Air Force's Calhoun defends his fourth-down gambles

November 12, 2012
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Troy Calhoun enjoys defying normal football wisdom. He’s blessed with four downs on each offensive series.

Why not use all of them?

“We like being able to utilize all four downs,” Calhoun said after Monday’s practice. “We just like to play that way.”

No one will argue with Calhoun’s words, especially after Saturday’s trip to San Diego. The Falcons went for it on fourth down nine times, including five times in the second quarter.

Calhoun and the Falcons have enjoyed benefits from his willingness to gamble. In 2007, Calhoun’s first season, the Falcons faced a fourth-and-1 at their 29 in the fourth quarter against TCU. Calhoun calculated the odds.

And went for it.

In one of the most important plays in Air Force football history, Jim Ollis sprinted 71 yards to a touchdown. It was the key play in Air Force’s 20-17 upset of the Horned Frogs and a massive boost to a team that eventually won nine games.

But there can be a down side.

In Saturday’s loss to San Diego State, the Falcons failed twice on fourth down in the second quarter. On the first try, Air Force faced a fourth-and-1 at the Aztecs’ 29. Halfback Cody Getz was stopped for no gain, and San Diego State quickly moved 71 yards to a touchdown and a 14-3 lead.

On Air Force’s next drive, the Falcons drove to a fourth-and-4 at the Aztecs’ 23. Calhoun could have sent in struggling placekicker Parker Herrington for a field-goal attempt.

Instead, Calhoun gambled, and Getz was again stopped for no gain.

Calhoun defends the calls. He believes the Falcons required touchdowns to defeat the Aztecs. And he’s not one to regret his fourth-down gambles.

He’s coached the Falcons 75 games, and he regrets only one of his fourth-down decisions. He wishes he had not gone for it on a fourth-and-1 in his territory in the second quarter against Georgia Tech in the 2010 Independence Bowl. The attempt failed, but the Falcons still won, 14-7.

Calhoun’s bravery is popular with his players, at least the ones who play offense.

“I love it,” senior center Jordan Eason said. “It’s Coach Calhoun saying I believe you guys can get that one yard.”

Getz is a believer in taking risks, too, even if he failed twice on fourth downs Saturday.

To him, punting is “giving the ball up without giving up a fight.”

“I’d rather have it on our shoulders,” Getz said.

Calhoun feels the same way. He’s gone for it on fourth down 36 times this season. That’s 15 more times than the Falcons have punted.

His bravery paid off more often last season when the Falcons converted 81 percent of their fourth-down attempts. This season, the success rate has dropped to 61 percent.

Means might miss Hawaii

Senior linebacker Alex Means suffered a thigh injury against San Diego State and saw limited action in Monday’s practice. Calhoun said he’s “questionable” for Friday’s game against Hawaii.

Twitter: @davidramz

Facebook: davidramsey13

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