2013 Air Force football's 10 things to know: Troy Calhoun and Fisher DeBerry on the Falcons

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

That Air Force regressed and barely made a bowl in 2012 was predictable: The Falcons had to replace 16 of 22 starters from 2011. That they have regressed for three straight years now, however, is a concern. Can another batch of new starters stem the negative tide for head coach Troy Calhoun? An easy schedule cannot hurt.

Confused? Check out the glossary here.

1. High expectations in Colorado Springs

It's right there in Air Force's game notes (example here -- PDF): Air Force is a hard job.

• Air Force student-athletes carry an average of 19 semester hours of academics each semester.

• Air Force doesn’t redshirt student-athletes. Cadets attend for a total of eight semesters, so student-athletes only have those eight semesters to complete their athletic eligibility.

• Air Force is a non-scholarship school. Student-athletes, like other cadets, must earn a nomination to attend the Academy. Air Force student-athletes do not sign a National Letter of Intent on signing days.

• Air Force student-athletes may leave the Academy without penalty during their freshman or sophomore years. Once their junior year begins, they are committed to the Air Force.

One more, from Air Force coach Troy Calhoun: "We're always going to be tiny. Guys aren't going to redshirt, they're going to go through basic training, which means being able to run 1.5 miles in 11 minutes at 7,000 feet."

I spoke with both Calhoun and former Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry this winter, and the theme from both was nearly the same: A) This is a hard job. B) They expect to win.

DeBerry is just about the nicest, most chipper person to whom you could ever speak. When he tells you that "the ultimate success of any program is how many kids you graduate," you are inclined to believe him. But the distaste in his voice is evident when he speaks about last season's 6-7 finish. It was the first losing season in Colorado Springs since DeBerry's final campaign in 2006, and while it continued a six-year streak of bowl attendance, Air Force's step backwards was clear. And it wasn't what either DeBerry or Calhoun had in mind.

That said, the 2012 season was also pretty predictable: Teams tend to regress when they lose virtually all of their starters. In 2012, the Falcons had to replace their starting quarterback, their leading rusher, their four leading receivers, four of their six most experienced offensive linemen, three of their top four defensive linemen, four of their fop five linebackers, and all four starting defensive backs. That's ridiculous.

"Any experience you have, that means guys who make fewer mistakes, assignment-wise," says Calhoun. "You play more aggressively when you have more experience."

While the offense remained pretty aggressive (and inconsistent), especially in its vertical passing, the Air Force pass defense was the most passive in the country. Inexperience hindered the offense a bit and devastated the defense. And now Air Force must battle a decent amount of turnover yet again.

2. Three years in a row

The 2012 dropoff was predictable. But if you're in the mood to worry about Air Force's long-term prospects, you could feel free to point out that 2012 was the third straight season that saw Air Force regress overall. In 2009, Calhoun's third year in charge, the Falcons were legitimately strong, ranking 26th in the F/+ rankings and fielding a fierce, creative 3-4 defense that ranked 12th in Def. F/+. But coordinator Tim DeRuyter left for Texas A&M in 2010 (he is now the head coach of Air Force's Mountain West rival, Fresno State), and the defense has since sunk from 12th to 47th to 82nd to 99th. And while the offense's 2012 slump could be written off to inexperience, the defensive issues were part of an ongoing trend. A new defensive coordinator, Charlton Warren, couldn't immediately stem that tide last fall.

Graduation once again hits the offense pretty hard, but the defense returns a decent amount of experience, especially in the secondary. Will that help at least a little bit?

2012 Schedule & Results

Record: 6-7 | Adj. Record: 5-8 | Final F/+ Rk: 101
Date Opponent Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L
1-Sep Idaho State 49-21 W 32.9 - 58.1 L
8-Sep at Michigan 25-31 L 27.5 - 37.2 L
22-Sep at UNLV 35-38 L 30.3 - 40.0 L
29-Sep Colorado State 42-21 W 39.4 - 34.0 W
6-Oct Navy 21-28 L 32.5 - 31.0 W
13-Oct at Wyoming 28-27 W 27.1 - 32.6 L
20-Oct New Mexico 28-23 W 29.2 - 31.9 L
26-Oct Nevada 48-31 W 40.9 - 23.6 W
3-Nov at Army 21-41 L 18.0 - 27.6 L
10-Nov at San Diego State 9-28 L 20.8 - 19.3 W
16-Nov Hawaii 21-7 W 29.7 - 13.7 W
24-Nov at Fresno State 15-48 L 22.9 - 40.2 L
29-Dec vs. Rice 14-33 L 11.8 - 36.7 L
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
Points Per Game 27.4 74 29.0 71
Adj. Points Per Game 27.9 67 32.8 101

