[Ed note: Hey, the Military Bowl is today at 4:30 p.m., but you already knew that. Hustle Belt's deputy Toledo man Culby has been able to brave family obligations and holiday havoc to bring you this Q&A with Jeremy Mauss of Mountain West Connection, the blog of the Air Force's current conference. The reciprocal questions can be found here.]
1. Toledo's signature move this year has been to "score points first, ask questions later". The Falcons D, meanwhile, hasn't exactly been inspired. Can they handle the Rockets?
I'll lean toward saying no. Air Force has gone up against some top scoring offenses in Boise State and TCU and in those games they did hold those two teams to about a touchdown under their average. Even by doing that it does not help out their chances against high scoring teams just because the Falcons offense is not able to keep up. The Air Force secondary is the strength of their defense with two all-conference players in Anthony Wright, Jr. and Jon Davis and they have combined for six interceptions this year.
The rushing defense is where Air Force struggles the most as they are ranked in the bottom 10 nationally and that is where Toledo probably will have the most success against Air Force. The weight restrictions for Air Force just mean their defensive lineman are slender compared to most schools which leads to opposing teams rushing the ball. They are fast however and are good at stopping runners along the edge, but power run game is where they struggle the most.
2. Name some folks that Rocket fans will need to keep an eye out for.
On offense it is quarterback Tim Jefferson, running back Asher Clark and fullback Mike DeWitt. Jefferson has been starting since he split time as a freshman and is one of the better quarterbacks in Air Force history. Jefferson is a threat to run the ball in the Falcons run option attack and he knows exactly when to keep or get toss the ball to one of his backs, but Jefferson can also throw the ball down field. Jefferson is fairly accurate but his biggest weapon is in the deep passing game when he can suck in the defensive backs on a play action and then throw deep over the top.
Asher Clark rushed for over 1,000 the second straight year and he is the primary back for the Falcons. Clark's biggest strength is on speed option plays where he can get to the outside and use his speed to beat defensive ends. Clark averages 7.26 yards per carry.
An overlooked player is fullback Mike DeWitt, or really the fullback position. He had a modest 543 and did score 10 touchdowns, but his biggest asset is on plays that usually do not involve DeWitt touching the ball or when defenses due not cover the fullback dive. Air Force will run a fullback dive a lot against opponents which is a quick hand off to the fullback. The dive becomes key when the opposing defenses do not play their assignment. A few ways this happens is when outside defenders get sucked in allowing the time that Air Force fakes the dive and then takes it outside to get beat on a big run play, also when down lineman do not attack the fullback dive on each play so when there is a fullback dive it goes for a big gain or on play action which can suck in the secondary and Jefferson goes over the top for a big pass play. Basically the defense needs to play assignment football against the fullback dive or it can get beat on a number of plays.
3. Word on the street is that Tim Jefferson can actually air the ball out a little bit. Considering Toledo's weakness in the secondary (boy oh boy do we miss the days of Barry Church), is there any chance the Falcons abandon their tried-and true run option and start tossing it around more?
Air Force will still grind it out with their run attack, but if Air Force see's a weakness in the Toledo secondary they will try to expose it. they may throw more, but usually when they do it is because they are down and need a comeback. However, I could see Air Force up their passing if they see opportunities early on which would mean throwing about 20 times. This year Jefferson has averaged 14 attempts per game which is actually a lot for an Air Force quarterback, but those numbers are skewed as he threw 36 times against San Diego State and 24 against Notre Dame.
4. What's the one thing that should scare the Rockets? Conversely, what has Air Force shaking in their boots?
The rushing game of Air Force, because it will wear down the Toledo defense and more importantly keep their high powered offense off the field. Toledo will need to force Air Force in third and long situations.
As for Air Force it is their rushing defense. Toledo runs the ball very well and the Air Force rush defense is pretty bad. Air Force needs to try to hold Toledo to under 175 rushing yards to have a chance in this game.
We'll use this as the gamethread too. Why not.