The Falcons are searching for their lost offense. If they discover their tough, imaginative attack, the Falcons should end the season with a victory against Rice in the Dec. 29 Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl.

If they don’t, expect the Falcons to fall to their fourth loss in the past five games.

Eight games into the season, Air Force coaches and fans were making arguments the Falcons could be undefeated.

This wasn’t idle talk. Air Force placed a severe scare into Michigan and led UNLV (by 11) and Navy (by 8) in the second half. The Falcons rushed for 1,005 yards in their three losses. Even in defeat, Air Force’s option attack was mighty.

And in victory, the Falcons at times traveled to destinations beyond mighty. Only two lost fumbles prevented Air Force from dropping 60 points on the Wolf Pack. Something happened to the Falcons after their 48-31 thrashing of Nevada, and that something wasn’t good.

Air Force lost three of its next four games, and the Falcons never were in contention in the three losses. They got trampled on three road trips.

Quarterback Connor Dietz offers a quick explanation for the final four games of Air Force’s football season.

“We underperformed,” Dietz said. “And it upsets me.”

He has reason to be upset. The Falcons fell behind at Army, 35-7. They tumbled to a 28-3 deficit at San Diego. And only mercy from Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter (an Air Force alum) prevented the Bulldogs from scoring 60 points on the Falcons.

There are reasons for hope. Here are three:

1. In the first five games of the season, halfback Cody Getz ranked among the college game’s most dazzling stars. He led the nation in yards per game while sizzling Idaho State, CSU and Navy for more than 200 yards. He was on pace to gain more than 2,000 yards for the season.

He was never quite the same after suffering a sprained left ankle on a rainy night in Wyoming. After gaining 887 yards in the first five games, Getz hobbled his way to 326 in the last seven.

The ankle has healed in the 29 days since the Falcons' disastrous trip to Fresno. Getz is quick to say he’s not 100 percent. No one, he said, is 100 percent 12 games into the season.

“But it feels really good,” he said, looking at the ankle after practice.

2. Getz and his fellow runners will be running behind a motivated line. During the first eight games of the season, Falcons blockers dominated the line of scrimmage.

This trend turned on Nov. 3 when Air Force’s season crashed at Army’s Michie Stadium. The Falcons crawled to a mere 103 yards (2.4 per carry) while the Black Knights pushed the offensive line around.

A few days later, offensive tackle Jason Kons offered his summary of the afternoon.

“Their defensive line came out and pretty much kicked us in the mouth,” Kons said. “I could tell you it didn’t happen, but that wouldn’t be the truth. That’s what happened.”

3. Rice’s Owls are unaware of what is about to hit them. This might be the most important reason for optimism.

Army understands Air Force’s option. San Diego State coach Rocky Long has been devising ways to slow the Falcons since 1998. And Fresno’s DeRuyter played and coached at Air Force. The Falcons fizzled against defenses that understood the option attack.

That won’t be the case at the Armed Forces Bowl. Rice will be facing the Falcons for the first time since 1998. The Owls are novices when it comes to trying to understand Air Force’s intricate offense.

And novices struggle.

Just ask Nevada’s Wolf Pack. You might remember Air Force’s offense, then one of the most powerful in the land, rampaged to 461 yards rushing against Nevada.

The Falcons have strong reason to believe they could deliver a repeat against the Owls.

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