3. Bad sandwich

Despite all of the turnover, Air Force put a decent product on the field for most of the middle of the season. The problem was that the Falcons weren't very good at the beginning or end, even including a near-upset of Michigan.

Adj. Points per Game (first 3 games, last 2 games): Opponents 42.4, Air Force 25.1 (minus-17.3)
Adj. Points per game (middle 8 games): Air Force 29.7, Opponents 26.7 (plus-3.0)

After a 1-2 start, Air Force won four of five games; the Falcons' 17-point win over Nevada was particularly impressive. But they began to fade a bit afterward. The win over Hawaii clinched bowl eligibility despite three early one-possession losses, but Air Force was pretty much out of gas at that point. The season ended with blowout losses to both Fresno State (justifiable -- FSU was damn good) and Rice (less so).

Offense

Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 51 82 62 96
RUSHING 2 70 61 75
PASSING 122 47 103 31
Standard Downs 73 54 86
Passing Downs 100 91 105
Redzone 80 63 88
Q1 Rk 77 1st Down Rk 85
Q2 Rk 73 2nd Down Rk 78
Q3 Rk 66 3rd Down Rk 97
Q4 Rk 110

4. The impact of experience

Despite the loss of nearly every starter from the 2011 offense, Air Force managed to improve its per-game rushing totals from 314.8 per game in 2011 (second in the country) to 316.2 (second again). That's simply what Air Force is going to do; the last time the Falcons didn't rank in the nation's Top 10 in rushing yards per game was 1986. But the Falcons were quite a bit less efficient, less consistent, on the ground. Their Rushing Success Rate+ ranking fell from 30th to 61st, and that made a significant difference.

DeBerry: "We always had to keep the opponent's offense off the field to be successful. If you can work on some five- and seven-minute drives, the opponent might start pressing a bit." Time of possession can also keep Air Force's undermanned defense fresher, but that wasn't the case in 2012.

Air Force runs a pretty tactically interesting attack; Calhoun spent four seasons as an offensive assistant in the pros before returning to Air Force, where he was a quarterback for DeBerry in the late-1980s; his years with the Denver Broncos immersed him in a zone running game that he took back to Colorado Springs. This isn't a stereotypical Flexbone attack by any means, but it still makes its bones on efficiency and maintenance of possession, and there needs to be more of both in 2013.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards Comp
Rate
TD INT Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Connor Dietz 68 111 1,131 61.3% 8 3 7 5.9% 9.3
Kale Pearson 5'9, 175 Jr. NR 12 29 128 41.4% 0 4 2 6.5% 3.8
Tucker Tipton


2 4 21 50.0% 0 0 0 0.0% 5.3
Ben Okun 6'1, 190 Fr. ** (5.4)






Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
TD Adj.
POE
Cody Getz RB 198 1,248 6.3 5.8 9 +21.6
Connor Dietz QB 137 705 5.1 4.6 5 -1.8
Wes Cobb FB 131 530 4.0 1.9 9 -15.3
Jon Lee RB 5'10, 190 Jr. *** (5.6) 88 545 6.2 5.3 4 +6.3
Mike DeWitt RB 59 233 3.9 2.4 3 -5.2
Ty MacArthur WR 5'9, 175 Sr. NR 57 467 8.2 5.7 2 +14.1
Broam Hart RB 6'0, 210 Jr. ** (5.1) 29 100 3.4 1.4 1 -4.2
Dontae Strickland WR 28 152 5.4 7.8 2 +2.2
Dakota Diessner RB 5'10, 180 Fr. ** (5.2)





Bryan Driskell RB 5'9, 175 Fr. ** (5.4)





Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Yds/
Target
Target
Rate
%SD Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Ty MacArthur WR 5'9, 175 Sr. NR 32 24 411 75.0% 12.8 23.7% 68.8% 12.5 82.8
Drew Coleman WR 26 15 341 57.7% 13.1 19.3% 57.7% 13.2 68.7
Dontae Strickland WR 21 13 261 61.9% 12.4 15.6% 61.9% 12.4 52.6
Chris Jordan WR 15 9 77 60.0% 5.1 11.1% 46.7% 5.5 15.5
Marcus Hendricks TE 6'6, 235 Jr. ** (5.3) 14 7 117 50.0% 8.4 10.4% 57.1% 8.3 23.6
Jon Lee RB 5'10, 190 Jr. *** (5.6) 6 4 45 66.7% 7.5 4.4% 66.7% 6.8 9.1
Colton Huntsman WR 5'10, 175 Jr. ** (5.4) 5 4 28 80.0% 5.6 3.7% 80.0% 4.2 5.6
Cody Getz RB 5 2 1 40.0% 0.2 3.7% 80.0% 1.4 0.2
Christian Gann WR 6'4, 205 Jr. ** (5.3) 3 2 25 66.7% 8.3 2.2% 100.0% 5.0 5.0
Austin Briehl TE 3 1 17 33.3% 5.7 2.2% 66.7% 5.1 3.4
Wes Cobb FB 3 1 6 33.3% 2.0 2.2% 0.0% 2.4 1.2
Pete Cender TE 6'5, 220 Fr. *** (5.6)








Trent Gow TE 6'3, 235 Fr. *** (5.5)








5. Going long

"We love throwing the ball down the field," Calhoun says. It seems counter-intuitive at first, considering Air Force is running the ball even 80 percent of the time on passing downs, but when Air Force does pass, it's going for the throat. And despite general inefficiency, the Falcons did see some solid success with the long ball in 2012. The top three receivers all averaged at least 12.4 yards per target and 17.1 yards per catch with a 58 percent catch rate. Schedule adjustments tamp these numbers down a bit (Air Force didn't exactly face many good pass defenses), but the Falcons' aggressive passing bailed them out of a few jams at times.

Will Air Force be able to lean on the long ball again in 2013? Ty MacArthur and his 17 yards per catch return, but the two major home run hitters, Drew Coleman and Dontae Strickland, are gone. Assuming they are admitted this summer (there's a reason why Air Force doesn't announce its signing class until June), the offense could welcome a couple of interesting, three-star tight ends to the mix, but the speed out wide is a mystery. Plus, quarterback Connor Dietz is gone, and there was an extensive dropoff between Dietz and backup Kale Pearson last year. The run game could be nice, with three-star junior Jon Lee ready to take his star turn atop the depth chart, but improvement in run efficiency might only be enough to offset regression in pass explosiveness.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 104.5 3.49 3.59 40.8% 75.9% 15.1% 93.5 7.4% 2.4%
Rank 51 5 26 43 20 10 71 106 10
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Career Starts/Honors/Notes
Jordan Eason C 25 career starts; 2012 2nd All-MWC
Jason Kons LT 36 career starts
Alex Huskisson RT 14 career starts
Drew Kerber LG 6'3, 255 Sr. NR 13 career starts
David Lore RG 6'1, 235 Sr. ** (5.4) 6 career starts
Austin Hayes C 6'2, 245 Sr. ** (5.3) 6 career starts
Jerry Henry RT 6'6, 255 Sr. NR 3 career starts
Michael Husar, Jr. C 6'0, 250 Sr. NR 1 career start
Evan Kaufman LT
David Jones C 6'0, 230 Jr. NR
Moshood Adeniji RG 6'2, 250 Sr. ** (5.4)
Colin Marquez OL 6'5, 250 Fr. NR
Mike Sutton OL 6'3, 300 Fr. ** (5.4)

6. Hilariously small

Calhoun understands the hand you're dealt at Air Force. "Anybody's preference would be to overwhelm somebody with sheer mass and speed, but we have to find different ways. You have to be resourceful. You have to realize there's still a way to run the ball even if you don't weigh as much as somebody else."

And to say the least, Air Force doesn't weigh as much as anybody else. The Falcons' starting linemen this year weigh as much as SEC linebackers; the five returnees with starting experience average just 6'2, 248. The backup center weighs 230 pounds. But despite a lack of size and experience, the line produced in 2012. The Falcons' zone blocking scheme did its job, eliminating negative plays, opening up holes on standard downs, and producing in short-yardage situations. Despite the loss of three starters, including center Jordan Eason, there appears to be enough talent and experience to replicate that success in 2013. The top of the depth chart is once again laden with seniors.

