STEVENS: Falcons Look To Win Behind a Numbers Game of Precision
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  09/17/2009
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

Sept. 17, 2009

Lobo Football
Air Force at Lobos
When/Where: 5:30 p.m., Saturday, University Stadium
Radio: 770 KKOB-AM; Lobo Radio Network
TV: CBS College Sports (Comcast 274; DirecTV 613)
On line: GameTracker, results on GoLobos.com

By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

You scratch out this Air Force option attack on paper and it's virtually unstoppable. It's a numbers thing. The Falcons try to put more blockers and more ball carriers into an area than there are defenders. They try to beat four Xs with five Os.

However, that's in the perfect world on paper. In reality, a lot of other good things have to happen in order for the Falcons to march and march and march.

The Falcons' quarterback, Tim Jefferson, has to make the right read and get the ball to the carrier, who will have the advantage of numbers. Does he hand it off, keep it, pitch it? The Falcon O-linemen have to make their blocks. A fumble, a bad read, a bad pitch, can kill a Falcon drive. Ditto for penalties.

Of course, the Falcons try to fool you, too. If they can get a defensive back to start thinking too much about the run, Jefferson will pull back and go to the air. It's not something he does a lot. He has thrown 24 passes in two games. Lobo Donovan Porterie has thrown 62 times.

"When they do throw it, you can't allow them to make a lot of yardage to go along with all the rushing yards that they obviously are going to get," said Lobo assistant George Barlow, in charge of the UNM defensive backs. "We have to be disciplined in our assignments."

The discipline angle applies to all Lobos. "You have to stay home," said Lobo linebacker Clint McPeek. "You have to do your job."

Defending the option attack can be a tricky deal. There will be Lobos assigned to the dive, Lobos assigned to the quarterback, Lobos assigned to the pitch man. A key for all UNM defenders is to make sure there are no tackling responsibilities in their area before moving on to assist their teammates in other areas.

The Falcons work on this angle, too. They hope that they can use an aggressive defender's instinct against him -- get him to leave his area before his assignment has ended.

The Falcons' wishbone is loaded with lots of solid runners, but maybe no star. Asher Clark leads Air Force with 156 yards on 18 attempts for an average of 78 yards per game. Clark is the pitch guy.

When the Falcons go straight ahead, Jefferson usually hands it to Jared Tew, a solid, 6-foot 210 pounds fullback. He's not huge, but he hits the hole hard and fast. Tew has 25 carries in two games for an average of 56.5 yards per game.

Jefferson is the "keep" man. If he decides to fake to Tew and roll around the end, he averages 2.8 yards on his 22 carries. In the Falcons' two games -- a 72-0 romp over Nicholls State and a 20-13 loss at Minnesota -- the defense has done a good job containing Jefferson.

The defenders haven't done as well with the pitch or the dive. Clark averages 8.7 yards per carry and his backup, Savier Stephens, averages 6.2 yards per carry. Tew averages 4.5 yards per run and his sub, Nathan Walker, averages 6.5 yards per tote.

No Falcon runner who has carried the ball 10 times or more averages less than 4.2 yards per carry, except for Jefferson. If the Falcons rack up that kind of average against the Lobos, UNM will be in trouble Saturday when the Falcons visit University Stadium.

The Falcons are an offensive machine designed to put points on the board while they burn time off the clock. When they do it well, they score 72 points.

The Falcons have to like the offensive numbers put up by UNM. The Lobos have scored no offensive touchdowns and have been outscored 85-16. UNM has picked up 24 first downs in two games and Air Force has picked up 48.

A huge key for Air Force -- and UNM -- Saturday will be a speed thing. The Air Force option is not something the Lobos can simulate in practice at the same speed level or precision level that UNM will see during the game. The Falcons can't simulate the Lobos' quickness at the skill positions. This battle will come down to who can execute.


"You have to stay home. You have to do your job."
Lobo linebacker Clint McPeek

A key for Air Force Saturday might be putting pressure on -- and getting to -- Porterie. The Lobos have yielded ten sacks in their two games -- second-to-last in NCAA stats. The Falcons have four sacks. Their second-half pressure on Minnesota quarterback Adam Weber was not good and he completed 15-of-18 attempts for 163 yards in the final two quarters.

The Lobos obviously have to put some spark into their offensive game vs. Air Force. The Falcons are not huge on the defensive line, but they are disciplined and proud. They gave up 90 yards rushing to Nicholls and 108 yards to Minnesota. Not bad.

The Lobos have gained 76 yards on the ground in two games for a 1.6 average per carry. The Falcons have 15 runners with a higher average per carry. Air Force averages 5.5 yards per carry as a team.

And Air Force coach Troy Calhoun thinks his Falcons could and should be doing much better. He says his cadets need to throw a few moves and crooked lines into their rigid and straight jaunts toward the end zone.

"Our thoughts were, `I'm going to run straight down the line because when I march, I have to march straight ahead.' You know, like to the noon meal," Calhoun told David Ramsey, a sports columnist for the Colorado Springs Gazette.

If the noon meal Saturday at University Stadium is the end zone, the Falcons offense has a distinct advantage. It has feasted in that eating zone 10 times -- eight TDs on the ground, two in the air.

The Lobos have yet to dine.

Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and sports columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at rstevens50@comcast.net. Previous articles are available at The Richard Stevens Corner