Michigan vs. Air Force: View from other side
VIEW FROM THE OTHER SIDE
Brent Briggeman, Air Force beat writer for the Colorado Springs Gazette, breaks down the Falcons for The Detroit News, answering five questions heading into Saturday’s game. Follow him on Twitter @BrentBriggeman.
1. Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown had his team practicing for Air Force in the spring. What is the one thing Michigan's defense might struggle with most?
The combination of speed and deception makes the offense very difficult to stop. Air Force’s defenders, who face it for years in practice and then see different versions of it in option offenses from Army, Navy and New Mexico, say they still can’t figure it out. So, it’s a lot to ask for an opponent to find a way to not only effectively simulate it in practice but then grow accustomed to stopping it. And just when they think they’ve got it down, Air Force tends to pull up and hit a big pass.
2. This is broad, but could you define the strengths of quarterbacks Arion Worthman and Nate Romine and how they're used?
It’s not a two-quarterback system — at least it never has been — as Worthman is the clear No. 1 and Romine is the backup. Worthman, who took over midway through the year last year and helped the team finish with six straight wins, is speedy and built like a running back at 5-11, 205. Worthman has been an efficient passer but hasn’t drawn rave reviews for throwing a pretty ball. Romine, who broke onto the scene as a freshman in 2013, has a stronger arm but isn’t as explosive in the running game. Romine would qualify as the more prototypical college quarterback, but that’s not necessarily what translates best into Air Force’s offense.
3. No one talks much about the defense and maybe a shutout of VMI isn't the place to start, but the Falcons were 33rd nationally in total defense and strong against the run last season. Will that be the case this year? Is the secondary the weakness?
It’s not so much that the secondary is the weakness, but the style of play calls for frequent blitzes and leaves the corners often in difficult 1-on-1 matchups with no safety help. Few corners are going to win those battles consistently. Air Force pins its hopes defensively on creating enough havoc near the line to neutralize running attacks and make quarterbacks uncomfortable in passing situations. If teams can pick up the blitzes and QBs can display accuracy on deep balls, they’ll find big plays there for the taking.
4. You had a story in the Gazette this week about how the players have been looking forward toplaying in the Big House. Why has it been such a focal point for them?
I don’t know that it’s a focal point for anyone, as players at the academy typically do a good job of keeping their priorities in line. But it would be hard for anyone not to get excited about playing in front of 107,000-plus people. In the Mountain West, attendance is generally in the upper 30,000s, so this is obviously a departure from that and a shot to play in a famous venue. On top of that, Air Force has a number of players from Big Ten country, so they grew up familiar with that brand of football.
5. Troy Calhoun has been the Falcons' coach since 2007. How close has he come to leaving?
Calhoun keeps everything very close to the vest, so it’s hard to answer that definitively. But there have been plenty of rumors that he has been pretty close. The Denver Broncos and Tennessee were the jobs most closely tied to his name, but I’ve heard there were other places that got pretty far along in the process with him. It wouldn’t surprise me if he stays here for another decade or two, since he’s an Air Force grad and fits the system so well with his personality. That being said, he’s had success and brings an impressive background that has included time as an NFL offensive coordinator, so you never know what might be in his future.
FALCONS TO WATCH
Arion Worthman, QB: In the opener against VMI, Worthman rushed for 33 yards and a touchdown and was 8-of-12 for 172 yards and two touchdowns. He is 6-0 as a starter and averaged 100.8 yards rushing, while also making 60 percent of his throws. Worthman has averaged 5.0 yards a carry.
Tim McVey, RB: The senior rushed for 98 yards on 10 carries and scored a touchdown in the Falcons’ 62-0 victory over VMI in the opener. McVey also led the team with three catches for 77 yards. He is at or near the top of several all-time-best categories at Air Force. He is the career leader in rushing average (8.5) is second in kickoff return average (26.6) and second in receiving average (27.5). He has scored 27 touchdowns in 28 games.
Luke Strebel, K: The senior’s leg gets a lot of work. Last season he handled kickoffs, field goals and point-after-touchdown kicks. He was tied for the national lead in PAT and was ranked No. 9 nationally in field goals (1.69). Last season he made all 51 extra points and set a Mountain West record with 22 consecutive made field goals last season.
FACTS AND FIGURES
■ Stacked odds: Air Force is a 23-point underdog heading into the game against Michigan for the third meeting between the programs. The Wolverines lead the series, 2-0, and are playing for the first time since 2012 when Michigan won, 31-25. Air Force is 5-11-2 against teams from the Big Ten.
■ Back home: Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and Air Force coach Troy Calhoun are among 14 who coach their alma maters. Some of the others include Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern, Paul Chryst at Wisconsin, Tim Lester at Western Michigan and John Bonamego at Central Michigan.
■ Facing the ranked: The Wolverines are ranked No. 7 entering this game, and is the highest ranked team Air Force has faced since 2015 when it lost to No. 4 Michigan State 35-21. The Falcons are 18-75-3 all-time against ranked teams, including a 4-14 record under coach Troy Calhoun. Their last win over a ranked team was a 27-24 victory against No. 21 Colorado State in 2014. The Falcons last road win over a ranked opponent was Sept. 21, 2002 at California. Since then, they have lost 11 straight on the road.