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COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO. -- By the sound in his voice, Air Force Head Coach Troy Calhoun believes his Air Force Falcons (4-3, 3-1 MWC) have a chance against the 19th ranked Utah Utes (5-1, 2-0) Saturday afternoon in Salt Lake City.
And why not? The Falcons feature the nation's seventh best defense in points allowed and fourth ranked rushing attack in the country, but Calhoun knows the game won't be easy.
"We get a chance to face a heck of a test this week going to Salt Lake to play against an excellent Utah team," Calhoun stated. "We are making some strides. I think we have played pretty well in conference encounters. Last week was a really good win for us."
Last week the Falcons beat an emerging Wyoming team 10-0. It wasn't pretty, Calhoun admitted, but he said most Air Force-Wyoming games aren't. Calhoun said his team's typical matchups with the Cowboys are ‘grind-‘em-out' -type games and there's not a team in the Mountain West that does that better than Air Force.
The Falcons feature the conference's most prolific running attack. They have run the ball 431 times in seven games and thrown it just 75 times. The next closest team in terms of rushing attempts is TCU, almost 150 fewer attempts.
Air Force averages 279.3 yards on the ground, led by Park City High's Jared Tew (60.3 yards a game), Savie Stephens (51.3), Asher Clark (50.1) and quarterback Connor Dietz (45.2). The Falcons have four of the top 11 rushers in the Mountain West.
Calhoun gives two reasons for their success on the ground. One, The Falcons play a lot of close ball games (three losses by seven or fewer points) and two, "When you look at our football team and probably more so, the makeup of Academy kids, I think there's probably an element there that requires a ton of discipline that allows you to be that methodical."
Calhoun said, "Ultimately you'd like to have two-play drives and have 80 yard bombs," but the heavy-minded rushing attack fits his personnel better.
While the Ute defense will be focused on stopping the run, the Ute Offense will need to be conscientious of the ball-hawking Falcon defense.
Air Force has forced 21 turnovers in 2009, is number one in the country in turnover margin (+17) and has the fourth best pass defense in the nation.
The tight coverage has allowed the Falcons' rushers to get to the quarterback 19 times, tops in the MWC.
"What we do best is run the football on offensive and defensively we're pretty good against the run and we come up with simple ways to do a good job in coverage," Calhoun said. "That's one area that has really helped us, is that we've been able to flip rather than be a little helter-skelter. This year we've been able to play a lot more coverage."
Kickoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. from Rice-Eccles Stadium. You can follow all the action on KSL.com with the live game blog beginning at 1:30 p.m.