• Armed Forces Bowl Wrap

    Wed, December 31, 2008 by admin with 3 comments

    Just like in the Navy and Utah and BYU losses, Air Force had its chances today.

     

    But the Falcons made too many mistakes and didn’t pounce on enough of the opportunities they had in a 34-28 loss.

     

    The defeat was Air Force’s third straight in bowl games and sixth in sixth trips to Amon G. Carter Stadium.

     

    Lots of people will argue that bowls – outside of the national championship game – don’t really mean all that much. Try telling that to the Falcons. The players and coaches were visibly distraught after the game. Like Herm Edwards said, you play to win the game. No matter what game it is.

     

    Chris Thomas (who played a monster game with a game- and bowl-record 16 tackles, including two for losses, and a fumble recovery) was particularly upset that the team couldn’t win the game for its seniors.

     

    “Obviously, it’s going to suck not to be able to play with the guys that are graduating,” he said.

     

    But once the sting of this loss subsides, it’ll time to get excited about next year. And there should be a whole lot about which to be excited.

     

    “I feel a lot of excitement for next year,” Thomas said. “We’ve got a lot of guys coming back, we’ve got a lot of talent. This is a huge offseason for us, we’ve got to get in the weight room, and we’ve got to have a good spring ball.”

     

    Other thoughts:

    -I wrote a story about this for tomorrow’s edition of The Gazette, but it bears repeating here: The Falcons seem to have found their fullback of the future (to go along with their quarterback and tailback of the future). Jared Tew rushed for a career-best and bowl-record 149 yards and two scores on 27 carries.

     

    He’d already show the ability to break big plays with his touchdown runs against BYU and TCU. Today he showed he can be the every-down fullback the Falcons need.

     

    -If I were a Falcons fan, I’d like the answer freshman quarterback Tim Jefferson had when he was asked after the game about what more he expects of himself next season: “I expect to be a more complete player. When I first came in, I wasn’t as sound as I could be in the passing game, and that kind of held us back a little bit. And then as the season progressed and I got more experience underneath my belt, I got a little more comfortable in the throwing game, and finally we were able to open it up a little bit. But next year I expect to be a premier passer as well as runner.”

     

    -Air Force opened some eyes in the second half when it opened up its offense, throwing deep several times. Was that a glimpse of the offense Troy Calhoun eventually wants to run at the academy? “Perhaps, and yet you’ve got to be able to connect on those. There are times where we overthrew a receiver, and there are other times where the ball is pretty well thrown, and we have to be able to get a little more separation and get to the spot where the ball was and be able to run through it and be able to hit a big play.”

     

    -I’ll check in tomorrow morning with links to our stories in The Gazette. And in the Jan. 2 edition of The Gazette there will be another article looking forward.

     

    Happy New Year to everyone.

  • FINAL: Houston 34, Air Force 28

    Wed, December 31, 2008 by admin with no comments

    With 3 minutes 18 seconds left in Wednesday’s Armed Forces Bowl, Air Force took over at its own 36-yard line trailing Houston by six.

     

    A dramatic victory and the Falcons’ first postseason triumph since 2000 seemed within reach.

     

    But after fullback Jared Tew gained two yards on first down, Air Force failed to connect on three straight passe

    Seemingly before their potential game-winning drive had started, it was finished.

     

    And so were the Falcons.

     

    Houston gained one first down and then ran out the clock for a 34-28 victory in front of an announced crowd of 40,127 at TCU’s Amon G. Carter Stadium.

     

    “I was deeply upset that I couldn’t complete a pass on that series to get us down the field,” Air Force freshman quarterback Tim Jefferson said. “Coach (Troy) Calhoun told me all I needed to do was get first downs, keep getting first downs and we didn’t even move the ball.”

     

    Houston avenged a 31-28 loss to Air Force on Sept. 13 in Dallas and finished the season 8-5. The Cougars also ended an eight-game losing streak in bowls, winning for the first time since Jan. 1, 1980.

