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Air Force knows the magic number when it comes to turnovers; getting there is the problem

October 25, 2017 Updated: October 25, 2017 at 9:21 pm
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UNLV wide receiver Darren Woods Jr., right, fumbles the ball as he tries to recover a fumble by quarterback Armani Rogers in the end zone in front of Air Force linebacker Christopher Musselman in the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017, at Air Force Academy, Colo. Air Force recovered the ball and took it 80 yards for the go-ahead score. Air Force won 34-30. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

An old saying reminds us that it takes two to tango. A 1980s song taught us that it takes two to make a thing go right.

Recent history tells us it takes two – forced turnovers that is – to ensure an Air Force victory.

No number has been more closely tied to the Falcons success. Since 2014, the team is 16-15 when it fails to create at least two turnovers. When it does, however, it is 15-1.

The loss came last year n overtime against Hawaii, when the Falcons had a chip-shot field goal at the end of regulation to win it.

“We try to get two a game,” cornerback Marquis Griffin said of turnovers. “That’s our goal.”

But the Falcons, who rank 114th nationally with a -1.0 turnover margin per game, have fallen short of that goal on all but one occasion this season. And that one time, the magic of two showed itself. Despite falling behind 27-0, and despite turning the ball over four times, Air Force beat UNLV 34-30 when the defense forced two turnovers.

This week’s opponent, Colorado State, has been fairly strong in this department. In seven games, the Rams have thrown six interceptions and have lost nine fumbles. In the past four games they haven’t thrown an interception in 123 attempts and have lost just one fumble.

Air Force defenders all pointed to practice as the key to beginning the flow of turnovers, which they have made analogous to pouring from a stubborn bottle of ketchup in that once it starts it escalates quickly.

But that’s been a point of emphasis for years on the practice field, so perhaps the difference will have to come from a different factor.

The hope may come from the development of the young players. Remember, this is a defense that had to replace 12 of its top 13 tacklers from a year ago. And even within this season, two new sophomores (cornerback Jeremy Fejedelem and safely James Jones IV) have been inserted into the defensive secondary and freshman (Lakota Wills) has emerged as a starter at outside linebacker.

With a unit this inexperienced, the concentration is often on assignment and basic technique. There’s not often room for second-level thoughts like having the first man hold up a ball carrier so the second man can jar the ball loose.

But as games tick away, those youngsters are gaining experience.

Maybe that will be the key to getting two turnovers. At least that’s Air Force’s hope.

“I hope so,” senior defensive end Santo Coppola said. “We can’t hope though. We’ve got to go get it.”

 

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