SALT LAKE CITY • Troy Calhoun once taught an underachieving team how to win.
That was 2007, when he transformed Air Force’s losing football culture.
Coach, it’s time to teach again.
No doubt, Calhoun and his Falcons delivered a determined, noble performance on Saturday. They slugged it out with the nation’s No. 19 team and flirted with a stunning knockout before trudging away with a 23-16 overtime loss.
But here’s the thing to remember about this defeat.
They found a way to lose.
Sure, it was close. The Falcons have become experts at coming achingly close to big victories.
But any competitor knows close matters not at all. And no competitor can be happy walking around with four wins and four losses.
It’s Calhoun’s job to make sure 2009 doesn’t become the season of what-if. At this point, what-if defines the season. The Falcons almost defeated Minnesota, Navy, TCU and Utah.
Almost only adds to the agony. Air Force could easily be 7-1.
Free safety Jon Davis even imagines the Falcons as a “Top 25” team.
“We’re a great team,” Davis said. “We’re an amazing team. I think we have an amazing defense and an amazing offense.”
Jon, I appreciate your enthusiasm, but have to clash with your view of Air Force’s offense.
The Falcons are too predictable and too stuck on the ground to defeat strong opponents. I’m open to discussion about this, but there’s plenty of evidence —this season’s four losses — in my favor.
Air Force will not run over quality competition. For one thing, the team lacks a breakaway threat. On Saturday, it took lead halfback Asher Clark 17 carries to gain 40 yards.
That’s a depressing average of 1.9 yards per effort. Glaciers move almost as fast.
But let’s not be too hard on Clark. He’s not the only Falcon in a slump.
After a blazing start, Calhoun is in the middle of a long slide. He won 17 of his first 23 games, energized the Air Force fan base and soared as one of the nation’s most wanted coaches.
Since then, he’s lost seven of 11 games, and the wins were against Nicholls State, New Mexico, San Diego State and Wyoming, lightweights all.
In his last seven meetings against quality opponents, Calhoun has walked into his locker room as loser seven times.
Let me make this clear: Calhoun can revive this team and this program. He’s blessed with one of the best defenses in Air Force’s history.
And he’s blessed with an imaginative, maybe even brilliant offensive mind. He’ll need every ounce of his mind might. He’s lacking in weapons this season, and the quarterback situation is a mess.
Tim Jefferson wasn’t the answer for the Falcons’ sputtering offense. Neither is Connor Dietz, who ran up the middle to nowhere Saturday on the Falcons’ last play.
So Calhoun must become the answer. He must dig into his bag of offensive tricks and find points. He must take fresh, bold moves instead of sticking with the stale and failed.
He has the luxury of facing Colorado State, Army and UNLV in the next three weeks. Any of these teams would be thrilled to be called mediocre. It’s an easy ride for the Falcons.
And it’s the ideal time for Calhoun to revive a program that is stumbling once again.