• First Look: UNLV

    Tue, August 3, 2010 by admin with no comments

    This is the 12th and final installment of my offseason “First Look” series, in which I take a quick peek at each of the Air Force football team’s 2010 opponents. Today, we’ll take a look at the team the Falcons meet in their regular season finale – UNLV.

    But if you missed any of the first 11 installments, here are links to them: Northwestern State, BYU, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Navy, Colorado State, San Diego State, TCU, Utah, Army and New Mexico.

    UNLV
    Coach:
    Bobby Hauck
    2009 Record: 5-7 (3-5, 6th place in the Mountain West Conference)
    2009 vs. AF: Air Force 45, UNLV 17
    2009 in a Sentence: The Rebels started out 2-1, with the loss coming by two points to Oregon State, but they dropped six of their next eight to fall out of contention for a bowl, which led to the firing of head coach Mike Sanford.
    Off/Def Starters Back: 8/7
    Roster Report: UNLV should have some firepower on offense with the return of several key skill position players and a solid offensive line.

    But offense hasn’t been the Rebels’ problem in recent seasons.

    In 2009, the Rebels ranked 115th out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision squads in total defense, allowing 456.2 yards per game, including 220.6 rushing yards per game (tied for 112th in the country). They also gave up 32.4 points per game (103rd nationally).

    First-year coach Hauck said at the MWC media days that the Rebels’ defense needs to become more technically sound and eliminate errors.

    “We need to have our defensive plays where people are making mistakes decrease,” he said. “If you have guys in the wrong gaps or guys blowing coverages, it doesn’t take many plays before the game gets away from you.”

    Offensively, the Rebels return a pair of experienced quarterbacks.

    Senior Omar Clayton has started 23 games for the Rebels and ranks sixth in school history with 4,742 passing yards. Also back is junior Mike Clausen, who played in every game last season. They’ll have one of the league’s best receivers in junior Phillip Payne, who was a preseason All-MWC selection after catching 58 passes for 661 yards and a team-high seven touchdowns in 2009.

    Up front, the Rebels return four starters, including center John Gianninoto and tackles Matt Murphy and Evan Marchal.

    Hauck wants to get away from the wide-open spread attack employed by Sanford and go with one built around a physical running game. But that’s a change that will happen over time.

    “It would be crazy for us to not have some spread concepts in our offense because we’ve got spread personnel,” Hauck said.

    Fast Fact: Hauck went 80-17 in seven seasons at Montana.

    But he has a huge challenge in front of him in Vegas.

    Since going 8-5 in 2000, UNLV has not had a winning record.

    The records the Rebels have posted since then, starting in 2001: 4-7, 5-7, 6-6, 2-9, 2-9, 2-10, 2-10, 5-7, 5-7.

    What Caught My Eye: The Rebels’ schedule. In addition to their MWC slate, they play Idaho, West Virginia and Hawai’i on the road and open at home against Wisconsin. In all, the Rebels face nine teams that appeared in bowl games last season.

    No wonder MWC commissioner Craig Thompson believes UNLV “over-scheduled.”

    Jake’s Way Too Early Line vs. Air Force: Air Force, minus-13.5. The regular season finale is Air Force’s lone game that won’t be played on a Saturday. So after 11 straight games, the Falcons will have to adjust to a short week of practice and a quick turnaround. But while crazy things tend to happen in Las Vegas, the Falcons still appear to be a safe bet here.

    Final Thought: Yes, the Mike Sanford Era has ended. But we’ll always have this moment.

  • Jake’s Preseason MWC Ballots

    Tue, July 20, 2010 by admin with 9 comments

    I’ve got only a couple more weeks left on the Air Force beat (more on that in a later post), but I plan to sprint hard toward the finish line.

    So I’ll be with Frank in Vegas next week to play blackja – I mean, provide you with all the information that comes out of the Mountain West Conference media days.

    Along with the commissioner’s State of the Conference address, one of the most anticipated aspects of the media days is the release of the preseason MWC poll and preseason All-MWC squad.

    I submitted my ballots today, which you can find below. As I’ve said in the past, preseason squads are kinda tricky. They’re part reward for past performance and part anticipation of future performance. Some value one more than the other. I try to go 50-50.

