Notre Dame travels to Colorado Springs, Colo., where it’ll battle the altitude and the Air Force Falcons.
Irv Moss, Air Force football beat writer for The Denver Post, answers some questions about Air Force’s downward spiral, its quarterback drama and why the defense is one of the worst in college football.
Question: This program seemed to be heading in the right direction under head coach Troy Calhoun, but now Air Force is 1-6 and winless in the Mountain West. What happened this year?
Irv Moss: Definitely a down cycle. A smaller group of senior players than usual is a factor. Six players were suspended for violating academy standards before the 2012 season. Most would be seniors this year.
Coach Troy Calhoun maintains that the priority of the institution is to turn out officers for the Air Force. But through the first four, five years of Calhoun’s term and most of the time of Fisher DeBerry, Air Force won football games as well.
Q: Can you give us a rundown of what exactly is going on at Air Force’s quarterback position? The Falcons have shuffled through four of them already. Who gets the call this weekend?
Moss: There were concerns about the lack of playing experience at quarterback from the beginning. It only magnified when junior Kale Pearson was injured and lost for the season in the first game against Colgate. Pearson had very limited game experience.
Sophomore Jaleel Awini became the starter and lasted three games before falling victim to academy standards in academics, military conduct or citizenship, take your pick. Awini had no collegiate game experience.
Sophomore Karson Roberts was next up, and the Falcons played better against Nevada and Navy. But Roberts suffered a head injury against San Diego State, and freshman Nate Romine finished the game. Roberts didn’t practice during a bye week but was cleared to practice on Monday. He’s listed as the starter on Air Force’s weekly depth chart.
Q: Air Force’s option offense is unique in many ways, especially in that it takes away some of the physical mismatch that players like Louis Nix present. What kind of challenge does the Falcon ground game present for Notre Dame?
Moss: Calhoun has steadily gotten away from the basic triple option offense that was prominent during DeBerry’s time and the first couple of seasons when Calhoun took over. While some triple option formations usually are mixed into the game plan, the Falcons are more of a zone running team. So far their running game hasn’t been as dominant as it was before and critics are saying they want to see more triple option.
Q: Air Force will likely never have a top-tier defense, but it’s scraping the bottom in almost ever statistical defensive category and dead-last in third down defense. What’s the diagnosis of this unit?
Moss: This year’s Air Force defense isn’t even up to Air Force standards. Defensive line is one of the most difficult areas for Air Force recruiters to fill. Opposing offensive linemen are getting bigger every year. The play up front has a lot to do with the opponent converting third downs. The Air Force defense really needs those long triple-option drives to keep the opposing offense off the field.
Q: Notre Dame is coming off its two biggest wins of the season; Air Force is still trying to beat an FBS school. How do you see Saturday playing out at Falcon Stadium?
Moss: Air Force has beaten Notre Dame before, but it’s highly unlikely to happen this year. I look for the Falcons to give a good account of themselves, but the Irish are much better in too many ways.