Before we fully cross over on this hump day, let’s take one final look back at Air Force’s 29-13 loss at then-No. 7 Michigan on Saturday.
Here was offensive coordinator Mike Thiessen’s take on the game, which could have seen the Falcons trail by just six points midway through the fourth quarter had they converted on a short field-goal attempt:
“It’s heartbreaking, right? It’s one of those games we’re always going to look back on and know you had a chance that you didn’t convert on. That hurts. That stings. But we did give ourselves a chance. If we give ourselves a chance in the fourth quarter I’ll take those chances every time.”
Here’s the take from defensive coordinator Steve Russ:
“You take the great resiliency on our guys’ part. We had some short fields that were like sudden-change situations. It’s things we talk about, things we work – they are going to move the ball. This is college football, offenses are explosive. Everybody’s got a great offense. You have to be able to stiffen up in those red-zone situations, and we keep preaching to the guys that it takes three field goals to beat a touchdown. I was really happy with our young crew to have them be resilient and get them forced field goals. Now, we’ve got to stop leaving money on the table and getting self-inflicted wounds that help them get down there. A lot of things we can control, whether it was coverage issues, run-fit issues; defending them is not easy and they make those issues happen through their looks, but those are issues that we have to clean up in a hurry. The effort, the intensity was what we were looking for. The competitive spirit was what we’re looking for. Again, we’ve got to be able to blend that with execution. We had a chance to get that second turnover, and that’s usually our benchmark. If we can get two turnovers, we have an excellent chance of winning the game. Our second one was lying on the ground there and we couldn’t find a way to come up with that. So we’ve got to continue to do a good job of execution, trying to get the ball back better. We’ve got to clean that up in the next five days, in a big-time hurry, because this next crew will exploit you terribly if you expose yourself.
And here was Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh:
"I thought we won all three phases. We played a brand of football that I really like, which is to keep jabbing away. ... Offensively, defensively and special teams. I thought we won all three phases. ... Definitely we’d like to score more touchdowns in the red zone. I think that will come. Our team is moving the ball, I think that’s a fact. I think the touchdowns will come."
Some other items:
The quarterback decision
Air Force went with Nate Romine on the final, desperate possession that began with 1:02 remaining. He then threw an interception that put the game on ice.
This is not a sign of a quarterback controversy in the least – though it was interesting that a Denver Post reporter showed up for practice on Monday with requests to talk with both QBs. It was, however, the first sign since Worthman’s ascension at the position that Romine’s arm might be viewed as stronger and better suited for comeback-type situations.
The question then became that, if Romine’s skill set is better suited for a quick-strike offense, why didn’t the Falcons go with him when they got the ball, down 22-13, at their 40 with 6:10 remaining?
“I didn’t see a point in doing that,” Thiessen said. “At that point we were running our normal offense and only down two scores. The last time we had run the ball down the field it was running our normal offense with some tempo. At that time there was no reason to think we couldn’t do the exact same thing running our normal offense. We didn’t have to do something different.”
Thiessen is correct in that the previous Air Force drive had been a 16-play, 73-yard match that ate 6:56 of clock, brought them to the 5-yard line, and ultimately resulted in a missed kick.
The possession at the 6:10 mark resulted in three plays, 4 lost yards and a punt. Air Force didn’t get the ball back until 1:02 remained, down 16.
Position battles on defense
In this year of turnover on defense (the personnel kind, not the ball kind – though Air Force wants that, too), the positions are largely settling in at this point.
Garrett Kauppila and Kyle Floyd seem fairly entrenched at the safety positions. Floyd has been since Day 1 of spring ball, but Kauppila was among the last to secure a spot after battling James Jones IV through fall camp. Kauppila had eight tackles, including 1.5 for a loss and forced a fumble that resulted in Air Force’s lone forced turnover.
The lone spot that remains in flux seems to be the “spur” outside linebacker, where seniors Shaq Vereen (five tackles, including two for a loss) and Ja’mel Sanders (three tackles) split snaps.
Vereen started but played just one play more than Sanders.
“It’s 1A and 1A,” defensive coordinator Steve Russ said. “Somebody’s got to run out there first. If I could run them both out there, I would. … They both played well.”
Air Force’s total yards (232) were the program’s fewest since the 2012 Armed Forces Bowl, when it managed just 214 yards of offense in a 33-14 loss to Rice.
While Air Force appears to have come out of the game without any major injuries, that was not the case for Michigan.
Coach Jim Harbaugh said receiver Tarik Black will need surgery to repair "a crack" in his foot.
Black, a touted freshman, had five catches for 55 yards against Air Force.
If you missed it, the best quote of the day (and probably the season) came out of Michigan's locker room: "I feel bad for the terrorists these guys are eventually going to go against" — Michigan defensive end Chase Winovich