     

    Air Force, meanwhile, lost for the third straight time to finish the season 8-5. The defeat was Air Force’s third in its last three bowl games and its sixth in six games all-time at Amon G. Carter Stadium.

     

    While the failed final possession stung, it was just one of many missed opportunities the Falcons were left to lament. Jefferson barely overthrew several deep passes, normally reliable kicker Ryan Harrison missed two of four field goal attempts and freshman cornerback Anthony Wright dropped an interception that would have given the Falcons the ball deep in Houston territory in the second quarter.

     

    In addition, the Falcons lost two fumbles (including one on the game’s opening kickoff), leading to 10 Houston points; they turned only one of the Cougars’ three turnovers into scores; and they failed on a fourth down try near midfield.

     

    “You just have to take advantage of every single opportunity,” Calhoun said. “And we didn’t do that today.”

     

    Air Force did a relatively good job of holding the nation’s second-best passing offense in check. Houston, which averaged 414.1 passing yards in the regular season, had a season-low 252. But the Cougars picked up 163 on the ground, including 113 in the second half. Freshman running back Bryce Beall led Houston with 135 on 22 carries and caught four passes for 92 yards en route to team most valuable player honors.

     

    The Falcons countered with Tew, who gained 149 of the Falcons’ 243 rushing yards on 27 carries and was named Air Force’s MVP.

     

    Air Force trailed 17-7 after one quarter but rallied to tie the game in the second. The Falcons appeared to take the lead with less than a minute left in the first half when Harrison hit a field goal from 55 yards. But Houston had called timeout just before the play, forcing Harrison to try again – and he missed.

     

    Houston then drove deep into Air Force territory but receiver Tyron Carrier was tackled in bounds at the 2 as time expired.

     

    Air Force slipped another haymaker early in the fourth quarter. Houston was up 24-20 and had first-and-goal from the Falcons’ 1-yard line, but junior linebacker Justin Moore stripped Beall of the ball just before he crossed the goal line, and Chris Thomas recovered it in the end zone.

     

    But as was the case too often, the Falcons couldn’t quite capitalize on a potentially major shift in momentum.

     

    “I feel that we should have been able to grab the lead at some point in that game and we should have been able to hold on,” Jefferson said. “But we shot ourselves in the foot, and when you do that too many times, you can’t recover.”

  • Halftime: Air Force 17, Houston 17

    Wed, December 31, 2008 by admin with 3 comments

    Air Force and Houston went to halftime tied at 17 after a wild first half filled with big plays, big mistakes and multiple momentum swings.

     

    Air Force fumbled away the opening kickoff, lost another fumble deep in its own territory, missed a short field goal and failed on a fourth down.

     

    But the Falcons’ got 95 rushing yards from fullback Jared Tew (already a career-high) and a solid performance from its defense. Air Force limited the high-powered Cougars, who came into the game leading the nation in yards per game (575.1), to just 163 yards and nine first downs.

     

    Both teams missed opportunities thanks to strange turns of events. The Falcons’ Ryan Harrison appeared to have given Air Force a 20-17 lead when he made a 55-yard field goal late with less than a minute to play in the first half, but Houston coach Kevin Sumlin had called timeout just before the play. Harrison had to try the field goal again, and he missed it.

     

    Houston then drove deep into Air Force territory and had first down from the Falcons’ 14-yard line with eight seconds left. The Cougars called timeout and then attempted one more play. But receiver Tyron Carrier was tackled in bounds at the 2 as time expired.

     

    Air Force senior Spencer Armstrong, who had not played since the teams’ first meeting on Sept. 13, returned the game’s opening kickoff 21 yards but fumbled. Houston recovered on the Air Force 25-yard line and needed just four plays to score.

     

    Air Force responded with a six-play, 77-yard drive that Tew capped with a 2-yard plunge for a score. Houston drove 65 yards for a score on its next possession and, late in the first quarter, recovered a fumble at the Air Force 14-yard line to set up a field goal.