    Anyhow, without further ado, here’s what I submitted:

    Preseason MWC Poll
    1. TCU
    2. Utah
    3. Air Force
    4. BYU
    5. Wyoming
    6. San Diego State
    7. Colorado State
    8. UNLV
    9. New Mexico

    Preseason All-MWC
    Offense

    WR – Vincent Brown (San Diego State, Sr.)
    WR – Phillip Payne (UNLV, Jr.)
    OL – Matt Reynolds (BYU, Jr.)
    OL – Marcus Cannon (TCU, Sr.)
    OL – Jake Kirkpatrick (TCU, Sr.)
    OL – Caleb Schlauderaff (Utah, Sr.)
    OL – Zane Taylor (Utah, Sr.)
    TE – Alston Umuolo (San Diego State, Sr.)
    QB – Andy Dalton (TCU, Sr.)
    RB – Eddie Wide (Utah, Sr.)
    RB – Jared Tew (Air Force, Sr.)

    Defense
    DL – Wayne Daniels (TCU, Sr.)
    DL – Dave Kruger (Utah, So.)
    DL – Johnathan Rainey (New Mexico, Jr.)
    LB – Tank Carder (TCU, Jr.)
    LB – Mychal Sisson (Colorado State, Jr.)
    LB – Carmen Messina (New Mexico, Jr.)
    LB – Brian Hendricks (Wyoming, Jr.)
    DB – Anthony Wright Jr. (Air Force, Jr.)
    DB – Reggie Rembert (Air Force, Sr.)
    DB – Tejay Johnson (TCU, Sr.)
    DB – Andrew Rich (BYU, Sr.)

    Specialists
    P – Brian Stahovich (San Diego State, Jr.)
    K – Ross Evans (TCU, Jr.)
    KR – Jeremy Kerley (TCU, Sr.)

    Offensive Player of the Year: QB Andy Dalton (TCU, Sr.)
    Defensive Player of the Year: LB Tank Carder (TCU, Jr.)
    Special Teams Player of the Year: KR Jeremy Kerley (TCU, Sr.)

    As you can see, I went with three Air Force players on the first team.

    Rembert was a first-team all-conference selection last season, but it could be argued that Wright – who led the Falcons with seven picks – had the better season. I went with both of them, which might be a stretch, but it’s hard to pick one over the other. And I think they’ll form the MWC’s best corner tandem.

    I went with Tew because of how he ended the 2009 season, his potential (I think he can be both a workhorse and a big-play threat) and the fact there aren’t so many obvious standout tailbacks in the league that I thought I needed to select two of them.

    Here are some other Air Force players who could make a push for all-conference honors by the end of the season.

    Strong Contenders:
    -FS Jon Davis. Coaches have always raved about Davis’ potential, and he started to show what he could do last year. Look no further than his ridiculous pick-six against New Mexico (where he weaved through Lobos, absorbed a huge hit at the goal line and still managed to get into the end zone). He might be the best athlete on the team (he played a few basketball games for the prep school a few years ago), he has great instincts and he loves to hit. I predict a breakout year for him in 2010.

    -TB Asher Clark. After struggling in the middle of last season (he gained just 142 yards on 46 carries – 3.1 yards per carry – in games four through eightt), he finished strong (he had 481 on 67 carries – 7.2 yards per carry – and all seven of his touchdowns in the final five games of the campaign. With a healthy knee and the fact he’s not starting the year with thoughts of playing quarterback, he should get off to a better start in 2010.

    K Erik Soderberg. In 2009, his first year as a starter, Soderberg made 38-of-40 extra points and 22-of-30 field goals, including a long of 50 yards, en route to second-team all-league honors. He should be even better this season.

    Other Contenders:
    -G A.J. Wallerstein. If the Falcons’ brand new offensive line comes together and Air Force’s ground game continues to be strong, it likely will have a lot to do with Wallerstein. He got his feet wet in 2008 and last season played considerable snaps as part of a rotation at guard. Big, athletic and very, very smart, he could be a good one for the Falcons.

