Opponents take unusual steps to prepare for the Air Force football team’s option-heavy, cut-blocking offense.
And still they struggle to handle the Falcons at the beginning of games.
Boise State worked on defending the option periodically during fall camp and has included weekly cut-blocking drills in practice during the season knowing it will face the option twice a year in the Mountain West’s Mountain Division — against Air Force on Saturday and New Mexico in November.
“We try to make it as game speed as possible, but it’s what they do and it’s what they’ve always done and they’re the best at it,” Boise State sophomore linebacker Ben Weaver said of Air Force. “You can’t always completely prepare for it but you can do the best you can to practice for it.”
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Boise State has faced Air Force twice.
In 2011, the Falcons generated 203 yards and 10 points in the first half and 205 yards and 16 points in the second half. Boise State won 37-26.
In 2013, the Falcons had 192 yards and 17 points in the first half and 95 yards and three points in the second half. Boise State won 42-20.
The 2013 game reflects an Air Force trend. Last year, the Falcons scored 168 points in the first half and 128 in the second half. This year, they have scored 64 points in the first half and 41 in the second half.
“It takes a quarter to even get adjusted to the speed they run it at,” Boise State defensive line coach Steve Caldwell said.
Defenders also must adjust to the uncomfortable sensation of Air Force’s blockers attacking their legs — the equalizer that allows the undersized players to succeed. The Falcons’ offensive line averages 263 pounds (the Broncos’ offensive line averages 304).
“You tend to have to try to play slower, but that’s why we work on it so much,” Weaver said, “so we can play faster and still play with the tempo we want to play with.”
Caldwell offered no sympathy for his players — “They just have to play it. Big deal,” he said — but defensive coordinator Marcel Yates remembers several players coming out of the 2011 game with injuries.
Yates responded with a dread-filled chuckle at the first question this week about defending the Falcons.
“What you can’t do against a team that cuts is you can’t get your eyes where they’re not supposed to be,” Yates said. “You have to defeat the guy in front of you first. I’ve torn both ACLs. It’s something I don’t take lightly when it comes to cut blocks.”
Air Force ranks fifth in the nation in rushing at 335 yards per game. The Falcons mix some modern (pistol) and traditional (power run plays) concepts with the option to create a variety of challenges.
And just when defenses think they’ve got something figured out, quarterback Kale Pearson throws the ball over their heads. Pearson averages 14.7 yards per completion.
“We’ve been harping on our corners that they can’t fall asleep and think it’s just going to be run, run, run,” Yates said.
But that is what Air Force does best — and what Boise State defends best. The Broncos rank second in the nation in rush defense at 53.5 yards per game.
“It will be a good challenge for the defense,” Weaver said. “It really makes you stay disciplined. It will really test the defense and show what we’re made of.”
More on the defense:
— Caldwell: “Our linebackers are fitting things out perfect and our DBs are fitting where they’re supposed to. That’s what it will take this week, even on a higher level than last week, because it’s going to take all 11 of us to carry it out from the dive to the quarterback to the pitch. It’s a disciplined football game.”
— Yates: “To me it’s exciting to see a team that runs the ball so well against our defense to see where they’re at. I’m going to challenge our defense this week to don’t see the cut blocks in fear. Ask for it. Let’s go.”
— Yates on preparing during the offseason for Air Force and New Mexico: “You have to. You can’t wait for that week and just go, ‘Here it is.’ It’s up to us to get those guys kind of a look of the option and that speed.”
— Yates: “It would be a dream come true if we could take away Air Force’s run. I’d be a happy man. Good luck — they’re going to run the football.”
Boise State at Air Force
When: 5 p.m. Saturday
Where: Falcon Stadium (46,692, FieldTurf), U.S. Air Force Academy, Colo.
TV: CBS Sports Network (Carter Blackburn, Aaron Taylor, Jamie Erdahl)
Records: Boise State is 3-1 overall, 1-0 Mountain West; Air Force is 2-1, 0-1
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