     

    Down 17-7, Air Force opened the second quarter by driving 76 yards in 12 plays for a score – quarterback Tim Jefferson’s 5-yard run. Air Force had field goal tries on its next three possessions but made just one of them.

  • 30 Minutes to Kickoff

    Wed, December 31, 2008 by admin with 3 comments

    In the words of Brent Musberger … I am looking live at Amon G. Carter Stadium … again.

     

    Seems like the Falcons and I have spent a lot of time here lately.

     

    Air Force (wearing its home blue jerseys and silver pants) is warming up on the field right now, as are the Cougars (in white jerseys and red pants). As of right now it looks like an equal amount of blue and red in the stands. Doesn’t look like we’ll get the crowd we had last year. But there are a bunch of people still in the parking lots.

     

    This should be a pretty good game. I think a lot depends upon which team is ready to play. Air Force can’t afford to fall behind big early.

  • BlogDogGate?

    Tue, December 30, 2008 by admin with 3 comments

    Something’s been bothering me for a long time.

     

    About a year, actually.

     

    Because it was a year ago that The BlogDog made his first postseason prediction. And I wasn’t there.

     

    The BlogDog had traveled back to the D.C. area with the BlogWife and me to visit family. I decided to have him make his Air Force-Cal prediction on Christmas in front of about 15 family members and friends. He couldn’t concentrate. I called it off.

     

    But because I left for Fort Worth the next day, I left the BlogWife in charge of Norm’s pick.

     

    And that’s where things get dicey.

     

    Remember, Norm makes his pick by choosing between a mini-replica Air Force helmet and the mini-replica helmet of the Falcons’ opponent (or, in the case of last year’s bowl, a piece of paper with the Air Force logo and another with Cal’s logo). Whichever one Norm goes to (best three-of-five times) is the team he thinks will win.

     

    The BlogWife, however, didn’t quite understand the principles of a “best-of-five series,” and I think that affected Norm’s selection process. He picked Air Force, Cal won.

     

    Now, I declined to launch a full-scale investigation because Norm still had compiled a stellar 8-5 record on the season and because I didn’t want to create any controversy (and because I thought the BlogWife might take offense and change the locks to the BlogCrib).

     

    But I did decide to be proactive this year. I had Norm make his pick on his home turf with his loyal sidekick (me) before we left for D.C. for the holidays.

     

    The flipside to this coin is that Norm wasn’t as fired up as he usually is because we picked the game 11 days before it was scheduled to be played (you’ll see in the video).

     

    Norm’s not the kind of dog to make excuses. But, well, I am. So I had to throw that out there.

     

    Anyway, if he nails this one, Norm will hit double-figures and improve his already career-best season total for victories to 10.

     

    He likes the Falcons. He went to Air Force, then Houston, then Air Force and then back to Air Force.

     

    Norm’s Pick: Air Force 40, Houston 31

    Norm’s 2008 Season Record: 9-3

    Norm’s Overall Record: 17-8

    If the video doesn’t load, click on it again, and it should open in a new window.

  • Shanahan Out; Calhoun a Candidate?

    Tue, December 30, 2008 by admin with 1 comment

    The Broncos have parted ways with head coach Mike Shanahan (story here).

     

    Could Air Force coach Troy Calhoun be a candidate to replace him?

     

    It’s not quite as crazy as it sounds.

     

    Calhoun, remember, spent four years in the NFL, three as an assistant for the Broncos. And he now has two years of head coaching experience (albeit in college).

     

    In addition, Calhoun still talks fondly about his time in the NFL. And the Broncos’ head gig could be one of the few jobs for which he’d leave Air Force (at least at this point).

     

    It would be a bold hire for one of the NFL’s proudest franchises. As well as Calhoun has done at Air Force, he’s still not a huge name nationally.

  • Odds and Ends

    Tue, December 30, 2008 by admin with 6 comments

    -Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter and freshman quarterback Tim Jefferson were among those who tried out an F-22 simulator at the Falcons’ team hotel Monday.

