For the second season in a row, Air Force showed signs that it’s close to breaking into the Mountain West Conference’s elite.
And for the second season in a row, the final game of the regular season showed how far the Falcons still have to go.
In 2008, it was a humbling 44-10 drubbing at TCU.
This season, it was Saturday’s 38-21 drubbing at BYU.
Don’t let the final score fool you. The Cougars were up 24-0 in the first half and 31-7 early in the third quarter. This one wasn’t close.
And that was surprising. Yes, BYU has owned Air Force historically (The Cougars have a 24-6 all-time record against Air Force) and especially lately (Saturday’s loss was the Falcons’ sixth in a row to BYU – and all have come by at least two touchdowns).
But Air Force seemed to match up better with the Cougars because of its standout defense and secondary (the Falcons led the nation in pass defense heading into the game). Not only that, players seemed to be ready to beat the Cougars. And it didn’t seem like bluster. I could be wrong, but I usually can tell when players are just saying they can compete with a heavily favored team and when they actually believe they can compete with a heavily favored team. I really think the Falcons believed.
That’s what made it surprising – again, not that Air Force lost, but the manner in which they were dominated.
“I was very surprised,” junior fullback Jared Tew said. “I thought we were going to come out strong and right off the bat it seemed like they had our number and we pretty much weren’t playing our game.”
“We’re a lot better than we played today,” junior cornerback Reggie Rembert said. “So, yeah, I’m definitely kind of shocked.”
The one upside of a loss like this is the Falcons still are a relatively young team. Players can learn from mistakes, and they should remember the sting of this blowout. And maybe in the future they can find a way to compete with the Cougars.
“It’s not going to be easy, it’s going to be hard,” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said of catching up to the top teams in the conference. “But it’s doable, and it should be doable. That is to be a program that gets up and (will) go play in a game like this and be able to take a game like this right down to the wire and find a way to win it.”
-It looks to me like either the Armed Forces or New Mexico Bowls for the Falcons.
Barring a shocking upset loss by TCU in its regular season finale next weekend (at home against woeful New Mexico), the Horned Frogs are heading to a Bowl Championship Series bowl game. Utah and BYU, which will finish second and third in the conference in some order, likely will go to the Las Vegas and Poinsettia Bowls.
So the Armed Forces and New Mexico Bowls, which share the third pick, will fight over Air Force. I know the New Mexico Bowl badly wants the Falcons (it has for the last couple years). But Armed Forces Bowl reps aren’t opposed to taking them for the third straight year.
For Air Force? Well, I’m not sure heading to the same bowl site for the third straight season is the best situation for fans. But the Falcons played at New Mexico this year, so if they go to the New Mexico Bowl, it will be their second trip to Albuquerque in four months.
Recruiting-wise, it’s a no-brainer. Of the 44 players listed as offensive and defensive starters and backups heading into Saturday’s game, 14 are from Texas. Zero are from New Mexico.
-Ben Cochran’s numbers weren’t too pretty (14 carries, 47 yards; 5-for-18 passing for 88 yards, one touchdown and one interception), but I thought he did really well considering how difficult a situation he faced.
The guy had played only garbage snaps this season – and remember, he was playing safety in the preseason. But he came into the game in a tough environment with his team trailing the 19th-ranked team in the country 17-0 and handled himself well.
“I think he played very well,” Tew said. “Coming up in a big situation like that against a Top 25 team, with not that much experience and right when he came in making that big play to (Josh) Cousins, that was huge and definitely gave us a spark. He definitely stepped up and we know we can count on him.”
-Max Hall was tremendous today. I thought there were times when Air Force had good coverage on receivers, but he put the ball in about the only two foot by two foot space that it could be caught. He completed 19 of his first 22 passes, and one of the incompletions was a drop and another was one he threw away intentionally. That’s astounding.
I also like the passion with which he plays. He’s fired up, and he loves to play the game and he loves to win – clearly, he’s won more than any BYU quarterback ever. And that’s something.
So with all that said, he needs to cut out some of the taunting and celebrating and the complaining to the refs that he did after the first touchdown was called back. Plain and simple, he’s too good a player to have to act like that.
-After writing my article about how Air Force was on pace to set the record for fewest turnovers in a season and that it hadn’t turned the ball over more than twice in a game all season, I wrote in the blog about how nobody believes in jinxes more than me. So, to Air Force fans, I’m sorry.