    -DE Rick Ricketts. He’ll be the leader up front as the Falcons’ lone returning starter on the defensive line. He’s undersized, but he plays with a relentless intensity and has a bit of crazy in him on the field (in a good way). He also always seems to be around the ball and has shown an ability to make plays. Working against him – there are a bunch of quality defensive linemen in the league and Ricketts isn’t a big name in the league heading into the season.

    -OLB Andre Morris Jr. Morris has talent, size and experience. This could be the year he puts it all together and goes from good to great.

    Keep an Eye on:
    -TE Chaz Demerath. Made just five catches for 25 yards last season, and Air Force tight ends had just 11 catches total. But I feel like the tight end will become a bigger part of the offense. It has to, right? And having a more experienced quarterback delivering the ball should help. Demerath’s an athletic kid and there aren’t a whole lot of touted tight ends in the MWC.

    -WR-Z/Ret Jonathan Warzeka. Showed his ability as a returner with the kickoff return for a touchdown in the Armed Forces Bowl. Always has had potential. Now that he’s a junior, he should make a substantial leap.

    -WR-Z Kyle Halderman. Missed more than half of last season with a broken collarbone. But he showed big-play potential as a sophomore.

    -All the LBs coming off injury. Among them are senior inside linebacker Ken Lamendola, senior outside linebacker Pat Hennessey and sophomore outside linebacker Alex Means. All could have big seasons … if they’re healthy.

    Long Shots:
    -WR-X Kevin Fogler. A long shot because Fogler won’t get the opportunity to catch nearly as many passes as the talented receivers at San Diego State, BYU and UNLV. But he’s become a bona fide big-play receiver. Last season he grabbed 25 passes for 567 yards and five touchdowns.

    -QB Tim Jefferson. So many good QBs in the league this year. And Jefferson probably won’t have the stats. But if he runs like he did as a freshman and passes like he did in the Armed Forces Bowl, he could force his way into contention.

    -NG Ryan Gardner. Coaches gave him high marks for his work during spring practices attempting to fill the shoes of Ben Garland.

    With that, I want to hear what readers think. Who should have been on the first team that I left off my ballot? Which Air Force players do you think will make their way onto all-conference? What do you think of the preseason poll? Is Air Force too high, too low or just about right?

  • Willis’ Trouble Adds to MWC’s Difficult Summer

    Wed, June 30, 2010 by admin with 3 comments

    UNLV guard Tre’Von Willis – the second-leading scorer in the Mountain West Conference during the 2009-10 season and the Runnin’ Rebels’ best player – was arrested on Tuesday on multiple charges, including domestic battery by strangulation. Here’s the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s story.

    If Willis is guilty, he could be suspended or kicked off the team at UNLV, adding to an already rough offseason for the MWC.

    New Mexico’s Darington Hobson, the league’s 2009-10 Player of the Year, decided to skip his senior year to enter the NBA Draft (he was chosen in the second round by the Milwaukee Bucks), and the Lobos decided not to renew 6-foot-9 forward Will Brown’s scholarship; BYU guard Michael Loyd Jr. left the school; four underclassmen left Utah, including their top two scorers from last season – Carlon Brown, who transferred to Colorado, and talented shooter Marshall Henderson; and Willis’ teammate, 6-8 forward Matt Shaw, was given a one-year suspension for failing a drug test.

    But while the loss of all that talent is bad news for the MWC, it’s good news for a struggling Air Force program trying to become relevant again in the league.

  • More Football Notes

    Thu, April 22, 2010 by admin with no comments

    The Mountain West Conference’s nine football coaches spoke on a teleconference Wednesday, and I have a monster article with notes from Air Force (specifically concerning the Falcons’ offensive line and linebackers) and other schools (including BYU, Utah, UNLV and Wyoming) that you can find at this link.

    Some additional notes that I didn’t include in the story:

    -Speaking of the Falcons’ offensive, it likely will be even smaller than it appears on paper.

    “They’re not a big group,” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. “Last year we had four of our five were less than 255 pounds, and I don’t think this group will be bigger.”