     

    They got instructions from Col. Jim Hecker (a former Air Force strong safety who graduated in 1989) and then carried out missions.

     

    Jefferson took out some enemy fighters and also went on a bombing run.

    “It was fun – it was amazing,” Jefferson said. “It was one of those things where you just sit back and say, ‘Wow’ and just be astonished at everything it can do.”

     

    Since he was about four years old, Jefferson has wanted to fly. He thinks he wants to fly cargo planes because he hopes to fly commercially when he leaves the Air Force. But he looked pretty comfortable in the simulator.

     

    “That’s from video games,” he said. “They say they made that plane off of video game skills, so it kind of came as a natural to me.”

     

    -How ridiculously amazing is the F-22? According to Hecker, its stealth makes it borderline unbeatable. “Imagine playing a (football) team that couldn’t see your receivers,” he said. “It’s just not fair.”

     

    -Neither Houston nor Air Force will practice tomorrow. Both teams will be on hand at the Fort Worth Convention Center, however, for a kickoff luncheon at noon.

     

    There also will be a press conference featuring both coaches and two players from each team (senior tight end Travis Dekker and senior outside linebacker Hunter Altman from Air Force and sophomore quarterback Case Keenum and senior defensive end Phillip Hunt from Houston). I’ll pass along all the good lines.

     

    -Ran into former Falcon outside linebacker John Rabold tonight. Rabold is in Pensacola, Fla., working in acquisitions. He’s still staying in shape, however, and keeping alive his dream of one day playing in the pros.

     

    -No food/restaurant review today as a reader asked me not to go all Peter King on you readers of this blog. Don’t worry, there won’t be a regular “Coffeenerdness” section. Though I have been toying with the idea of a “Whiskeynerdness” section. Stay tuned.

  • Monday Practice Report

    Mon, December 29, 2008 by admin with 1 comment

    Air Force held its last practice for Wednesday’s Armed Forces Bowl against Houston this morning. The Falcons wore helmets, jerseys and shorts in a session that was brief and productive.

     

    “Today was really, really sharp,” Calhoun said. “Does that guarantee that you’re going to play at a high level? I don’t think it’s automatic. But what it does, it at least keeps the door open because your preparation’s been thorough and now you’ve got to juice up and you’ve got to go play.”

     

    Injury Update: Calhoun said it’s unlikely senior fullback Todd Newell (ankle) will play Wednesday. Newell has not been able to participate in practices in Fort Worth. … Senior nose guard Jared Marvin (knee) will not play but might dress for the game. “I’d love for him to, just to be able to be right in the heart of it,” Calhoun said. “We’ll see if he wants to do that or not.” … All the other players that were questionable – including sophomore outside linebacker Patrick Hennessey (shoulder), senior inside linebacker Brandon Reeves (shoulder) and sophomore Z receiver Kyle Halderman (mono) – should be able to play.

    High Praise: Calhoun went a little Lou Holtz on his praise of Houston Monday. Asked about how difficult it is to replicate the Cougars’ offense in practice, he said: “If we could go and grab some guys from the National Football League, then maybe we’d resemble it in a way.”

    Armstrong Back in Lineup: Calhoun said there was “a very good chance” that senior X receiver Spencer Armstrong could start Wednesday. Armstrong has been out since breaking a leg in the regular season game against Houston on Sept. 13.

    “He just wants to play so bad, but it’s legitimate physically where he’s able to follow through, too,” Calhoun said.

     

    Food: Ate at the Fox and Hound last night in downtown Fort Worth while watching the Chargers dismantle the Broncos. Solid bar food. Nothing to write home about, though, I suppose, something to write to your blog about. A good place to watch games. They have a bunch of TVs, and they put the sound up for the Broncos-Chargers game.

  • Houston Notes

    Sun, December 28, 2008 by admin with no comments

    Houston held its first practice in Fort Worth today for Wednesday’s Armed Forces Bowl. The Cougars will practice again tomorrow morning and then take Tuesday off.

