2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner
  • CSU Wrap

    Sat, October 31, 2009 by admin with 2 comments

    It’s kind of funny to talk about a breakout passing performance when a team completes seven passes and gains just more than 100 yards through the air.

    But a breakout performance it was for Air Force’s aerial attack when quarterback Tim Jefferson completed 7-of-12 passes for 111 yards and two scores in today’s 34-16 victory over Colorado State at Hughes Stadium.

    Because remember this: In the Falcons’ previous four games they completed just 24 of 54 passes and averaged 46.4 yards through the air. That’s not good enough. Even for an option team.

    Air Force never will be Texas Tech, or anything close to it. But the Falcons do need to take advantage of the play-action opportunities their running game provides. And they need to do enough through the air to keep opponents honest. They did both today.

    Jefferson, back in the starting lineup, looked the best he has all year. He played like he had something to prove, considering Connor Dietz had seemed to have taken over the starting QB role with his performance last week (before it was found Dietz had broken a bone in his hand and will miss at least three weeks).

    Did Jefferson have something to prove?

    “I don’t know,” Jefferson said. “I know that we’ve been trading the starts, and it kind of hurt us when (Dietz) went down because he’s a great player. I don’t think I had anything to prove, I just wanted to go out there and play, and I got the chance.”

    Jefferson ran the offense with a good tempo and showed off his great feel for the option. Jefferson’s pitches always lead backs so they are full speed when they catch them. And he has an innate ability to hold the ball until the last possible moment, often influencing defenders to come off the pitch man to stop him.

    Still, Jefferson made the key play of the game not with his feet but with his arm, hitting Kevin Fogler for 34 yards down the right sideline on a third-and-18 early in the second half.

    While the throw and the catch both were impressive, I was particularly impressed that Calhoun made the call. So many times this season, we’ve seen Air Force run up the middle in third-and-long situations – especially when it’s backed up in its own territory. More than anything else, simply calling for a pass showed Calhoun had the confidence in Jefferson to make a play. That spoke volumes.

    “It was in the game plan,” Jefferson said of the pass. “Coaches told us we were going to have a chance to hit some shots because their secondary wasn’t that strong.  I was glad that he made the call and glad that he had confidence in us.”

    Other Thoughts:
    -Air Force made two plays of more than 30 yards on Saturday – as many as they’d made in their previous seven games against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents.

    While Air Force is a grind-it-out squad, it never hurts to pick up some big chunks of yardage.

    “There are times you’ve got to grind and make three and four yards on carries, but you just don’t only have to wear your mudder or your plodder shoes,” Calhoun said. “You can wear your other shoes too, where you get up on your toes and go a little bit.”

    -As I wrote earlier this week, sophomore kicker Erik Soderberg has not let his season be defined by his overtime miss at Navy.

    This afternoon Soderberg drilled a career-long 50-yard field goal as time expired in the first half, giving the Falcons a 17-10 advantage at the break after the Rams had scored 10 straight points.

    “It was a good hit,” Calhoun said. “It was a big play, to send you into the half when you’re up by seven and you’re receiving the kickoff in the second half.”

    Soderberg also nailed a 30-yarder, giving him seven straight made field goals since his miss at Navy.

    But he did miss an extra point for the first time this season.

    -Part of the reason Air Force looked better and was able to pick up 382 yards was because players were making things happen with the ball in their hands.

    There was Jared Tew, breaking out of arm tackles. There was Asher Clark, making a spin move to avoid a defender. There was Jonathan Warzeka, beating defenders to the edge.

    “I think we probably broke some tackles today, which we haven’t done a lot of,” Calhoun said. “I think by and large, you look here over about the last month or so, we’ve basically gained yards that were there and that’s it. And what we’ve got to do, we’ve got to have guys that gain more than what’s there.”

    Today, they did.

    -How about the Mohawk worn by senior safety Luke Hyder? I asked Calhoun who gave him the haircut.

    “He’s got a little work to do on it,” Calhoun said. “I don’t think it was his girlfriend. Nor his mom.”

  • FINAL: Air Force 34, Colorado State 16

    Sat, October 31, 2009 by admin with no comments

    Air Force’s standout defense finally got some help on Saturday.

    Behind resurgent quarterback Tim Jefferson, the Falcons offense scored four touchdowns – more than it had scored in any game since the opener against Nicholls State of the Football Championship Subdivision – and the defense was its stout self in a 34-16 victory in front of an announced crowd of 22,025 at Hughes Stadium.

