At some point Hawaii’s defense figured a throw was coming.
In this day-and-age of college football, a team has to at least pass a couple times a game, right?
For 91 straight snaps, the Air Force offense ran the ball. From the fourth quarter of the San Diego State game Nov. 10, through the entire Hawaii game Nov. 16, until the second quarter of the Fresno State game Nov. 24, the Falcons didn’t attempt a single pass. Air Force ran the ball 68 times for 338 yards in the 21-7 win over Hawaii.
“With their coverage, they had several players pretty darn deep,” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said after the game. “They were absolutely not going to give up a big play. But we were patient and took the four-and five-yard gains to make up for that.”
Air Force’s patient offense will take on Rice in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 29 in Fort Worth. Kickoff is 10:45 a.m. CST. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.
Second in the country
Air Force is second in the national in rushing offense, averaging 329 yards a contest. Rice is tied for 91st in the nation in rushing defense, giving up 193 yards a contest. It’s not a stretch to say the game could be won or lost based on what the team with “Air” in their name can do on the ground.
The Air Force option has been giving defenses fits for years. The Falcons have rushed for a touchdown every game dating back to Oct. 3, 2009. The 46 straight games with a rushing score is the longest active streak in the nation
“It is challenging because of what they do offensively,” Rice coach David Bailiff said during a news conference earlier this month. “It takes such great discipline to get somebody on the dime to quarterback to pitch and you can’t get distracted. And if you don’t use all the clues that are available, all of a sudden they launch one over your head on a play action post.”
During practices leading up to the bowl game, Bailiff and the defensive coaches have preached focus and decision making.
“(The Air Force offense) makes you stay focused every snap,” Bailiff said. “At the same time, you can’t just blitz it, because if you do, usually they hit their head on a goal post going the other way.”
The Owls rush defense has improved from game one to game 12. Rice gave up a ludicrous 1,205 rushing yards in the first four games of the season. UCLA, Louisiana Tech and Marshall all notched more than 330 rushing yards.
But thing got better. In the Owls final four games, opponents ran the ball for a combined 367 yards, an average of less than 100 a game. Tulane didn’t rush for a single yard in 14 attempts. Not coincidentally, Rice went 4-0 in those games.
The Owls likely will have their hand full with Air Force senior Cody Getz. Getting his first chance to start, the 5-foot-7 Getz opened the season with five straight 100-yard rushing games.
Getz is fifth in the Mountain West and 20th nationally in rushing with a 110.3 per-game average. He ran for 218 yards against Idaho State, 222 against Colorado State and 204 versus Navy.
“Cody is a great, great story,“ Calhoun said. “A guy that has not played a whole lot, at least here at the academy until his senior year. He’s only 162 pounds and probably the tiniest back in the country. But has good feet and he cuts well, loves to play, and he’ll be one of those guys I think that will be a lot of fun to watch on Dec. 29.”
Efficiency at QB
When Getz doesn’t get the ball on a running play, chances are Conner Dietz will keep it himself. The senior quarterback has rushed for 658 yards this season and scored five touchdowns with his feet. He scored 11 more throwing the ball.
Dietz holds the school record for career pass efficiency rating with a mark of 151.72. This season he is 99-of-168 for 1,519 yards. He was one of just three players – Alabama’s A.J. McCarron and Louisiana Tech’s Colby Cameron are the others – to not throw an interception until the ninth game of the season.
“The truth is, we play our best football when we do throw the ball extremely efficiently,” Calhoun said.
While the Air Force option will be a challenge, Bailiff is using the occasion as some good teaching moments for not only the bowl game.
“You know, the Air Force option is non-traditional. but it will help us out there just with the reps offensively, defensively and also it will really help the younger players that have been on scout teams most of the season,” he said. “We will really be able to introduce what we do offensively and defensively to them, because they have not seen it since August. There’s some tremendous benefits when you move into spring training; they will already have the basic understanding.”