    -I wrote earlier this week about Oklahoma, Air Force’s Week Three opponent, in my “First Look” series. You can see the post by scrolling down. I asked Calhoun Wednesday for his initial thoughts on the Sooners.

    “Incredibly talented program,” he said. “And really, if you looked in history of college football over the last, golly, 70 years – national championships, I mean the whole bit. Great, great football program. And yet we know that’s a long ways off. At least for our players.”

    -I thought this comment from Calhoun succinctly captures his philosophy for his program:

    “When you look at it in general, our approach has always been to commit to recruiting, developing and placing very capable guys on defense, while seeking to become a plus-turnover team with a strong running attack and yet at the same time doing a good job in the kicking game too.”

    -Air Force will play host to BYU on Sept. 11 in the second game – and first league contest – for both squads. And BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall isn’t too excited about where the Falcons fall on his team’s schedule.

    “I don’t like it,” Mendenhall said. “Air Force is a very, very good football team, and the way they execute, the way they compete and the nature of their young men, it’s just a formidable challenge. And normally I like to have an idea of who our team is first to try to tailor our schemes and strategies to try to defend probably what is one of the most difficult opponents in college football. And so to have to play Air Force so early and on the road with some of the questions we have remaining at key positions on our team, it will probably the most difficult task we will have had in playing Air Force maybe in the six years now that I’ve been head coach.”

  • BYU Survives, Ends Streak

    Thu, March 18, 2010 by admin with no comments

    The Mountain West Conference wanted to earn some respect in the NCAA Tournament this year.

    BYU got the league off to a good start.

    Barely.

    The Cougars beat Florida, 99-92, in double overtime. The Gators had the final possession of regulation and the first overtime but could not hit a game-winner. BYU’s victory ended a seven-game losing streak in the first round of the tournament.

    San Diego State, UNLV and New Mexico all still play today.

  • Air Force Mostly Absent from All-MWC

    Mon, March 8, 2010 by admin with no comments

    For the second season in a row, Air Force was the only program in the nine-team Mountain West Conference not to have a player make first-, second- or third-team All-MWC.

    Evan Washington was the only Falcon to earn any recognition. The junior guard, who ranked second in the league in minutes per game (33.9) and averaged 10.4 points and a team-high 4.7 rebounds this season, was an honorable mention selection.

    The league’s coaches and selected members of the media vote for the teams and submit ballots with 15 players (five on each team).

    Prior to last season, Air Force had placed at least one player on the first, second or third teams for seven consecutive seasons.

    First Team
    G Jimmer Fredette (BYU, Jr.)
    G Tre’Von Willis (UNLV, Jr.)
    G Dairese Gary (New Mexico, Jr.)
    G/F Darington Hobson (New Mexico, Jr.)
    F Kawhi Leonard (San Diego State, Fr.)

    Second Team
    G Ronnie Moss (TCU, Soph.)
    G Jackson Emery (BYU, Jr.)
    F Andy Ogide (Colorado State, Jr.)
    F Roman Martinez (New Mexico, Sr.)
    F Malcolm Thomas (San Diego State, Jr.)

    Third Team
    G Tyler Haws (BYU, Fr.)
    G Desmar Jackson (Wyoming, Fr.)
    G Carlon Brown (Utah, Jr.)
    G/F Chace Stanback (UNLV, So.)
    G/F Jonathan Tavernari (BYU, Sr.)

    Honorable Mention
    Jr. G Evan Washington (Air Force), So. G Phillip McDonald (New Mexico), Jr. G D.J. Gay (San Diego State), Jr. F Billy White (San Diego State), Sr. F/C Zvonko Buljan (TCU), So. G Oscar Bellfield (UNLV), Sr. G Luka Drca (Utah), Fr. G Marshall Henderson (Utah).

    All-Defensive Team
    G Jackson Emery (BYU, Jr.)
    G Dairese Gary (New Mexico, Jr.)
    G Tre’Von Willis (UNLV, Jr.)
    G/F Chace Stanback (UNLV, Soph.)
    C David Foster (Utah, Soph.)

    Player of the Year
    G Darington Hobson (New Mexico, Jr.)