    The Falcons, who have beaten Colorado State four straight times and five times in the teams’ last six meetings, improved to 5-4 and 4-2 in the Mountain West Conference and are one victory away from becoming bowl eligible for the third straight season. The Rams (3-6, 0-5) lost for the sixth time in a row after a 3-0 start.

    The Air Force offense had accounted for just four touchdowns in the previous five games and averaged 281.6 yards in those contests. But against a reeling Rams team, the Falcons piled up 315 yards in three quarters.

  • Halftime: Air Force 17, Colorado State 10

    Sat, October 31, 2009 by admin with no comments

    Air Force sophomore kicker Erik Soderberg hit a career-long 50-yard field goal as time expired in the second quarter to give the Falcons a 17-10 lead over Colorado State at halftime.

    The Falcons, led by sophomore quarterback Tim Jefferson, drove for touchdowns on each of their first two possessions. Jefferson capped the first drive, which covered 80 yards, by hitting junior Kyle Halderman for an 8-yard touchdown. Fullback Jared Tew capped the second drive with a 6-yard touchdown run with 1:05 left in the first quarter.

    But just as the Falcons seemed ready to turn the game into a blowout, Colorado State showed signs of life. The Rams drove for a field goal, held the Falcons to three plays and a punt and then drove 59 yards for a touchdown with 1:43 left in the half to cut the Air Force lead to 14-10.

    Air Force, however, went from its own 27 to the Colorado Sate 33 in seven plays to set up Soderberg’s boot.

  • 55 Minutes to Kickoff

    Sat, October 31, 2009 by admin with 5 comments

    Channeling Brent Musburger, I am looking live at Sonny Lubick Field at Hughes Stadium.

    After all the snow we got this week in Denver, and apparently up here in Fort Collins, it’s a really nice day. Sun is out, only a few clouds and it’s probably about 50 degrees. Looks like they did a nice job of clearing snow off the field and out of the stands.

    Fairly large game for the Falcons today. Predictions anyone?

  • Game Day Links

    Sat, October 31, 2009 by admin with no comments

    I wrote for today’s edition of The Gazette about what has become the calling card of the Falcons’ standout defense. My 3 Things to Watch (and more) are tacked on the bottom of the article.

  • BlogDog Defends Turf, Challenges Corso

    Fri, October 30, 2009 by admin with no comments

    When The BlogDog and I go for walks, he never so much as growls at a passing dog, let alone barks.

    He just ambles by, maybe gives a friendly sniff and goes on his way.

    It’s a different story when he’s at his post on his couch, at the east end of the BlogHouse.

    When another dog comes into sight, he’ll start with some growls, and as the dog gets to the front of our house, the growls will crescendo into a torrent of barks.

    The lesson is simple: BlogDog doesn’t like anyone on his turf.

    Why am I telling you this? Because Air Force announced this week that ESPN’s popular College GameDay program will broadcast live from the academy on Nov. 7 before the Falcons’ game against Army. And each week on that program, analyst Lee Corso picks the winner of the game that will be played at the site from which the program is broadcasting.

    You know the drill – he takes out the head of the mascot from the team he picks, and the crowd behind him cheers or boos.

    Great times, right?

    Not for The BlogDog. Norm reacted to the news that Corso would be making his pick at the academy about the same way he reacts to a dog strolling across the lawn in front of the BlogHouse.

    I can tell when Norm’s barks are expletives. He let loose with a few of those.

    So The BlogDog decided to throw down the gauntlet. BlogDog vs. Corso, Nov. 7. Whoever picks the right team (or the closer score if both pick the same team) wins dinner. BlogDog likes pizza and red wine.

    What you got, Lee?

    As for this week, BlogDog is trying to climb back above .500 by nailing his third straight pick. He obviously has heard that Colorado State has blown some leads lately. Because he went to the Rams helmet first and then the Air Force helmet three times in a row (here’s video of the third of his three straight Air Force choices).

    Norm’s Pick: Air Force 24, Colorado State 13
    Norm’s 2009 Season Record: 4-4
    Norm’s Overall Record: 21-13

  • Big Picture? It’s Still a Work in Progress

    Fri, October 30, 2009 by admin with 12 comments

    It’s easy to make the argument that the 2009 Air Force football season – to date – has been a disappointment.

