Preview 2017: Air Force Falcons
Previewing and looking ahead at the Air Force season – and what you need to know.
What You Need To Know About The Air Force Offense
The offense doesn’t have to undergo the personnel overhaul the defense does, but it’s still going to be a bit of a transition with five starters gone.
The one big, giant loss is WR Jalen Robinette. He might have only caught 35 passes, but he averaged over 27 yards per pop and was a legitimate target to worry about. The Falcons don’t have one of those quite yet – one has to emerge in a hurry.
The quarterback situation is deep and experienced, with Arion Worthman likely the main man to run the show after stepping in and throwing for 546 yards and four scores, and finishing third on the team in rushing.
As always, there are plenty of quick backs, but Tim McVeigh is the only one with any appreciable experience. That shouldn’t be a problem if the line does its job. With three starters back up front – and considering it’s one of the few areas with decent depth – the running game should be the Air Force running game again after finishing third in the nation.
Biggest Key To The Air Force Offense
A No. 1 wide receiver has to emerge. The Air Force passing game will never crank up the big yards – that’s not the point of the attack – but it’s great as long as it comes up with the deep ball and doesn’t make a whole slew of mistakes. That’s where Arion Worthman comes in. He hit 59% of his throws and averaged a whopping 14 yards per toss, while Nate Romine completed just 42% of his tries. Now they need a receiver to throw to without Jalen Robinette around. He caught 36 passes last year, while the other wideouts combined for ten grabs, but for 298 yards and three scores.
What You Need To Know About The Air Force Defense
Defensive coordinator Steve Russ has one of the toughest jobs in America this year. He has to replace ten starters and 12 of the top 13 tacklers. Also, of the 30 sacks the Falcons came up with last year, all but 7.5 of them are gone, too.
The D was hardly a rock – getting ripped apart in wins over Colorado State and San Jose State – but it was fantastic against the run and was outstanding early on. But that’s what the team was building towards for a few years, and now it’s all starting from scratch.
LB Grant Ross is the lone returning starter, and he’s a good one. Santo Coppola has been groomed to become the new star end, and there’s just enough talent and just enough options to form a solid front seven – even if it takes a while for everything to jell.
The secondary is the biggest problem. Air Force might be fantastic and plugging new parts in the system, but S Weston Steelhammer was more than just another guy. The safeties, though, should be okay in time, and the corners have size, but again, experience is going to be a major issue.
Biggest Key To The Air Force Defense
The pass rush has to be up to snuff. It’s no coincidence that the Falcon defense was a disaster – and the team went 2-10 – when there wasn’t any pressure in the backfield in 2013. That was changed the following year, and the Falcons have been killers behind the line ever since, amassing 104 sacks in the last three seasons. It primarily came from the outside linebackers, but the D has to get more creative this year without the veterans to rely on. If not, the young secondary will be in deep, deep trouble.
Air Force Will Be Far Better If …
The defense can come up with third down stops. The Falcons still managed to finish fourth in the nation in time of possession, thanks to an offense that does what the Air Force offense does, but the defense struggled to get off the field. This year, with so much turnover, as long as the D can somehow hold up on first and second downs and force 3rd-and-distance – and then get off the field over 60% of the time – it’ll be okay.
Best Air Force Offensive Player
RB Timothy McVey, Sr. – As always, it’s going to be a crowded backfield full of options, and the quarterback will be a big part of the ground attack, but McVey is the veteran who’s used to handling the work in key spots, finishing second on the team last year with 708 yards and ten scores, averaging 8.5 yards per carry. The Falcons allowed teams to convert 43.5% of their third down tries after giving up just 37% in each of the previous two seasons.
Also a playmaker out of the backfield, he caught eight passes for 193 yards and two scores, while averaging over 26 yards per pop on kick returns. While he’s not built to be a workhorse, when it’s his turn at bat – like it was against Colorado State, with 184 yards and four scores on 15 carries – he produces.
2. QB Arion Worthman, Jr.
3. RB Malik Miller, Jr.
4. QB Nate Romine, Sr.
5. RB Christian Mallard, Soph.
Best Air Force Defensive Player
LB Grant Ross, Sr. – Best defensive player? How about the only defensive player. At least, the only returning defensive player, finishing third on the team with 68 tackles with 3.5 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss. The 6-0, 220-pound veteran should combine with John Flor for the inside of the linebacking corps, and the pressure will be on to be the leaders and big producers for a D that’s starting from scratch everywhere else.
2. DE Santo Coppola, Sr.
3. LB John Flor, Sr.
4. DT Cody Moorhead, Sr.
5. S Kyle Floyd, Jr.
Key Player To A Successful Season
S Kyle Floyd, Jr. – The Falcons are starting over at several spots, but the secondary is the biggest issue with the top two tacklers – Weston Steelhammer and Brodie Hicks – the big losses at safety. Floyd is one of the few returning defensive backs with any experience – he made four tackles last season – and now he, or Garrett Kauppila, or James Jones have to instantly become stars. These aren’t exactly Mountain West household names – there will be a learning curve.
The Air Force Season Will Be A Success If …
The Falcons get back to a bowl game. There’s way, way, way too much turnover to take the division or the conference title, but there’s enough in the bank to get to at least six wins and a bowl appearance. VMI, UNLV, Army and Utah State. Win those four home games, take two more, and there it is – it might not be quite that easy, though.
Key Game To The Air Force Season
Nov. 18 at Boise State – The San Diego State game will be tough, and New Mexico and a trip to Nevada won’t be easy, but the second half of the Mountain West season will be nasty. The Falcons have to go to Colorado State, deal with Wyoming, and then have to make the trip to Boise State. If they’re still alive for the Mountain title by this point, they can’t win it without getting off the blue turf with a stunning victory.
2016 Air Force Fun Stats
– Punt Return Average: Air Force 11 yards
– Opponents 4.5 yards - 1st Quarter Scoring: 61
– 2nd Quarter Scoring: 154 - Time of Possession: Air Force 34:03 – Opponents 25:57