The time has finally arrived for Air Force to remove the shackles from its passing game.
While this season promises to feature a Falcons offense dedicated to throwing the ball, the opener might not see the new approach on full display.
"Obviously we can't take Colgate lightly," quarterback Kale Pearson said. "But if things don't go as planned, maybe we will have to open it up a little bit."
Opening up a bit is a bit of a relative concept for a program that beat Hawaii in November without attempting a pass. But this transition does seem to be closer to a full-fledged overhaul than a half-hearted attempt to modernize the attack.
"I don't want to give away too much, but I'm telling you, our offense is going to be awesome this year," running back Jon Lee said. "Very prolific. We're going to throw the ball around - a lot of things that's going to surprise a lot of people."
The primary deterrents that have kept Air Force from throwing in the past were a lack of size up front (necessary for maintaining pass blocks) and, to a lesser degree, a dearth of skill position players with the size and skill-set to pull this off against legitimate competition.
The Falcons feel that those factors have changed, even though the starting offensive line still averages just 261 pounds. Even Colgate averages 283. Boise State averages 296.
"We've got more guys who can do more things," offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Clay Hendrix said. "We still know who we are, but we're trying to be more versatile."
Don't expect to see a pro-style attack with a pocket quarterback, but do expect to see running backs and wide receivers utilized in the passing game with far greater frequency.
Some around the Mountain West are worried about what this might mean.
"Right now they're a little bit one-dimensional," Wyoming defensive back Marqueston Huff said. "Safeties are coming up about 9 yards in the box and it makes it kind of hard for them to run their offense. If they open up the passing game it would really change things because you'd take both safeties out of the equation and it would open up the running game more."
That's what Lee is counting on, and why he and Anthony LaCoste stand to run in an entirely new scheme than past Air Force tailbacks.
Coach Troy Calhoun has remained silent on any changes, but he did list his offensive priorities in this order: 1. Turnover margin. 2. Passing efficiency. 3. Running the ball.
Part of Air Force's advantage in recent years was its novelty. Teams wouldn't be used to seeing the triple-option and could never fully simulate it with a scout team in practice. But with New Mexico adopting the offense, plus with Army and Navy on the schedule, it was no longer unique.
"You can't do the same thing, run the ball up the middle every time, and expect teams to be fooled," center Michael Husar said.
Will this all happen immediately, with swing passes replacing option pitches? It's a bit unlikely, as recent games against Football Championship Subdivision opponents haven't required anything beyond the basics to win. Only those on Air Force's coaching staff know for sure. For the rest of us, it's all kind of up in the air right now. Kind of like Air Force's new attack.
AIR FORCE vs. COLGATEThree things to watch
1. Defending the QB
Run-pass threat Gavin McCarney is the first of several versatile quarterbacks the Falcons will face this year. If Air Force struggles to contain him, it won’t bode well for the Week 2 matchup against Utah State’s Chuckie Keeton, who had 314 passing yards, 85 rushing yards and three total TDs on Thursday vs. Utah.
2. First look at a new kicker
Coach Troy Calhoun adamantly denies feeling a lack of confidence in his kicking game last year, but the numbers don’t lie — the Falcons attempted just 10 field goals in 13 games, making just four. Junior Will Conant will get his first chance in the placekicking role, so it will be interesting to see how he handles his early opportunities.
3. Falcons newcomers
The general consensus among Air Force coaches and players is that the new wave of talent is better than what the program has seen in recent years. This will be the first chance for the freshman class to make a mark, with wide receiver Jalen Robinette and defensive linemen David Harris and Ryan Watson sure to see some time.
By the numbers
Combined starters weighing more than 290 pounds. Air Force is accustomed to contending with larger opponents, so facing one its closer to its own size figures to be a hefty advantage.
Pregame flyovers planned at this point for the Air Force season. That could be revisited for the next fiscal year, which begins in October.
This is the first meeting between Air Force and Colgate.
Consecutive home openers won by Air Force against unranked (or Football Championship Subdivision) programs.
Athletic scholarships now offered by Colgate, which allowed the school to participate in National Signing Day for the first time last year. Expect to see contributions from freshmen as a result.
“I am fired up to see what our guys do, I mean really, really fired up. I have strongly felt that way ever since mid-March. Have really wanted to launch forward five months and get going with these guys. It’s a group I love to be around, very responsive to coaching, a group that gets along extraordinary well and guys that love football. And they have ability.” – Air Force coach Troy Calhoun
Air Force football game day security procedures announced
New to the security procedures at Falcon Stadium this season is that food will be permitted, but must be displayed in a transparent one-gallon Ziploc bag with a limit of one per ticket holder.
The Air Force Academy’s North and South entrances will open at 9 a.m. for the Colgate game, and will open four hours prior to kickoff for subsequent games. This allows fans access to Falcon Stadium parking lots for pre-game activities, and pre- and post-game tailgating. Fans may tailgate for up to two hours after the game. Stadium gates and ticket booths open two hours prior to kickoff.
Still cameras and handheld video cameras will be allowed, but flash photography is not permitted. Empty or factory-sealed soft plastic water (water only) bottles, 24 ounces or less will be permitted.
Items prohibited at Falcon Stadium include: alcoholic beverages, umbrellas, backpacks or large bags, artificial noisemakers, banners or large signs (no signs larger than 18 x 24 inches), laser pointers, weapons, firearms, fireworks, glass containers, cans, bags larger than 8x11 inches, and any items that cannot be readily inspected.