    All you have to do is look at the Falcons’ record (4-4) and note that three of the losses could have been wins if just a few things went differently. So, yeah, when you’re a handful of plays from 7-1 and a probable Top 25 ranking, there’s plenty of reason to be disappointed about being 4-4.

    It’s also easy to argue that the program is slipping.

    All you have to do is note that it has lost seven of 11 games dating back to last season. Yep, that’s pretty damning.

    But while those arguments are easy, they also fail to look at the big picture.

    When one does that, the argument that comes into focus is that the Falcons are far ahead of schedule through two and two-thirds seasons under Troy Calhoun and his staff. Because when you look at the big picture, you consider the rebuilding project Calhoun and his assistants had on their hands when they took over prior to the 2007 season.

    And make no mistake: It was a rebuilding project.

    That reality gets skewed, big-time, by what Calhoun and his staff did their first season. The Falcons upset Utah and TCU in the second and third games, respectively, went 9-3 in the regular season, finished second in the Mountain West Conference and earned a bowl bid for the first time since 2002.

    But there were plenty of elements in place for a turnaround season.

    First was a large, talented and hungry senior class that was experienced, ready to believe in a new system and desperate to win.

    Second was a schedule that set up favorably. Air Force caught Utah when it had its top three skill players injured. It caught TCU when it was without its top running back and when then-freshman quarterback Andy Dalton was young and inexperienced. And it faced both when the systems and schemes used by Calhoun and his staff still were somewhat foreign to opponents.

    But Air Force’s 2007 senior class was an anomaly. And when it graduated, there was a big drop-off in the academy’s talent pool thanks to the erosion of its recruiting efforts.

    If you don’t believe me, just remember the number five.

    When Calhoun took over, he was stunned to look at a list of the 55 players who Air Force brought to the academy for official visits early in 2005. Remember, official visit recruits are your top guys. And just five from that list still were with the program two-and-a-half years later. That recruiting class helps make up the Falcons’ current senior class.

    Clearly, there were some standout players in last season’s senior class and there are a bunch in this season’s senior class – the offensive line is made up entirely of seniors, and the defense is anchored by senior nose guard Ben Garland. But there’s not a whole lot of depth. And it’s easy to see – just watch a practice – that the level of talent in the freshman and sophomore classes far exceeds what the Falcons have in their junior and senior classes.

    Calhoun has said his program will be best when 38 of his 44 offensive and defensive starters and backups are juniors and seniors and when it has 22 seniors on the roster. Heading into tomorrow’s game at Colorado State, just 26 of the 44 offensive and defensive starters and backups are juniors and seniors and there are only 15 seniors on the roster.

    So if 4-4 is disappointing and the fact the Falcons have lost seven of 11 games dating back to last season suggests they’re going in the wrong direction, remember instead the number five And take a step back to look at the big picture.

  • Friday Morning Links

    Fri, October 30, 2009 by admin with 1 comment

    I wrote for today’s paper about an Air Force tailback you may never have heard of – or maybe have forgotten about.

    Also, hockey writer Joe Paisley wrote about the Air Force ice hockey team’s surprising freshman line.

  • More on the Tailbacks

    Thu, October 29, 2009 by admin with 1 comment

    I wrote a bit today on the Falcons’ tailbacks, specifically sophomore Asher Clark and junior Savier Stephens.

    Here are some portions of my conversation with running backs coach Jemal Singleton that I couldn’t include in the story:

    Jake: Do you need more production out of your tailbacks?
    Jemal: Yes. And I’d tell you that if they had over 3,000 yards rushing right now too. I think you’ve got to look at what we’re doing with Asher and Sai. Just this last week was the first week that Asher went under five yards a carry (he’s now at 4.6 for the season). Sai’s still over five yards a carry (5.1). And I tell them, ‘You’re my two-headed monster.’ One rushes for 50, another rushes for 56, then we rushed for over 100 yards at the tailback position. So, saying that, I want more production, I want some bigger plays out of those guys, but you look at the numbers, I think they’re not that bad.

    Jake: Are they getting fewer carries this year?
    Jemal: I think a little bit. Obviously with what (fullback Jared Tew has) been able to do and the tough, hard yards that he’s getting, he’s had more carries than most of our fullbacks have gotten in a long time. …. So, obviously, there are only so many carries you get in a game, and if the fullback’s getting more, someone’s getting less carries. So I think so, but a lot of that’s just the result of some of the things defenses are giving us is allowing him to get some of those hard three- and four-yard carries.”