Defense

Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 73 104 107 99
RUSHING 101 73 71 75
PASSING 35 122 124 116
Standard Downs 89 101 86
Passing Downs 116 115 116
Redzone 108 112 94
Q1 Rk 112 1st Down Rk 102
Q2 Rk 97 2nd Down Rk 106
Q3 Rk 122 3rd Down Rk 113
Q4 Rk 21

7. Yeesh

Air Force held up reasonably well against the run and could expect to do so again in 2013. Two strong ends (Alex Hansen and Joseph Champaign) will complement what will admittedly be a green tackle up front, and Air Force should be able to replicate its middle-of-the-pack rushing rankings.

But ... wow, was Air Force's pass defense bad last year. And it might not improve this fall. The Falcons blitzed pretty well on passing downs, but it just didn't matter. With a passive, ineffective secondary, they had the third-worst pass defense in the country and ranked dead last in Passing Success Rate. Experience could help the secondary, but that might just offset the fact that Air Force's linebacking corps, a relative strength last year, have been drained of all of its experience.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 99.6 3.03 3.44 39.0% 63.8% 18.8% 83.1 3.7% 8.2%
Rank 62 85 85 62 39 72 90 96 36
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Alex Hansen DE 6'2, 240 So. NR 14 30.5 4.0% 9 4 0 1 0 0
Nick DeJulio DT 13 28.0 3.7% 4.5 1 0 2 1 1
Cody Miller DT 12 24.0 3.1% 1 0 0 0 0 1
Joseph Champaign DE 6'1, 240 Jr. *** (5.5) 9 16.0 2.1% 3.5 2.5 0 0 0 0
Nick Fitzgerald DE 6'4, 265 Jr. NR 13 16.0 2.1% 4 1 0 1 1 1
Riley Cannon DE 6'4, 245 Jr. NR 12 8.0 1.0% 0 0 0 0 0 0

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Austin Niklas ILB 13 101.0 13.2% 8 1 0 1 3 0
Alex Means OLB 13 78.0 10.2% 12 4 2 9 0 0
James Chambers ILB 13 54.0 7.1% 5.5 0 0 2 0 1
Jared Jones OLB 6'2, 220 Jr. NR 12 31.0 4.1% 3 1 0 1 0 0
Stephan Atrice OLB 10 26.5 3.5% 1 0 0 1 1 1
Josh Kusan LB 6 13.0 1.7% 2 0 1 0 0 0
Joey Nichol OLB 6'1, 220 Jr. ** (5.4) 7 10.0 1.3% 2 0 0 0 0 1
Steven Sumpter ILB 6'2, 220 Jr. *** (5.5) 11 5.0 0.7% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Spencer Proctor ILB 6'2, 207 Jr. NR 12 3.0 0.4% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Miles Fisher LB 6'0, 195 Jr. ** (5.4) 13 1.0 0.1% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Kyle Williams LB 6'0, 220 Fr. ** (5.4)

Patrick Healy LB 6'1, 222 Fr. ** (5.4)






8. A couple of stars up front

When you are a 240-pound defensive end in a 3-4 alignment (which usually requires bigger ends to occupy blockers and free up linebackers), you probably better be making some plays to account for the fact that you are likely getting pushed around a bit. Both Alex Hansen and last year's backup, Joseph Champaign, did that; 12.5 of their 46.5 tackles were behind the line of scrimmage. Throw in junior end Nick Fitzgerald (who, at 265 pounds, could very well end up at tackle this year) and his four TFLs in 16 tackles, and you've got a nice activity level up front. At linebacker, Jared Jones and Joey Nichol showed similar potential. The loss of star outside linebacker Alex Means, a playmaker both against the run and pass, could hurt; but there is upside to be found here.

