of 34-to-40 inches.

"That's why they've got the smaller guys, because they've got to fly the jets," said Chambers. "But even though they've got the smaller guys they do get the job done as best they can. Well, they play a little dirty, but that's because they're small. This is Air Force and they like to block certain ways that might cause more injuries and is dirty, but hey, they're small guys and do what they can to try and get the edge. So, let's go out there and have some fun, but let's tell the facts. First, they play disciplined and want to execute what they do better than you, and second they do things a bit dirty because they're small."

"I think they've done some good things despite those limitations and have had some great teams," said Hall. "I know they haven't been very successful against us and Coach Mendenhall has beaten them nine out of the ten times he's played them or something like that. But they do like to play the game and they play it with a lot of energy and enthusiasm, so that's why it's always fun to play them."

The Falcons run a 3-4-4 defense mirroring BYU's own defensive scheme.

"They run the 3-4-4 defense, so they better have physical and fast linebackers if they're going to play like that," said Chambers. "Their linemen are going to be smaller but scrappy and try to hold the two gaps, but you just got to throw between the holes and gaps, and if they play off you have to take advantage of that."

"I think one thing they try to do is keep everything in front of them," Hall said. "They try to keep two high safeties to keep offenses from getting the big plays. I think the longest play they've given up this year is 45 yards, so they do a good job in keeping everything up front."

"They run a 3-4-4 defense but their defensive secondary is weak," said Chambers. "They're small but they do make things happen, but they're just tiny. No one has really stood out to me and they're not intimidating."

Chambers may be confident, but he made similar comments about a New Mexico defense that gave BYU's offense fits in a squeaker that many never expected.

"Well, we didn't take advantage of what we should have taken advantage of in that game," said Chambers with a laugh. "So I'm not going to even comment on that stuff, so I'm going to let that be. Air Force has a winning record so you can't take anything from them. They're not like New Mexico; they have a winning record."

In order to help with some of their defensive deficiencies, the Falcons try to disguise their coverages.

"They try and confuse you and do a few things to their advantage to help out their cornerbacks," said Hall. "The cornerbacks are both experienced players who've been around for a while. They try to bait you to do certain things, but we've been around a while too so we're going to take advantage of that and do some things that will confuse them a little bit."

As Chambers mentioned, the Falcon defense is scrappy. Hall knows firsthand just how scrappy they are.

"I remember the first time I played them here at home, I took some shots," Hall recalled. "I can still remember it to this day. It was from their middle linebacker in ‘07 by the name of Fowler. He hit me and it hurt. I can still remember it to this day that his hit on me hurt more than any other shot that I've taken to this day."

Pointing to the middle of his chest, Hall said, "He hit me right here and both of my shoulders went numb. I just … wow! And so that's what I think most about Air Force. They may not be the biggest or fastest guys but they'll hit you with all they've got, but we're ready and I think it should be fun."

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