Air Force 41, Southern Utah 7.
Look at the score (and most of the accompanying stats), and it seems like an outstanding start for the Falcons.
But any analysis of Air Force’s opener this afternoon has to be couched with this:
The opponent was a Division I-AA team. And a bad Division I-AA team at that. One that hasn’t won a game since Sept. 2006.
That said, there are some things about which Air Force should be pretty happy tonight.
1) The play of Shea Smith.
So much for the platoon system at quarterback. At least for now it looks like Smith has entrenched himself as the Falcons’ starter.
Sure, he’s not flashy. And, yes, he can look downright slow at times. But Smith is just solid. He’s a good leader, he knows the offense inside and out, he’ll get the team in the right formations and he won’t make mistakes. To use a popular phrase, he “manages” the game well. Calhoun loves that about Smith. And it’s why Smith is playing even though junior Eric Herbort has better physical tools.
Plus, Smith is a coach’s kid, and – ask pretty much anyone on the team – perhaps the team’s hardest worker. He clearly has the respect of his teammates.
2) The defense.
Again, it was Southern Utah. But the Falcons – save for one drive – were downright dominant on defense. You’ve got to like how well the defensive line played (as well as advertised), and how it was able to apply pressure on the Thunderbirds’ quarterback without the help of blitzing linebackers. That’s something Calhoun was hoping to do this season.
3) Ryan Harrison.
As I wrote for tomorrow’s edition of The Gazette, he was pretty close to perfect today. Nailed all four extra points and all three field goal attempts, sent five of six kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks and booted his lone punt 45 yards to pin Southern Utah at its own 6-yard line.
4) Young guys getting experience.
Receiver Kevin Fogler, who was on the JV last season, caught three passes for a team-high 38 yards. Sophomore tailback Kyle Lumpkin, another guy on the JV last season, rushed for 77 yards on 19 carries. And sophomore Kyle Halderman, thrust into the starting role at Z, rushed for 87 yards, including a 48-yard touchdown.
And then there were the freshmen. Anthony Wright played some corner, Jon Warzeka played some Z and quarterback Tim Jefferson played a series at the end of the game with Asher Clark in the backfield.
5) Multiple weapons.
In addition to the guys mentioned above, sophomore tailback Savier Stephens picked up 62 yards, senior receiver Spencer Armstrong added 34 on a pair of reverses and junior Sean Quintana had one catch at tight end. There seem like a bunch of potential playmakers on this team.
So what wasn’t to like?
1) The ball was on the ground way too much.
According to the stats, Air Force fumbled four times and lost two of them. But there were several other plays where the ball came out after whistles had been blown or the runner was ruled down. That’s not good ball security – and you better believe Calhoun will be fuming about that after looking at the tape.
2) Six penalties for 50 yards.
Too many. And the late personal foul call was particularly bad.
3) Seemed like Air Force had a little too much trouble moving the ball early in the game. And failing to score with three plays from the 1-yard line is disconcerting.
But, again, it was Southern Utah, so we can’t read too much into the game. Guys got experience, there were zero injuries and, most importantly for Air Force, it picked up a victory.
We’ll know a lot more next week at this time.