Air Force defense geared to stop BYU passing attack

Air Force defense geared to stop BYU passing attack

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COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO. -- The Air Force Academy has struggled this season to crack the Mountain West Conference's ‘Big Three.'

The Falcons (7-4, 5-2 MWC) lost a tough one to TCU 20-17, then neglected to take advantage of a struggling Utah team in Salt Lake City, losing 23-16 in overtime.

Is the third time the charm?

Air Force now travels to Provo to take on a confusing BYU football team.

The No. 22 ranked Cougars (8-2, 5-1), have had their ups and downs all season; awesome showings against then No. 3 ranked Oklahoma (14-13) and in blowouts against UNLV (59-21) and Wyoming (52-0) tempered by humiliating losses to Florida State (54-28) and TCU (38-7), both at home.

Now BYU is coming off a head-scratching win against New Mexico, where they looked disinterested and dysfunctional.

The Falcons are on a roll having won three straight and four of their last five and they have one of the best defenses ever at the Academy to thank.

Air Force is seventh nationally in total defense (265.4 yards/game) and third nationally in turnover margin (+18), having forced 25 turnovers.

"To have a winning season at the Air Force Academy we must, we absolutely have to be plus in turnover margin," Air Force Head Coach Troy Calhoun professed.

He noted early in the season his cadets forced a lot of turnovers and "it is something we have to get back to," to continue to have success against an offensive powerhouse like BYU.

The Cougars are the top passing team in the conference (12th nationally at 295.6 yards/game) and are averaging more than 35 points a game.

Asked how to shut down the Cougar offense, Calhoun put it plainly, "You can't. The part that is so impressive is the size they have up front and the power they have in the running game with (Harvey) Unga and (Manase) Tonga.

"Certainly they have a quarterback that is veteran, extremely efficient, very accurate, a tremendous leader and I think the other thing that's been noticeable in Max Hall is that he has made a bunch of plays with his feet too; either in predetermined runs or scrambles where he's been able to keep a play alive."

Calhoun couldn't help but also mention Dennis Pitta, whom Calhoun calls one of the best tight-ends in all of college football.

Pitta and the other Cougar receivers are the reason Calhoun felt it necessary to stock his secondary with some of his program's most athletic players and it is paying off.

Air Force is first nationally in pass defense allowing a minuscule 127.9 yard per game and has picked off 12 passes in 11 games.

"We have a group that probably, at least in terms of quickness and ball skills and anticipation and instincts, is one of the best groups we've had here at the Air Force Academy," Calhoun opined.

So Saturday's contest is going to pit strength against strength; one of the nation's top passing offenses against the nation's top pass defense.

That begs the question, "what about the run?"

Coincidentally, the Air Force run defense and the Cougar run offense are both ranked 56th nationally.

You can hear more from Coach Calhoun Saturday during the BYU pre-game show beginning at 11:30 a.m. on KSL Newsradio 102.7FM/1160AM.

Kickoff is schedule for 1:30 p.m. from LaVell Edwards Stadium.

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