    Defensive Player of the Year
    C David Foster (Utah, Soph.)

    Freshman of the Year
    F Kawhi Leonard (San Diego State, Fr.)

    Newcomer of the Year
    G Darington Hobson (New Mexico, Jr.)

    Sixth Man of the Year
    F Jonathan Tavernari (BYU, Sr.)

    Coach of the Year
    Steve Alford (New Mexico)

  • Sunday Morning Links

    Sun, February 28, 2010 by admin with no comments

    A dismal day at Clune Arena, a great night at Cadet Ice Arena.

    In the afternoon, UNLV dealt Air Force its worst home loss since 1993, despite a nice performance from a still-sick Tom Fow. The loss was Air Force’s 29th in its last 30 Mountain West Conference regular season games. Gazette columnist David Ramsey looked at how all that losing has affected Air Force seniors Grant Parker and Mike McLain. And here’s The Las Vegas Review-Journal’s take on the game.

    At night, however, things were happier. Air Force’s ice hockey team capped the regular season with an 8-1 beat-down of Sacred Heart. The Falcons’ victory, along with Mercyhurst’s overtime loss at Connecticut, means Air Force finished in third place in the Atlantic Hockey Association. The three-time defending AHA Tournament champs will face Army at home in a best-of-three quarterfinal series starting March 12.

  • UNLV 77, Air Force 47 – Rapid Reaction

    Sat, February 27, 2010 by admin with 3 comments

    As UNLV attempted to let the clock run out in this afternoon’s blowout of Air Force, one of the Runnin’ Rebels’ players lost the ball out of bounds with about a second left. The ref nearby whistled play dead, but the clock kept running until the buzzer sounded.

    And that was that. No reason to inbound the ball one more time.

    The feel of that moment was, “Let’s just get this over with.”

    Unfortunately, that’s how most of today’s game (the worst home loss since 1993) felt. And I wonder if that’s how the rest of the season will feel.

    Let’s just get this over with.

    Air Force trailed by 14 points 10 minutes into the game and by 20 with six minutes left in the first half. The result of the game was certain by then. And it made me wonder: How many minutes of the Falcons’ games this season have been played with the outcome already determined? I don’t know, and I’m not sure how to measure it. But I can tell you this – it’s been far too many. And that has to have some kind of effect on the way players play.

    The way Air Force played today was “tentative,” according to coach Jeff Reynolds.

    “And I felt we didn’t take a step forward,” he said. “And even in the Utah loss, there was a 12-minute span where we played pretty well. And so we’ve got to get them to focus on, hey, we’ve got to regroup with our energy and our effort, because I didn’t think that was there today.

    “We talked to our players about they’ve got to understand what’s at stake here, and that the first four minutes of the game’s extremely important. And that UNLV’s playing for something, and we need to play for something. And I’m not sure our guys got that message, and I guess that’s my fault.”

    Other notes:
    -The Falcons’ free throw shooting continues to be putrid. Air Force made 9-of-18 today including just 4-of-12 in the second half.

    The Falcons are 13-of-30 from the line in their last two games and are shooting 60.3 percent from the line in MWC play.

    -Gazette columnist David Ramsey wrote about the game in his blog: http://daveramseysez.freedomblogging.com.

  • Saturday Morning Links

    Sat, February 27, 2010 by admin with no comments

    Air Force basketball faces UNLV this afternoon at Clune Arena. Here are my 3 Things to Watch in the game and a look at freshman forward/center Zach Bohannon, whose playing time has increased of late.

    Also, here’s a preview of the game from The Las Vegas Sun, which notes this is a must-win game for the Runnin’ Rebels if they hope to reach the NCAA Tournament. And here’s The Las Vegas Review-Journal’s preview, which notes the Rebels must deal with the slow pace at which Air Force will play.

    Moving to ice hockey, Air Force defeated Sacred Heart, 6-3, last night and clinched home ice in the Atlantic Hockey Association quarterfinals.

  • Air Force 70, Wyoming 63 – Rapid Reaction

    Sat, January 30, 2010 by admin with no comments

    Air Force coach Jeff Reynolds caught part of the Gonzaga-Santa Clara game on Thursday night when he got home from the academy.

