Stevens: Lobos Need To Stop Air Force Falcon's Vaunted Veer
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  11/12/2010
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

Nov. 12, 2010

Lobo Football -- At Air Force -- 4:06 pm., Saturday
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By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

There is more bounce in their step, more smiles on their faces, and even greater expectations as the pressure of a winless season disappeared last week on a 34-31 scoreboard that favored Lobos.

"I think the energy of the team, the confidence, is up," said Lobo coach Mike Locksley.

Said linebacker Seth Johanneman: "The attitude of the team as a whole, offense and defense, is great right now."

Yeah, winning does that for you. But there are some fundamental, physical things the Lobos need to slap onto their mental high in order to repeat those feel-good feelings up at Air Force.

There also is a burning question: Can these rejuvenated Lobos stop an Air Force veer that averages 5.6 yards per carry, 433.4 total yards, converts 49.6 percent on third down, and doesn't let the other team's offense on the field much?

"It starts with defense," said Locksley, whose Lobos are looking for the second win of the season at 4:06 p.m. Saturday in Falcon Stadium. "Playing Air Force, you have to stop the run."

Statistically, that's not real good news for the Lobos. They allow 230.9 yards per game on a 5.3 average per carry. They gave up an astounding 392 yards on the ground to an average running Wyoming this past Saturday, but fueled off some key turnovers to edge the `Pokes on the scoreboard.

Sure, takeaways are nice, but that isn't a stat you can rely on as much as tackling and being sound up front. The Lobos need those things vs. the Falcons. The Fly Boys are good, disciplined, and purposeful in what they want to do on offense -- run the ball down your throat.

"They are going to grind it out and try to keep our offense on the sidelines," said freshman quarterback Stump Godfrey, who will get his second start as a Lobo in Colorado Springs. "Every time we get on the field we have to take advantage of that and we have to score."

When you think of Air Force, you think of the Falcons' running game. It is a precision attack of quick decision making that puts a premium on quick decision-making -- and assignment memory -- by a defense.

You have to stop the dive. You have to stop the pitch. You have to stop the quarterback keeper. You have to throw defenders at these points of attack where the Falcons have the advantage in numbers and you have to be wary of the unexpected pass.

It isn't easy to face the Air Force offense. They have rolled out 375-plus yards in nine of their ten games. They ran for 379 yards at Wyoming, 351 at Oklahoma and 312 at San Diego State.

The Air Force running back with the worst average-per-carry among their top nine back has a 4.9. The Lobos leading rush, James Wright, averages 3.3 yards per carry.

Falcon quarterback Tim Jefferson has run for 690 yards and halfback Asher Clark has 854 yards. That's more yards than the 12 Lobos who have accumulated 941 rushing yards for UNM's season total.

So far, the Falcons have rolled out enough wins to be bowl eligible (6-4) and are favored to push that mark to 8-4 with their final two games against New Mexico and UNLV.

The Falcons have been blown out only once this season, 38-7 by a special TCU team. They lost 27-24 at Oklahoma, lost 27-25 at San Diego State and lost 28-23 against Utah. The Falcons are very good and very consistent in what they do. They average 30.4 points on offense and their ball-control attack, as Godfrey pointed out, limits opponents' opportunities to score.

The Falcons' defense will not overwhelm you with size or blazing speed, but they have the same mental approach on that side of the ball. They are consistent. They work hard not to give up big plays. They yield an average of 362.6 yards per game.

The Falcons bend and try not to break, trying to force an offense to put together a consistent drive of flawless execution. Simply put, they try to play defense at a consistent level for a longer period of time (plays) than what the opposing offense can do on that side of the ball.

Most of the time, the Falcons win that battle.

What Air Force is looking at with UNM is an offense that found new life with Godfrey in the huddle. The Lobo pup led UNM to its best offensive game of the season: 430 total yards and, most importantly, 34 points and a win.

The Falcons' advantage over Wyoming is they have a full game to study up on Godfrey. The game tape will show a freshman who passes just fine (16-of-20 vs. Wyoming), but who runs like a tornado and is tough to bring down.

Godfrey, like Air Force, is good at running the option. You can bet that the Falcons will make some adjustments for this Lobo -- but can they tackle him?

Still, the key to UNM pushing its season mark to 2-8 and 2-4 in the Mountain West has a whole lot to do with the Lobos' defense.

Can they tackle the Falcons? Air Force's best defense against Godfrey is what the Falcons try to do every game: Keep the other quarterback on the sidelines.