Maybe it’s the crisp blue uniforms, the camouflage fatigues, and the military symbolism associated with Air Force’s football program. Maybe it’s the complex triple-option offense, which demands precision and quick thinking. Maybe it’s the 18 winning seasons in 21 years under coach Fisher DeBerry. Whatever the reason, Air Force has enjoyed a reputation nationally for being one of the most disciplined programs. But that hasn’t been the case so far this season. In each game, the Falcons have made more mistakes than their opponents in key areas such as turnovers, penalties and special teams. The uncharacteristic string of breakdowns cost Air Force a victory last Saturday against Wyoming and has left the Falcons (2-1) feeling some urgency heading into Thursday’s game at Utah’s Rice-Eccles Stadium. “I think in all three of our games we’ve made more mistakes than Air Force football should,” sophomore quarterback Shaun Carney said. “I think we were able to win the first two because we’re as talented as we are. “Against a very good team like Wyoming, you can’t have more mistakes than them. We have to be better and we have to get rid of these mistakes if we want to be a championship football team.” Coming off a 5-6 season that exposed deficiencies in all phases, Air Force has shown significant improvement offensively and defensively. But much of that has been negated by turnovers at crucial times and needless penalties. In the opener, two early Air Force turnovers helped Washington take an 11-point lead before the Falcons stormed back for a 20-17 victory. The Falcons’ general sloppiness against San Diego State helped the Aztecs get within 27-22 in the fourth quarter after Air Force took a 14-point lead at the start of the second half. The Falcons had three turnovers and a missed extra point against Wyoming. They also committed eight penalties, including a holding call in the second quarter against running back Kip McCarthy which turned a first down at Wyoming’s 25 into a third-and-9 that essentially ended a promising drive. At one point, Air Force’s defense was offside on consecutive snaps and also had an illegal substitution penalty on Wyoming’s winning drive. “We played hard, but you can’t have eight penalties and three turnovers and have the problems we did in the kicking game and beat anybody,” DeBerry said. “But still the score was just one point. We’re doing some doggone good things, but we haven’t put a whole game together yet.” As much as Air Force talked before the season about how crucial turnover ratio was to its success, the difference is minus-2. And that number could be worse. The Falcons have fumbled 11 times in three games, losing only four. “We’ve been making a lot more mistakes than normal, but it comes with a lot of guys who are ready to fire off the ball and get after the guy across instead of trying to be a methodical robot,” nose guard Russ Mitscherling said. “I think the mistakes have come from guys trying to make big plays and pushing the edge, pushing the limit. Now some guys are starting to realize there’s a fine line between pushing the edge and not going over the edge.” DeBerry said one answer is stressing concentration and communication. He cited one example against Wyoming, where Jim Ollis took a kickoff out of the end zone when he shouldn’t have. Carney said it was his job as quarterback to address the team about mistakes. “You just have to be disciplined,” Carney said. “You can’t let yourself hold somebody. You can’t let yourself go out there and miss a punt, miss a throw, take risks. You have to be more disciplined than we have been the last couple games.” NEXT Air Force (2-1, 1-1 MWC) at Utah (2-1, 0-1), 5:30 p.m. Thursday, ESPN, 740 AM, 560 AM
Colorado Springs Gazette has disabled the comments for this article.