    Jake: I thought we might see more from Clark after how he played late last season.
    Jemal: You’ve got a freshman that does something, and you think, ‘Oh, sophomore year, it’s going to be great, he’s just going to build on that.’ I think this is one of the places where maybe that’s not always the case. It’s tough as a sophomore, and I’m not making excuses for him, but you talk about his academic work load increases as a sophomore and those kinds of things. I think Savier Stephens is a prime example. You saw him as a freshman, and he showed those flashes, and you just thought, ‘Oh, his sophomore year.’ And it wasn’t what you expected. Asher’s done some good things. And, to be honest, he knows this. I don’t think he played early in the season as good as he needed to play. I thought he did some things that were uncharacteristic of him, and I kind of let him have it about that. But even if you look at Saturday’s game – I know you guys aren’t going to look at it this way because all you see is the 1.9 (yards) a carry – but I looked at some of the carries that he had and some of the speed that he showed on some of those. He had a play on the sideline where he catches a pitch and leaves a couple guys, and he has a play on the sideline where there’s nothing there, and he runs over the safety, and the safety’s laying flat on his back and that safety’s going to be playing in the (NFL). And that’s exactly what I told him today. I said, ‘I will take those ugly, tough-nosed, two-yard carries over an easy four-yard carry every day.’ So he’s showing some things to me these past couple weeks that, hmm, that’s showing some old flashes, some old glimpses of what he’s done. But like you said, he hasn’t gotten 30 carries in a game, it’s just not where we’re at this year.

    Jake: Has he felt any lingering affects from his knee injury, or did the time he spent at quarterback hurt his progression?
    Jemal: Obviously not being able to practice in the spring is huge. It’s funny that you bring this up, but Savier Stephens was the same way – didn’t have a spring his sophomore year. And I think that’s huge for development of a player is getting that spring ball. So any injury that forces you to miss practices is huge. As for him playing quarterback, I don’t think it was much of a problem. If anything it probably kept him a little fresher, (kept him from) getting the hits and those types of things.

    Jake: Will any of the freshmen tailbacks find their way in the mix in the final third of the regular season?
    Jemal: It’s kind of like what I told you before – you don’t want those guys to have to play early, you want them to develop, you want them to get a million practice reps before they have to face live bullets. I think (Cody) Getz, obviously, now that he’s transitioned back to tailback, has helped him. I think you’ve seen some of the flashes that you saw earlier from him. I think that’s his true position. His true position is tailback. I think if you asked the young man that, he’d probably tell you the same thing. That he’s a lot more comfortable there. But I think he’s probably the one that here in the next few games might get splashed in there, might get a chance to play a little bit. But, again, it all depends on what he does at practice, shows that mentally he can handle the game plan and physically he can take care of the football.

  • Thursday Morning Links

    Thu, October 29, 2009 by admin with no comments

    In today’s edition of The Gazette is my story on sophomore kicker Erik Soderberg.

    Through eight games of his first season as Air Force’s kicker, Soderberg has made 17 of 22 field goals. One of the misses, of course, was at Navy, when his 31-yard attempt in overtime sailed wide left.

    But instead of letting that kick define his season, Soderberg has rebounded admirably. He’s made five straight kicks including a 48-yarder last Saturday at Utah that tied the game.

    When asked how Soderberg was able to rebound from the miss at Navy, coach Troy Calhoun said, “I just think you keep kicking.

    “There are three different positions, but it’s a little bit of the same. If you’re a relief pitcher, if you’re a corner(back), if you’re a kicker, you better keep firing.”

    Soderberg’s game-tying kick at Utah came with less than seven minutes to play. It was far from a chip shot, but Soderberg made it look like a routine extra point.

    “The impressive part about it, it might have been good from eight to 10 (more yards) – it might have been a 56-, 57-yarder,” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. “He hit it well without over-swinging. And I think there are some times when you first get into kicking field goals, especially at this level, there are times when you think you’ve got to put a little extra pop to it, and what you do, you don’t hit it as well. It’s like your driver.”

    Also in today’s paper is a short piece on Air Force’s tailbacks. And here’s the link to my story about Colorado State that I didn’t link yesterday.