Irish Eyes Scouting Report

Last week I mention something about the Irish preparing for Navy would be good for preparing for the Air Force. Sorry. I hadn't seen Air Force since last year until watching the tape of their Army game. This is not the Air Force offense of Fisher DeBerry. Those who haven't seen Air Force this year are in for a bit of a surprise.

Air Force Offense

First year head coach, Troy Calhoun, has blended the traditional Falcon triple option with the Spread Formation, the I-Formation and the Stacked I-Formation. He also has the Falcons passing the ball more than DeBerry did from the start of the game, not just if they are behind. The option still seems to be what they revert to with the most confidence, but there are new wrinkles. Air force also likes to shift around before actually showing their formation and motion from the backs and receivers is part of their offense.

And of course Air Force still cut blocks, but the main thrust of their running game is zone blocking. The offensive line, led by 2007 Remmington Watch center, #64 Blaine Guenther, is quick, moves downfield well, sustain their blocks, and fight and claw the defense for everything they can get. Air Force also likes to use an unbalanced line a lot.

Calhoun's Falcon offense begins with four year starter, #5 quarterback Shaun Carney. Carney started ahead of Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith at St. Edward's high school in Cleveland. Last year Carney averaged nearly sixteen carries per game and eleven passes per game. Calhoun's goal for Carney, in keeping his quarterback healthy late into the season, has set a guideline of ten carries per game for Carney which is his average per game. Carney also passes an average of sixteen times a game.

Carney's passing efforts in twelve games last year netted the Falcons 1192 yards, twelve touchdowns, and three interceptions. This year, after ten games Carney has 1202 yards in the air with six touchdowns and four interceptions. Those stats support the notion that passing from a triple option formation can be very effective. Obviously, Carney is facing different defensive game plans this year, but the use of the triple option fake still makes the deep pass a viable threat.

The Air Force wide receivers, by admission of their own coaching staff, haven't been making many plays this season. Starting receiver, Mark Root #7, was removed from the starting lineup against Army due to the staff's feeling that his production was declining and he needed some motivating. Root is second in receptions with twenty-two, averages 14.5 yards per catch, and has two touchdowns. The leading receiver for the guys in the thunderbolt helmets is Chad Hall with forty-one receptions for a 10.4 average and one touchdown. Tight end Travis Dekker #8 is third with eighteen receptions for 14.3 yard per catch and one touchdown. Dekker, however, took a head shot from a knee in cut blocking an Army defender, was down on the field for some time, and may be dubious for Saturday's game.

The Falcon running game aligns the Spread, One Back, I-Formation, and the Stacked I-Formation. Fullback # 21 Ryan Williams carries about five times a game averaging less than four yards a carry. Tailback Jim Ollis #15 carries an average of eight times a game averaging 5.5 yards per carry. No disrespect to these individuals, but they are basically blockers and diversions for #1 Chad Hall.

Chad Hall #1 is most likely listed as wide receiver in your TV Guide (Do they still do that?). That's a misnomer. Hall lines up all over the field. Let me count the ways: Flanker, slot receiver, middle back (second player in the stacked eye), and tailback. Hall goes in motion, he runs traditional I-Formation plays, he's the pitch back in an option, he catches passes, he runs counters, he runs reverses, he blocks, and he does it all well. As mentioned above he is the leading receiver, but he also leads the Falcons in rushing with 1128 yards at 7.0 yards per carry and twelve touchdowns.

Hall is fun to watch. He's somewhere between that kid in sandlot football with all the moves that leave people in his wake and the guy most coaches want to "hit the hole with authority". He's only 5'8" and 180 pounds, but fearless, seldom receives a clean shot from defenders, and really sets up his blockers far better than anyone I've seen play this year.

Air Force Special Teams

The Falcon all-purpose kicker is #13 Ryan Harrison. Much of his work is done at altitude, but a fifty-seven yard field goal and nearly half of his kick offs being touchbacks is impressive no matter where they occur.

Harrison is 14 for 22 on field goals for the year. He is three out of four on attempts over fifty yards. Strangely he is only three out of eight between forty and forty-nine yards. He's had two attempts blocked and he's twenty-nine out of thirty in extra points.

Harrison is also the Falcon punter and averages 43.0 yards per punt, with one block, a longest punt of eighty-one yards, six punts inside the twenty, two touchbacks, and ten fair catches on thirty-five punts.

As a kick off man Harrison puts the ball into the end zone almost half the time with twenty-five touchdowns in fifty-three kickoffs.

