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Knudson: Falcons Try to Defuse Rockets


By Mark Knudson, The Mtn. Insider
December 28, 2011
Now that the Conference heavyweights have done their thing and gotten the Mountain West back to even at 2-2 for the bowl season, it’s up to the Air Force Falcons to make this another winning bowl season for the Conference. And for those of you keeping score at home, our picks are also 2-2, including a perfect 31-24 pick of TCU over La Tech.
AFA can put the MW over the top by defeating Toledo from the Mid American Conference in the Northrup Grumman Military Bowl. It won’t be easy. The MAC has already saddled the MW with one of its two bowl losses, with Temple grinding down Wyoming in the New Mexico Bowl. Toledo is better than Temple; the Rockets crushed the Owls 36-13 earlier this season and come into the game with an 8-4 overall record.
These are the same Toledo Rockets that battled Ohio State down to the wire earlier in the season before losing by five points, but also the same Rockets that were buried at home by Boise State 40-15. As you might expect from a team named the Rockets, Toledo has an explosive, high scoring offense, averaging more than 42 points per game. They do it with a balanced attack that is only slightly more proficient through the air than on the ground.
On the other side of the ball, Toledo is, well, not so good. They gave up 63 points on back to back weeks this season…and actually WON one of those games, beating Western Michigan 66-63 after losing to Northern Illinois 63-60. The Rockets basketball teams have trouble matching those point totals. They give up points and yards in bunches.
It sounds a bit familiar. The Air Force defense has been the team’s weakness this season, and now they are facing another high powered attack that has the potential to hang 50+ points on them, while the Falcons offense should be in for a big afternoon in DC. So what does Troy Calhoun do?
Go back to old time Falcon football, that’s what. This is a game that screams for ball control – triple option football at its finest - three yards and a cloud of turf. Keep your offense on the field, hang on to the ball, and keep the high scoring Rockets on the sidelines. Control the clock and you control the outcome.
This formula has worked for Air Force many times over the years. They mistakenly varied from it some this season, going with a no-huddle attack that backfired (overall for the season, they remain behind schedule in time category, with less than 30 minutes of average game of possession time). When they went back to the ball control ideal in Boise, it worked like a charm. Against a Broncos defense that is light years better than Toledo’s, Air Force held the football for more than 36 minutes before falling to Boise State by 11 points in a game that featured a Broncos score on special teams.
Air Force is second in the country in rushing yards per game, and that includes a 250+ effort against Boise State. With senior stalwart Tim Jefferson operating a full speed, the Falcons will be very hard for the Rockets to stop.
Air Force could stop themselves, of course. They finished dead even in turnover margin for the regular season, with 24 giveaways (including 17 fumbles lost) against 24 takeaways. On the other side, Toledo finished ranked third nationally in the same category, with a +16 for the season. Air Force had better take care of the football and finish at least even in this category, or the Rockets will get free possessions and likely some easy points.
On paper, AFA has the edge on special teams, but in this game, there are two more important key stats: Turnover margin and time of possession. If the Falcons win both categories, they win the football game.
The forecast:
Air Force 37, Toledo 31

See all of Mark Knudson's blog entries HERE.

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