Matchup: Air Force

This week, Tennessee takes on Air Force in Knoxville. This is our take on this Vols vs Falcons matchup. OK, so maybe California wasn't better than Tennessee in seven of nine positions. Maybe the Golden Bears were the most overrated team to play in Neyland Stadium since, well, since the 2005 Vols carried that No. 3 label. But I wasn't wrong about everything.

I did pick Tennessee to score 27 points in part because of my confidence in offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe and in part because every time I saw Cal play last season, its defense stunk. I only missed by eight points.

I should have put more stock in Cal running a new fangled offense with an inexperienced quarterback with one start under his belt. And I should have put more stock in defensive coordinator John Chavis having his troops ready for battle.

Now, I didn't know coach Phillip Fulmer was going to wear a lei, given to his wife, Vicky, by the mother of defensive tackle J.T. Mapu. In Hawaii, you wear a lei before going to battle. Vicky gave it to her husband.

Maybe this year's lei will serve as the synergy stick of 1998 that Fulmer used as a rallying point for 13 wins.

The obvious question is this: Is Tennessee that good or is Cal that bad?

Probably a little bit of both. But I do think Tennessee could have beaten any team in the SEC last Saturday night and I believe Cal will win no fewer than eight games this season. I think to cast Cal as inept doesn't give UT its just due for playing a terrific game, perhaps its best home game of the 2000s.

Tennessee must now stay grounded. Three words: Five and six. That should do it. If not, mention how last season, TCU upset top 10 Oklahoma, then lost the next week to a weak SMU team.

Tennessee faces three challenges against Air Force: Avoiding a letdown, defensing a triple option and not looking ahead to Florida.

Even if Tennessee has trouble in all three areas, the Vols should beat an Air Force team that lacks athleticism and that has had two consecutive losing seasons for the first time in Fisher DeBerry's 22 seasons as head coach.

Numbers to watch: Air Force will break some runs and hit some passes against UT, but the Vols' defensive speed will keep the Falcons in check. Don't look for Air Force to gain more than 250 total yards. Meanwhile, UT should surpass 450 and reach the 30-point mark for a second consecutive game.

Game #: 1118
Site: Knoxville
Date: Sep. 9
Conference: MTNW
Coach Match-up:
For the Vols - Fulmer and for the Falcons - DeBerry



Air Force returns three starters and a part-time starter from 2004 who missed last season due to injury. UT didn't allow a sack and had no negative plays against Cal's highly rated front four. The Vols' line wasn't dominant, but it played very well.


Before last week, I would have taken Shaun Carney of Air Force. In 2005, he completed a school-record 64.2 percent of his passes for almost 1,400 yards and ran for 710 yards out of the flexbone, averaging 4.2 yards per carry and scoring a team-high 11 touchdowns. The 5-10 junior has made 18 starts, completed 62.6 percent of his passes and run for over 1,300 yards. UT's Erik Ainge had career highs for touchdown passes and yards against Cal. He proved he can be special when unpressured. And I don't expect Air Force to bring the heat.


Falcon fullback Jacobe Kendrick rushed for 532 yards and averaged 4.6 yards per carry on a team that averaged 246.5. Chad Hall had 344 yards and averaged 5.2 per carry. Ryan Williams had 290, averaging 4.0. Arian Foster, Montario Hardesty and LeMarcus Coker are a solid 1-2-3 punch.


Air Force's two top receivers are gone. Starter Vic Thompson caught six passes last season. UT's Robert Meachem has finally arrived – it appears. Jayson Swain is also headed for a big year.



Air Force's Gilberto Perez is one of the best in the Mountain West. He had 9.5 tackles for loss despite missing three games. He is the lone returning starter from a line that allowed 173.5 rushing yards per game. UT held Cal, which averaged 235 rushing yards in 2005, to 64. Tackles Justin Harrell and Matt McGlothlin and middle linebacker Marvin Mitchell must stop the fullback dive.


The lone returning starter is Drew Fowler, who was second on the team in tackles (77) and hails from Clayton, N.C. UT's top three tacklers against Cal were linebackers and you saw a glimpse of their amazing speed. The Vols have six that could play for anyone.


Falcon safety Bobby Giannini led the team in tackles (92) and interceptions (three). Chris Sutton is the top corner for a secondary that allowed opponents to complete 65 percent of their passes for 2,805 yards and 16 touchdowns while recording just nine interceptions. UT had two interceptions and could have had four or five against Cal, leaving secondary coach Larry Slade to lament the missed opportunities.

S. TeamsCOMMENTSS. Teams

Sutton was fourth in the Mountain West with 9.4 yards per punt return. The Falcons are breaking in a new kicker. Punter Christopher Harp averaged 35.1 yards on just nine punts. Tennessee's punt and kick coverage were much improved. Still need more output from return teams.



As we pointed out with Cal, making that trip from West to East isn't easy. The Falcons will feel the affects. On the other hand, the Vols could be subject to a letdown after such a rousing victory over Cal.


UT 34, Air Force 13. (Same as the 1971 Sugar Bowl).

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