Updated: December 29, 2012 at 12:00 am
FORT WORTH, Texas – For six seasons, Troy Calhoun has defied traditional football strategy.
Most football teams feature massive – overly massive – young men with flabby guts. Calhoun’s Falcons offered a different look. Even Air Force linemen are lean.
After the Falcons' 33-14 defeat to Rice in Saturday’s Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl, Calhoun delivered a concession speech. He’s weary of his defiance. He must find a way to close what he calls “the mass difference.”
Calhoun needs to jolt his football program back to life. Over the past two seasons, the Falcons have won 13 games and lost 13 games. The Air Force football program is thoroughly average.
This has something to do with the team’s below-average size. The Falcons' largest starters on Saturday weighed 260 pounds. This was last considered large in 1958 or so.
“We have to increase our mass,” Calhoun said. “We absolutely have to … increase our size.”
Calhoun was left searching for new paths to success after his team’s collapse in the final five games. After the first eight games, the Falcons were 5-3 and averaging 34.4 points. Air Force’s option attack had looked mighty even in the three defeats, amassing 1,005 yards on the ground.
The season turned when the Falcons traveled to Army. The Black Knights stampeded the Falcons, ending a three-game win streak and crushing Air Force’s spirit.
In the final five games, the Falcons averaged 16 points and many of their points were essentially worthless, scored in the final minutes when Air Force had no chance at victory.
The bad times continued in Saturday’s finale. Rice was sloppy and generous in the opening half, losing three fumbles. Against all odds, the Falcons trotted into the locker room at halftime leading 14-7.
It was a mirage. Rice dominated the second half, squashing the Falcons' anemic rush attack while exploiting Air Force’s undersized secondary. Air Force crawled to 25 yards rushing and two first downs in the final two quarters of the season.
Strength of opponents had something to do with the harsh times, but can’t fully explain the Falcons' long fall. On Sept. 8, Air Force’s offense ran all over Michigan’s large, fast defense and nearly pushed the Falcons to one of the more impressive wins in their recent history.
A touch remains of the audacious attitude that once lifted the Falcons. Quarterback Connor Dietz was puzzled by the dominating second-half performance of the Owls’ defense.
“They shouldn’t be able to stop us,” Dietz said.
But they did. Over and over, the Owls stifled the Falcons' rushing attack.
To find success, Calhoun said, the Falcons' offense must perform with “pinpoint execution.” That level of execution was seldom seen in Saturday’s loss, and it was never seen in the second half.
Calhoun has arrived at a crucial point in his Air Force career. He’s committed to his alma mater and looks ready for a long run as emperor of the football program.
But the team he revived when he arrived in 2007 is again wandering. The Falcons wandered straight to a disastrous loss Saturday.
“What we absolutely have to do is increase our size,” Calhoun said.
He speaks the truth, but he must know size is not the only thing this football team must increase.