Saturday, November 10, 2007

Pre-flight Check | by Jay

Let's scramble a quick AFA preview before kickoff today...

• Air Force is 7-3 overall. The're 5-2 in conference (Mountain West). They're currently sitting second behind BYU in the MWC standings.

9/1 South Carolina St. (5-4)
W 34 3
9/8 Utah (6-3)
W 20 12
9/13 TCU (5-4)
W - OT
20 17
9/22 BYU (6-2)
L 6 31
9/29 Navy (5-4)
L 20 31
10/6 UNLV (2-7)
W 31 14
10/13 Colorado St. (1-8)
W 45 21
10/20 Wyoming (2-3)
W 20 12
10/25 New Mexico (6-3)
L 31 34
11/3 Army (3-7)
W 30 10
• The Zoomies' rushing offense is 4th in the nation, at 272 yards per game.

• Contrary to popular belief, Air Forces runs a spread option offense, and not the trademark Fisher DeBerry triple option attack. When first year coach Troy Calhoun came on board he installed the shotgun spread (similar to what West Virginia runs). The Calhoun version is still a ground-based attack, and still incorporates option plays, but the triple option is no longer the foundation. There's a bit more passing involved: the Falcons' QB Shaun Carney has already bested his passing attempts from '04, '05, and '06, and there's still three games to play.

• Chad Hall (#1) is the AFA's most dynamic player, appearing as the "Z-back" in Calhoun's offense, lining up at running back, slot back, receiver, and even sometimes at quarterback. He is the only Division 1A player leading his team in rushing, receiving and all-purpose yards, and he accounts for about half the Falcons' offense:
"I practice with the receivers," Hall said. "I start every game as the z-receiver. Technically, I'm still a receiver."

But how many receivers get 160 carries, though?

"We just call him a hybrid," Air Force teammate and roommate Garrett Rybak said. "It's easier."

Hall hasn't been easy to bring down this season. He's averaged 192.8 yards a game over his last five contests...

It took some time for Falcons coach Troy Calhoun to figure out how to best utilize the diminutive Hall, who stands a generous 5-foot-8 and weighs 180 pounds. For the first five games of the season, Calhoun used him primarily as a receiver, and he caught 25 passes for 281 yards.

The Falcons needed more explosiveness out of their offense, so Calhoun decided give him more carries against UNLV to see what he could do. Hall rushed for 169 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries. He also caught four passes for 44 yards.

Problem solved. Since taking a more predominant role in the offense, Hall has been Mountain West Conference offensive player of the week three times.
• I took a look to see if I could find something in common in all of Air Force's three losses (to BYU 6-31, to Navy 20-31, and to New Mexico 31-34). One thing jumps out at you immediately: the three losses (and the OT win over TCU) were also the four-lowest rushing totals of the year for Air Force. BYU in particular limited the Air Force offense, clamping down on them for 133 rushing yards (more than -100 under their average) and just six points on a single touchdown all day. The yards per rush average for each game was also significantly lower in these games.

• I'd assumed the lower rushing numbers were a product of Air Force having to pass more to catch up, but that's really only the case against BYU, who jumped out to a big lead early on and force Air Force to throw (AFA had their lowest number of carries all year against BYU). But the other three games were pretty close until the fourth quarter: against TCU, Air Force got a 71 yard touchdown run late in the game to tie it up and send it to overtime; against Navy, it was a 4-point game until the 9:00 mark; and against New Mexico, Air Force actually led 21-10 in the first half.

• On defense, Air Force is ranked pretty well in Pass Effiency Defense, with a 112.65 rating (205 ypg) that puts them 27th nationally. But if you discount the game against South Carolina State -- which sports the 94th passing offense in Div I-AA -- then that ranking drops about 25 slots or so. Several teams have gouged Air Force through the air; BYU completed almost 70% and had 293 yards passing.

• If it were just about any other Irish team in recent memory, this would be a relatively easy win for Notre Dame. Stop the run, pass a little bit, and coast to a victory. This year, as we all know, is a different story: AFA comes into ND today a 3-point favorite. Sounds about right to me...perhaps even a little low.