Maybe Air Force’s alarming first-half performance on Saturday was an aberration. Falcons quarterback Tim Jefferson admitted that part of it might have been players overlooking Northwestern State and expecting a “cakewalk.”
Perhaps it was something more foreboding, a lesser opponent exposing some weaknesses for BYU, next week’s opponent, to study and exploit.
Whatever the reason for Air Force’s lethargy in the first half against Northwestern State — a Football Championship Subdivision team that went 0-11 last year — the Falcons admitted they have a long way to go. The 65-21 final score from the season opener at Falcon Stadium didn’t tell the whole story. Air Force allowed 21 first-half points and led by just three at halftime.
After struggling at times Saturday, are the Falcons are ready for BYU next week?
“After evaluating today, off the bat, I’d say no,” defensive end Rick Ricketts said. “BYU is very well coached and last year we had some trouble with their passing game. If we’re having trouble with Northwestern State’s passing game, that’s an eye opener. We’ve got to pick it up for BYU.”
The good news for the Falcons is there are a lot of teaching points from the first half, and the second half was much more impressive.
The no-huddle offense in the third quarter wore out the Demons. After allowing 215 yards passing in the first half — including 35 on a touchdown drive by Demons backup quarterback Tyler Wolfe, who was in the game because of an injury to starter Paul Harris — the Falcons handled Northwestern State’s spread attack much better after halftime.
“We made a couple of adjustments, and we definitely played more aggressively,” Falcons coach Troy Calhoun said. “It wasn’t close between the first half and the second half.”
There were plenty of nervous fans among the 40,236 as Northwestern State pulled within 24-21 with 33 seconds remaining in the first half. Without cornerback Reggie Rembert, who was carted off the field with a neck injury in the first series of the game, the secondary was vulnerable. The lack of a pass rush didn’t help. At halftime, plenty of the team’s leaders raised their voices.
“It was kind of intense,” Jefferson said. “There were some things that were said. Just to light a fire under guys. In the first half we were completely dead. We didn’t play with any passion at all.”
Air Force’s offense kept the first half from being a complete meltdown. Jefferson had a good game. He completed 7-of-12 passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns. He rushed for 59 yards and two touchdowns, including a 37-yarder on an option run on fourth and 2.
Jonathan Warzeka’s second touchdown early in the third quarter got the Falcons going. Air Force scored 28 points in the third quarter, added 13 more in the fourth quarter and shut out the Demons after halftime.
Next week’s game is big for Air Force if it wants to crack the top three of the Mountain West, which has been dominated by TCU, Utah and BYU. Air Force hasn’t beat BYU since 2003.
“There definitely is a rivalry, and yes, we’re gunning for them,” Warzeka said.