Friday, October 9, 2009

AFA gameday preview

The Frogs begin conference play in chilly Colorado Springs, facing a depleted version of one of the trickiest offenses in the nation, and a much fuller-strength version of a national top defense. Air Force's triple-option ground attack was brought nigh unto perfection last season with Tim Jefferson, Asher Clarke, and a young offensive line. Almost the entire offense returned this year, but seems to be suffering a collective sophomore slump. The Academy's starting QB and TB have both been playing under subpar physical condition, while their best receiver is just beginning to take snaps again in practice, after breaking a leg during the summer. Emotionally, the cadets have got to be reeling from the narrow overtime miss last week against Navy, (and missing their best linebacker, injured in that game) and the brooding threat of facing the MWC's best team this week.

Were that the entire list of bad news about this game, the Frogs' prognosis would be very good indeed. But all is not peaches coming out of Fort Worth, either. Mother Nature seems to have adopted the Academy's mood following the loss to Navy, and has a frigid, windy, wet night in store. One very reliable source says the Frog players were unfocused this week, and practiced very poorly. There are some foes for which poor practices may not bode too ill, but AFA is a team that will exploit mistakes: they're +13 in turnovers so far this season (leading the nation on average average), and have scored five defensive TDs in that span. Offensively, the Frogs simply cannot afford to make mistakes.

Defensively, TCU faces the same imperative. AFA converts a slightly higher percentage of third downs than TCU (44% to 41%), but does so largely on the ground. TCU has the best rush-defense in the nation, but has not played an option-based attack this season. While expected ground leaders Tim Jefferson and Asher Clarke have been playing injured, Savier Stevens (pictured) has picked up some of the slack, and leads the Falcons' so far in ground yards. The Academy's star lineman, Nick Charles, is back on the field.

Is there good news to take some of the "trap" out of this conference opener? Much of it. Most of the defensive players for TCU have prepared for the AFA attack three or four times already. Only Tank Carder has less experience with it, among the starters (Carder has seen it twice). Dalton and the offense take to Colorado Springs the bitter memory of the '07 overtime loss, (the frustration of that loss is evident in the photo from it at left) and a vast store of experience acquired since then. If the Frogs will focus and be assignment sound, they'll keep the ball to themselves. On the flip side, Air Force has had difficulty scoring more than field goals; their offense hasn't found the endzone in its last two games. Little about the TCU defense suggests they'll rediscover it frequently this weekend. Surely they'll run plays TCU hasn't seen, but if the Frogs play to most of their potential, AFA's innovation simply won't matter.

And that's the big if. TCU has shown only glimpses of its potential this season. The Frogs must show a lot more of it today if they're going to keep this game uninteresting, and be able to leverage it into a rise in the polls. The Wimple sees the Frogs pull away after haltime tomorrow, and win unsatisfyingly by about two scores. Otherwise, it may come down to giving Ross Evans a chance to redeem his reputation for prowess at high-pressure field goals. Let's hope Evans (and all of Frogdom) is spared that ordeal. TCU 27, AFA 14.
For further reading: Spitblood; AP; Colorado Springs Gazette; KFC's David May; BleacherReport; SportingNews.

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