Still, the issue here is obvious. The playmaking potential at DE and OLB may be pretty high, there is almost no experience whatsoever up the middle. Both of last year's tackles, along with both starting inside linebackers, are gone, and there are no obvious replacements.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Christian Spears FS 5'9, 185 Jr. NR 13 69.5 9.1% 2.5 0 1 2 2 0
Brian Lindsay SS 13 69.5 9.1% 5 1.5 1 2 1 0
Steffon Batts CB 6'0, 180 Jr. NR 13 64.5 8.5% 0 0 2 5 1 1
Chris Miller CB 5'8, 185 Sr. NR 13 47.5 6.2% 0 0 0 6 0 1
Dexter Walker CB 6'0, 190 So. ** (5.4) 13 9.0 1.2% 0 0 0 0 1 0
Gavin McHenry CB 5'11, 160 So. NR 11 9.0 1.2% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Anthony LaCoste DB 5'10, 195 Sr. ** (5.1) 9 8.0 1.0% 0 0 1 0 0 0
Connor Healy DB 6'0, 215 So. ** (5.4) 7 6.5 0.9% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Jamal Byrd FS 5'11, 185 Jr. NR 10 5.5 0.7% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Justin DeCoud SS 11 5.0 0.7% 0 0 0 0 0 0

9. Help wanted in the back

As we end up saying a lot, experience isn't always a good thing. It's only good if it's experienced talent. Free safety Christian Spears showed decent potential as a sophomore last year, but perhaps because of inexperience, Air Force was incredibly passive, willing to allow a completion at any time just to keep the play in front of defenders. The Falcons defensed just 41 passes in 2012, No. 109 in the country, and let's just say that the fact that Steffon Batts made 64.5 tackles last year probably wasn't a good thing. Large tackle numbers from corners could suggest solid run support; but it could also suggest that the corner's man caught a lot of passes.

Still, of last year's top nine tacklers in the secondary, three were freshmen and three were sophomores. That Air Force ranked last in Passing Success Rate+ last year is obviously alarming, but the secondary was so young that one has to think that a little bit of experience will help.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
David Baska 6'0, 182 Sr. 40 39.2 1 16 11 67.5%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB TB%
Briceton Cannada 5'9, 170 Sr. 59 59.8 25 42.4%
Zac Hoffman 6'1, 200 Sr. 4 50.0 0 0.0%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2013
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Parker Herrington 46-47 3-6 50.0% 1-4 25.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Anthony Lacoste KR 5'10, 195 Sr. 20 27.1 0
Jon Lee KR 5'10, 190 Jr. 8 20.8 0
Chris Jordan KR 4 16.2 0
Ty MacArthur PR 5'9, 175 Sr. 10 7.6 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 114
Net Punting 54
Net Kickoffs 65
Touchback Pct 47
Field Goal Pct 123
Kick Returns Avg 39
Punt Returns Avg 76

2013 Schedule & Projection Factors

2013 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
31-Aug Colgate NR
7-Sep Utah State 46
13-Sep at Boise State 12
21-Sep Wyoming 109
28-Sep at Nevada 74
5-Oct at Navy 95
10-Oct San Diego State 53
26-Oct Notre Dame 8
2-Nov Army 103
8-Nov at New Mexico 122
21-Nov UNLV 110
30-Nov at Colorado State 117
Five-Year F/+ Rk 58
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 98
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* -13 / -3.1
TO Luck/Game -3.8
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 9 (4, 5)
Yds/Pt Margin** +1.2

10. As many as 10 games are winnable

Again, Air Force doesn't redshirt its players, so its depth chart is always going to be stocked with upperclassmen. Consequently, this is a team that will almost always lose quite a few starters from year to year. Since Calhoun took over in 2007, for instance, Air Force has never returned more than six starters on offense and has only once returned more than six on defense.

Still, last year's turnover (total returning starters: 6) and this year's (9) is pretty stark. It is difficult to figure out if there is a reason for this further reliance on seniors (have the last few signing classes been pretty poor?) or if it is just randomness at work, but it is going to be difficult for Air Force to bounce back toward 2009 levels if it is starting over each year. Experience is just too valuable, especially to teams that aren't in line for four- and five-star recruits.

That said, the bowl streak should still continue on for a seventh straight year. Air Force plays seven teams projected 95th or worse this season and plays only three that are projected in the Top 50. The Falcons should be able to grind out six wins even if the quality doesn't improve much. If you're going to stagnate in a difficult job, there are worse fates than doing so while still going to the postseason every year.

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