November 14, 2009
Air Force’s football team needs to beat a winner.
The Falcons are masters at pounding losers, which they proved again Saturday. They were electrifying on a cold night, obliterating the Rebels without a cause, or a clue, from UNLV.
This season follows a script. The Falcons drop weaklings, but they tumble against quality opponents. AFA’s victims have won 21 and lost 49.
Here’s the good news:
The Falcons can shred the script. The Falcons can march into Provo, Utah and drop the BYU Cougars.
Looked at from a certain angle, this might seem a daunting challenge.
The Cougars have beaten the Falcons five straight times.
BYU’s offense is run by 24-year-old Max Hall, one of the better quarterbacks in college football, and if you don’t believe me, Max would be happy to confirm this view. No one ever accused Max of lacking confidence.
And the Cougars play in front of the biggest, best crowd in the Mountain West Conference. This, I know, isn’t saying much. Many MWC stadiums are great places to take naps.
But let’s look at the game from a more encouraging angle.
The Cougars haven’t beaten anybody, either. BYU’s victims have won 26 games and lost 53.
Against quality and semi-quality teams, BYU has been atrocious. Florida State and TCU all but devoured the Cougars. Over the past two seasons, TCU has outscored the Cougars 70-14.
No doubt, the Cougars are vulnerable. They even struggled Saturday to beat the ultra-lowly New Mexico Lobos.
Last season, I suggested BYU was the most overrated No. 17 in football history, and that might have been a trifle strong.
So let’s try again. This season, BYU was the most overrated No. 7 team in my lifetime. The Cougars beat a crippled Oklahoma squad and everyone got excited before BYU revealed its true self.
Still, a win would offer a massive boost for AFA’s self-image. Troy Calhoun immediately transformed the Falcons from loser to winner, but he’s been stuck as he strives to push the program to a higher place.
The Falcons didn’t beat anybody last season. The Falcons haven’t beaten anybody this season. Yes, AFA came close against Minnesota, Navy, TCU and Utah, but close only adds to the frustration.
The frustration could end in Provo.
It should be an exciting clash as Air Force pits its greatest strength, its defensive backfield, against BYU’s greatest strength, Hall’s right arm.
Hall is a typical throwing star, madly in love with his arm. He has reason for his confidence. In three seasons as BYU starter, he’s completed 838 passes for 10,348 yards and 84 touchdowns.
And he’s enjoyed picking on the Falcons, throwing for 647 yards in two starts.
But a moment from last season lingers. Late in the game, with BYU nursing a seven-point lead, Hall threw a fastball at midfield.
Anthony Wright Jr. read the play and broke on the ball. He would have run untouched into the end zone to tie the game. He had a clear shot at intercepting the pass.
Only he didn’t.
Wright’s hands only grazed the throw, allowing Hall and the Cougars to eventually drive to the clinching touchdown.
And if this scenario unfolds again?
Wright smiled as he stood in the snow Saturday night.
“It would be a totally different story; I’ll tell you that,” he said.
Wright walked on a tightrope, took a big risk. His move defined what the Falcons must do if they want to drop the Cougars in Provo.
“We have to take smart chances,” Wright said. “… And we can’t allow Max Hall to get hot.”
It’s time to bust loose from a tired script.
It’s time to, finally, beat a winner.