The Year in Review: Air Force (7-6, 3-4)
By Paul Myerberg // Jan 21, 2012
Sometimes, too many cooks spoil the broth. Sometimes, it’s possible to put too much on one’s plate — not in terms of dinner, but in the number of tasks given to an assistant coach. Air Force has a head coach, the underrated Troy Calhoun. He has nine assistants, like everyone else in the country, but only one assistant is given a single task to manage: Matt Weikert handles Air Force’s outside linebackers, and that’s it. Everyone else is doubling down, tripling down or even quadrupling down, and sometimes — as just noted above — it’s possible to put too much on an assistant’s plate. Could that be happening at Air Force?
It’s difficult to make that case. Disregard the slide down to seven wins last fall, the first time Calhoun has won less than eight games since taking over for Fisher DeBerry in 2007. After posting three straight losing seasons under DeBerry, Air Force has gone to five straight bowl games under Calhoun’s direction.
But streamlining the organization might help, even if Air Force football is unlike any other program in the country, outside of the other two service academies. It takes a certain type of coach, and a certain sort of mentality, to handle players with their own laundry list of off-field responsibilities to manage.
Calhoun has four assistant or associate head coaches: Clay Hendrix, Mike Thiessen, Matt Wallerstedt and Charlton Warren. In addition, Hendrix is Air Force’s c0-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach. Thiessen shares offensive coordinator duties and coaches the wide receivers. Wallerstedt is the co-defensive coordinator while coaching the inside linebackers.
Warren’s a triple-threat; he’s the associate head coach, co-defensive coordinator, secondary coach and recruiting coordinator. Defensive line coach Ron Burton also serves as the program’s N.F.L. liaison, though I’m not sure what the latter duty entails. Blane Morgan, the quarterbacks coach, is also credited with an offensive coordinator title.
Ben Miller coaches the tight end and coordinates the special teams — and does an outstanding job in the latter, it should be added. Des Kitchings works with the running backs and serves as the running game coordinator, two tasks that seem to go hand in hand. Still, that’s a lot of assistants doing a lot of things, often at the same time. Juggle, juggle, juggle.
Yet it works, and works fairly well. The Falcons scored a school-record 454 points last fall, breaking the previous mark set in 1989. They threw 16 touchdown passes, the fourth-most in program history. The 43 rushing touchdowns was good for third in program history. Air Force quarterbacks completed 60.3 percent of their passes, decimal points away from the school record set in 2007.
The Falcons took home the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy for the second straight year, beating Navy in October and Army in November. That matters most of all for the program, so the slide back to seven wins is more than tempered by the fact that it can hold onto the trophy for another year.
If there’s one area where the Falcons need to improve, however, it’s on the defensive side of the ball. While Air Force didn’t seem to miss him in 2010, when the defense was again one of the best in the Mountain West, the Falcons could have used Tim DeRuyter last fall, when the defense was the worst of the Calhoun era. They’ll soon see more of DeRuyter than they’d like, seeing that Air Force’s former defensive coordinator was named Fresno State’s head coach in December.
Season grade: B- The bottom line — the won-loss record — was disappointing, especially given the amount of experience Air Force brought to the table. Most disappointing of all, however, was the fact that the Falcons didn’t beat a good team all season. This was very unexpected; in August, I thought Air Force had a chance to be one of the top 25 teams in the country. But the defense was an utter failure, allowing a shade less than 40 points per game in the Falcons’ six losses. That the offense was there — scoring 33 points against Notre Dame, 41 against Toledo — makes the defensive liabilities a bit tougher to swallow.
High point Wins over Navy, 35-34 in overtime, and Army, 24-14. Air Force nearly coughed up a surefire win over the Midshipmen, blowing an 18-point fourth quarter lead, but followed up a blocked Navy extra point with a touchdown in the first overtime.
Low point I thought Air Force had a great shot at a young and rebuilding T.C.U. in the second game of the season, but turnovers doomed the Falcons’ fate in a 35-19 defeat. Later, Air Force would get outscored by Notre Dame, San Diego State and, most memorably, Toledo. Calhoun’s decision to fake the extra point instead of try a traditional play when down by a point with no time left is still confusing. As is that sentence.
Offensive M.V.P. The career award goes to quarterback Tim Jefferson, who leaves Air Force with a program-record 28 wins. The four-year starter blossomed as a passer in 2011, completing 111 passes for 1,637 and 14 touchdowns — all totals ranking in the top eight single-season numbers in program history. But Jefferson will share the yearly award with tailback Asher Clark, who cracked the 1,000-yard mark for the second straight season. Clark became just the third player in Air Force history to do so, and ended his career ranked second on the school’s all-time rushing list. And both Jefferson and Clark will share the award with offensive lineman A.J. Wallerstein, a first-team all-Mountain West selection.
Defensive M.V.P. Despite the defensive struggles, three Air Force defenders earned all-conference honors. One is defensive back Jon Davis, a first-team all-M.W.C. pick thanks to his team-best four interceptions. Two others were second-team selections: linebacker Brady Amack, who led the team with 136 tackles, and defensive back Anthony Wright, who added 54 tackles and a pair of interceptions.
Stock watch It’s unfortunate that the defense took such a step back last fall, because Air Force’s senior-laden roster will experience a large amount of turnover heading into 2012. Nearly every starting offensive skill player was a senior. Seven more seniors started on the defensive side of the ball. It’ll take some work to get the Falcons back into bowl play next fall, and Calhoun and his staff will need youngsters to step into substantial roles. Look for Air Force to be fine by October and November, but there will be some growing pains in the early going.
You can also follow Paul Myerberg and Pre-Snap Read on Twitter.
Tags: Air Force, Anthony Wright, Asher Clark, Brady Amack, Commander-in-Chief's Trophy, Jon Davis, Matt Wallerstedt, Tim DeRuyter, Tim Jefferson, Troy Calhoun
Leave a Comment