    Houston coach Kevin Sumlin has tried to treat the days leading up to the bowl as a regular practice week. The Cougars’ session Friday resembled a typical Monday practice, Saturday’s session was like a Tuesday (full pads) and today’s was like a typical Wednesday.

    Houston was able to practice at home on Friday and Saturday before traveling to Fort Worth Saturday night and practicing in the sun today.

    -I enjoyed talking to Sumlin after Houston’s practice. He’s direct, forthcoming and can be funny too.

     

    He was asked today what new dimension Air Force quarterback Tim Jefferson brings to the Falcons’ offense (remember, Jefferson did not play in the teams’ first meeting). His response:

     

    “He throws passes and completes them,” Sumlin said with a laugh (Shea Smith went 0-for-7 in Air Force’s first meeting with Houston). “How’s that?”

     

    -Houston seems pretty excited about showing it is a different team from when it first met Air Force. And for jump-starting 2009.

     

    Just the feel I get from watching them and listening to players and Sumlin. I don’t think this is a team that’s here just for the trip and free sweat suits.

     

    -I wrote a story for tomorrow’s edition of The Gazette about Houston improving as it got used to its new coaches and schemes. Here are some thoughts from Cougars quarterback Case Keenum that didn’t fit in the story.

     

    “We look back at the film and feel like we’re a totally different team,” Keenum said. “We felt like there was a lot left on the field last time (against Air Force). We’ve gotten a lot better since then, and we’re excited about this coming game.”

     

    On what was most difficult about adjusting to new coaches and a new scheme, he said: “Probably getting my mindset wrapped around the philosophy, and just getting so I could think the same way the coaches are thinking. Just get my mind-set the same with coach (Dana) Holgorsen (Houston’s offensive coordinator) and coach Sumlin so what they want would be what I want, and so I could see the same thing that they see when they’re looking at film and when they see a defense.”

  • Air Force Practice Report

    Sun, December 28, 2008 by admin with no comments

    Air Force held its second-to-last practice for Wednesday’s Armed Forces Bowl this morning at TCU.

     

    Here are some notes from the session and some other random tidbits:

     

    Ball Handling Will be Key: Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said his team has to be better than Houston when it comes to handling the football if it is to beat the Cougars Wednesday.

    The Falcons did not handle the ball well in Sunday’s practice, he said.

     

    “I just think we’ve got to be a lot cleaner,” he said.

     

    Weather: It’s actually quite pleasant right now if you’re in the sun. Right now there isn’t a cloud in the sky, and it’s in the low-50s. Tomorrow it’s supposed to get up to 65, according to Weather.com. That’s far better than it was last year in the days prior to the bowl.

    Injury Update: Calhoun said senior fullback Todd Newell (ankle) is “very doubtful” for Wednesday’s game. Newell dressed for practice but sat out nearly all of it. Senior nose guard Jared Marvin (knee) did not dress for practice and will not play Wednesday, Calhoun said. Freshman Jonathan Warzeka “dinged up” his hip in Saturday’s practice and is “probably 50-50.”

    Sophomore outside linebacker Patrick Hennessey (shoulder) and senior inside linebacker Brandon Reeves (shoulder) are probable. Sophomore Z receiver Kyle Halderman, who had mono, will play.

     

    That’s What They Came up with?: Remember on The Simpsons when Mayor “Diamond” Joe Quimby was running for re-election and his slogan was: “Quimby: If you were running, he’d vote for you.”

    No? Well, I thought that was hilarious.

     

    Anyway, I was thinking about that slogan for some reason when I saw the slogan the Houston Cougars had on the side of their equipment truck: “Have You Joined the Cougar RedVolution?” The “RedVolution?” Really?

     

    Bowl Gifts: One of the benefits of playing in a bowl for players is the gifts they receive from the bowl.

    So far Air Force players have gotten sweats, shoes and basketball shorts with the Armed Forces Bowl logo. They also got suitcases with the logo and today are expected to get watches.

     

    Back with another post in a few hours.