Air Force offense is taking to the air

Air Force has developed into more than just a running team

dsouthorn@idahostatesman.com © 2013 Idaho StatesmanSeptember 11, 2013 

Air Force quarterback Jaleel Awini pitches to running back Jon Lee during Saturday's home loss to Utah State. Awini made his first career start in the game and his 12 pass attempts were as many as the Falcons had in nine games last season. Lee is the Falcons' top rusher with 149 yards on 18 attempts.

  • AIR FORCE AT BOISE STATE

    Æ When: 6 p.m. Friday

    Æ Where: Bronco Stadium (36,387, FieldTurf)

    Æ TV: ESPN (Carter Blackburn, Danny Kanell, Allison Williams)

    Æ Radio: KBOI (670AM), KKGL (96.9 FM); Bob Behler, Pete Cavender

    Æ Records: Boise State is 1-1 overall, 0-0 Mountain West; Air Force is 1-1, 0-1

    Æ Series: Boise State leads 1-0 (BSU 37-26, 2011 in Boise)

    Æ Vegas line: Boise State by 231⁄2

Air Force football coach Troy Calhoun winces a bit whenever anyone labels his offense as a triple-option attack.

Sure, there are still some elements of the offense that has its roots dating back more than 30 years, but the Falcons are a lot more varied than the old idea of a fullback coming down the middle, and a keep or pitch from the quarterback to a trailing running back.

"No, definitely more than that," said Calhoun, in his seventh season. "We were an exclusively triple-option team when I took over, but we had to evolve, get the ball to our playmakers, whether it's a quarterback, receiver, running back, whatever. With the short timeframe our guys have, what we do can vary even week to week."

Citing the fact Air Force doesn't redshirt players and that freshmen rarely play since they come out of basic training into fall camp, Calhoun said being varied is a necessity. The Falcons threw 29 times once last season in a game, and zero times in another.

The Falcons will run a lot - they have 113 attempts on the ground in their first two games - but they'll do it in a multitude of ways, with power runs, zone reads, tosses and some option elements.

"Shotgun, under center, having one, two or three backs, you've got to give as many looks as you can, otherwise you're helping the defense," Calhoun said. "It's no secret we want to run, but when we're at our best, we're efficient throwing the ball. That's definitely built off our ability to run it."

Play-action passes or run-pass option plays are key for the Falcons - and they hope it will be more effective Friday against Boise State after a rash of drops last Saturday in a 52-20 loss to Utah State. Air Force quarterbacks were 6-of-18, but Boise State coach Chris Petersen counted seven drops, three in the end zone.

"They were not tough catches they dropped," Petersen said. "They won't drop them again."

Keeping to the theme of playing to strengths, sophomore quarterback Jaleel Awini attempted 12 passes in his first start Saturday - as many or more than the Falcons had in nine games last season. Awini replaced junior Kale Pearson, who tore his ACL in the season opener. He is regarded as the better passer of the two, but also led the team with 48 rushing yards in the loss.

"I've been really impressed with Awini, the way he's able to step in," Air Force safety Christian Spears said. "He's a poised player, a good passer. The stats might not show it, because there were some drops that I know the guys feel bad about and are working to fix right now."

Boise State defensive lineman Tyler Horn noted the Falcons "mix it up from what they've done in the past," but the Broncos have paid most of their attention to the run-heavy attack this week. Petersen stressed how difficult it was to face Air Force in a 37-26 win in 2011, and again against the triple option-heavy New Mexico team that nearly upset the Broncos last season.

Utilizing some up-tempo and an athletic line that often uses cut blocks, the Falcons are built to wear down a defense. Boise State has focused on getting off blocks and tackling better after each of the first two games, and it is even more of a priority Friday.

"If we get cut, we can't make tackles, we don't make tackles, they get big gains and probably a 'W,'' Boise State defensive tackle Armand Nance said.

The Falcons have never finished worse than sixth nationally in rushing under Calhoun, and are averaging 285.5 yards per game on the ground this season. But the fact teams can't solely concentrate on the run - Air Force is 28th nationally with 13.9 yards per catch - makes the Falcons a little more dangerous.

"Mixing it up and throwing a bit, that's always fun," Air Force receiver Ty MacArthur said. "With service academies, you always think of running the ball, which we do, but that's not all we're about."

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