On punt returns it is Mr. Everything again, Chad Hall, averaging 13.5 yards per return, but no touchdowns.

Kick returns are evenly and consistently carried out by Hall and Reggie Rembert with Hall averaging 21.4 yards per kick return and Rembert averaging 23.5 yards per return. Neither has returned one for a score, nor has either gone farther than 35 yards.

On punt returns the Falcons allow an average of 8.7 yards per return and have yet to give up a punt return for a touchdown.

On kick offs the Falcons are once again among the nation's leaders allowing an average of 18.0 yards per return and have not yielded a touchdown.

Air Force Defense

The Falcon defensive front is primarily an odd front. In today's vernacular it's a 3–4 defense, but it looks more like the old Oklahoma 5–2 to me, especially since they do not possess the ideal 3-4 defensive linemen in terms of weight. The three down linemen will, at times, stem (move their alignment just before the snap to confuse blocking) and when not aligning two outside linebackers outside the defensive ends, they generally bring one outside linebacker up to the line of scrimmage. Zone blitzing and straight blitzing are part of their blitz package.

The Air Force linebackers consist of three seniors and one junior which gives them a veteran corps and three of the team's top tacklers are linebackers. The best linebacker is #9 John Ray\bold. At 6'4" and 235 pounds this individual plays with fire, sheds blocks well, and plays quick. The other backers complement him very well. Drew Fowler #33 has three interceptions and leads Air force with 90 tackles. They all bring it on a blitz.

The secondary is filled by three seniors, one sophomore, and senior cornerback #2 Carson Bird leads the secondary with six interceptions and strong safety #34, Chris Thomas is second in tackles with 84. Air Force is in the upper third of passing defenses allowing 206 yards per game. The corners, when not playing press, give an average cushion of nine yards.

Air Force statistically ranks ahead of Notre Dame defensively allowing 347.6 yards per game. Temper that stat with two things. Notre Dame plays a tougher schedule of offensive opponents. Good defensive games for the Falcons, such as Army, where the Falcons held the Cadets to 171 yards of total offense, are statistically balanced off by an opposing game where the Falcons allow 302 yards rushing and 79 yards passing for a total of 381 yards against Navy.

Irish Chances

The Falcons allow 142 yards rushing per game. The Irish average 56 yards per game running the ball. Last week the Irish ran for 235 yards, 186 yards in regulation. Navy isn't as good defensively as Air Force. The Falcon front seven is quicker than Navy's front seven. Navy has allowed 22 touchdowns rushing while Air Force has only allowed 11 touchdowns rushing.

The Falcon blitz package is more sophisticated than Navy's and again, they are much quicker than Navy. Navy had 5 sacks on the year until they got 4 against Notre Dame to total 9 sacks on the year. Air force has 10 sacks, but again they are quicker and better than Navy.

Air Force defensive backs may have slightly less speed than Navy, but they are more experienced. Navy has allowed 21 passing touchdowns. Air Force has allowed 9.

As a team Air Force has 14 interceptions while Navy's team total is 9.

The Falcon offense has more formations, a more sophisticated passing offense, and better weapons in Carney and Hall.

About now you're asking how Navy beat Air Force especially since the Falcons ran up an offensive total of 474 yards. The reasons are fumbles, penalties, missed and blocked field goals, Navy's 302 yards rushing, and the Falcons going only four for seven in scoring within the red zone.

Even if the Falcons weren't better than Navy back in late September they are better right now as I see it. Plus they bring the military academy spirit, precision, a strong sense of team work, and a sixty minute effort.

Part of me says: Air Force 28 Notre Dame 17

Then again…….

I'm moving my birthplace to Missouri and adopting a "show me" attitude towards my beloved Irish. I'm tired of watching, reading about, and hearing about a Notre Dame loss. I'm tired of the media and other team's fans reveling in Irish losses.

I'm waiting for this team to exhibit an attitude that goes with their nickname, The Fighting Irish. I'm waiting for those players, whoever they may be, and from whatever class they are in to show a leadership that bonds the team in a determined, single-minded all out effort to win. I care not who they are. I care not if they are freshmen, seniors, or anything in between. It's time to lead, follow, or get out of the way and really lay the foundation for the years to come.

I care not if their technique is flawless. I care not about schemes or packages. I care not about recruiting classes, rankings, strength of schedule, or talent advantages. I don't care who starts or who finishes the game. None of that matters to me right now. I care about this team getting the job done.

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