    A young Santa Clara team, playing at home, led by 11 mid-way through the second half. Its lead was down to five, 64-59, with just less than six minutes to play. And Santa Clara would not score again. Gonzaga ended up winning, 71-64.

    Reynolds could relate.

    “I could see the whole coaching staff knowing it was slipping away because their players seemed to not know how to win,” he said. “I don’t think that’s something you do over night. I think that’s something you have to mature with.”

    Maybe the Falcons finally are learning how to win.

    Last season Air Force lost at home to TCU by three. It lost at home to Colorado State by five. It lost at home to Wyoming by three. It let potential upsets slip away at UNLV, losing 46-43, and BYU, losing 54-49.

    This season the Falcons squandered a second-half lead and lost at TCU. And last week they led UNLV at halftime but could not pull out a victory.

    Today, finally, they found a way to win.

    And while ending the ugly 22-game losing streak in Mountain West Conference regular season games was big, it might have been how they won that was so important. Air Force had a lead in the first half and lost it. And then, after scoring on five straight possessions to go up 49-42, Wyoming went on an 8-0 run to re-take the lead.

    So many times since Air Force’s last regular season Mountain West Conference victory on March 8, 2008, the Falcons had been in similar situations. And wilted. This time, thanks in large part to Evan Washington, they handled adversity and came through when it counted. Washington hit a jumper and then a 3. Freshman Michael Lyons drained a 3 with a good bounce. And then Washington hit six straight free throws (the first four being the front- and back-ends of one-and-ones).

    Yes, it was just one game. It’s not time to break open the champagne. But simply getting a victory, knowing they can find ways to win, could mean the world to this team.

    “I think it will build confidence a lot,” Washington said. “This year I think we have a tougher team than we did last year. Last year we kind of let losing become a part of our mentality. We’ve finally figured out that we have to go into each and every game playing to win. That’s what we did today.”

    Other Thoughts:
    -Reynolds gave an assist to the announced crowd of 3,414 at Clune Arena.

    It was the biggest crowd to watch the Falcons at home during conference play this season. And by far the loudest.

    “Clune got loud today,” Reynolds said. “It got loud today. I don’t know what the attendance was, but I thought about the fans and thanking them for coming out today.”

    -It’s all about the 3.

    When Air Force is hitting from the perimeter, it has a chance to win.

    Today, the Falcons tied a season high by hitting 11 from beyond the 3-point arc. Six players hit 3s, with Michael Lyons nailing 3-of-5, and Evan Washington, Mike Fitzgerald and Todd Fletcher all hitting two apiece.

    Air Force went 11-of-25 from 3-point range in the game (44.0 percent) including 7-of-11 (63.6 percent) in the second half.

    -Already without leading scorer Afam Muojeke (knee), Wyoming did not have starting center Adam Waddell (ankle), who had scored 13 points with 22 rebounds in the Cowboys’ previous game.

    But complaining to Air Force about injuries is like complaining to an Alaskan about the cold. Seven key Falcons have missed a combined 45 games this season, and starting center Sammy Schafer (post-concussion symptoms) and guard/forward Taylor Stewart (wrist) both still are out.

    -Memories from Air Force’s distant past and recent glory days came flooding back at halftime when about 15 former players were introduced to the crowd as part of the program’s homecoming weekend.

    Among those in attendance were 1959 grad Robert Blake, former great big man Randy Gricius, a 1979 grad, and Jacob Burtschi, John Frye and Tim Anderson – key cogs in the Falcons’ great run from 2003 through 2007.

    Tough to say who got the biggest cheer. Either Anderson or Burtschi.

    -Much of the game story I wrote today was about the Falcons wanting to win.

    Don’t doubt their desire.

    It’s 7:56 p.m. as I write this from courtside at Clune. I had thought I was the last person here.

    I’m not.

    Mike McLain came back on the court at about 7:30. He spent some time working on free throws and 3-pointers, some time sprinting up and down the floor and making layups, and some time working on post moves around and through some folding chairs he set up on the floor. Now he’s running sprints from sideline to sideline.

    That’s dedication.