Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) -
2013 SEASON IN REVIEW: 2013 was a major disappointment for the Falcons and head coach Troy Calhoun as he experienced his worst season at the helm of the Air Force program.
The squad won a total of just two games, one of those coming against Colgate at home in the opener, 38-13. It would be eight more games before the Falcons would find themselves in the win column, thanks to a 42-28 triumph over an Army team that won a total of three games in 2013.
Calhoun watched his squad go winless in eight chances against the rest of the Mountain West Conference, leaving the group sixth in the Mountain Division. It was the first time that Air Force went winless in league action under Calhoun and just the second time in seven seasons that it failed to finish above .500 in MWC play. The Falcons lost 10 games for the first time in the program's history, and went winless in league play for the first time since joining the Western Athletic Conference in 1980.
The defense was especially suspect as all but two opponents scored at least 28 points, and three times foes eclipsed the 50-point plateau (Utah State, Wyoming, and Colorado State). The Academy was next-to-last in scoring defense, permitting 40.0 ppg, as the group gave up 490.2 ypg, yet just 239.7 ypg through the air. If there was one aspect of the game that the Falcons found comfort it was in the red zone where they were first in the league with a scoring percentage of .946, resorting to field goals just six times in 35 scoring drives that made their way inside the 20-yard line.
It must be noted that injuries took a major toll on the Falcons and forced the program to call on countless underclassmen to fill the numerous voids. While it was a learning experience in 2013, all of those opportunities for play by youngsters should give the squad some advantages moving forward.
OFFENSE: At Air Force, the quarterback has been little more than a facilitator for the running attack historically, but in recent years coach Calhoun has tried to open up the offense a little bit more and catch defenses off-guard with a subtle aerial attack. Signal caller Nate Romine, still just a sophomore, showed he could handle the change in plan better than anyone else who was given the opportunity a season ago. He attempted just 81 passes, but ended up with five touchdowns and only one interception, resulting in a solid 134.76 efficiency rating.
Although he wasn't considered a starter in 2013, Jalen Robinette may have played himself into that spot moving forward after averaging 18.2 yards per catch and reaching the end zone three times. No one had more than 19 receptions (Garrett Brown) a year ago for the Falcons, but that all could change given the right approach.
As is always the case, the stable of running backs rotating in and out for Air Force is what makes the offense tick. A total of 10 players scored at least one rushing touchdown last season, with Anthony LaCoste and Broam Hart doing most of the damage with six scores apiece. LaCoste has left the nest, but that doesn't mean Hart will automatically pick up the slack. After averaging 6.5 yards per attempt, Jon Lee has earned himself some additional touches and Romine has to learn when to tuck the ball under and make his move up the field because an average of 2.7 yards per carry is simply not good enough for a quarterback in this offense .
Hindering the progression of the rushing attack this time around might be the fact that there are just two returning starters along the offensive line in Matt Rochell and fifth-year center Michael Husar. Giving the front line a bit of respect is Husar's inclusion on the watch list for the Rimington Trophy, which recognizes the top center in college football.
"What was supposed to be my last season, going 2-10 left a sour taste in my mouth, notes Husar. "We have a great tradition of football and to go 2-10 it was just a cumulative effect of injuries and just dumb mistakes all season. Since the day we lost to CSU -- that next day we got in the weight room and we've been working ever since. We're not letting it happen again."
Husar, who was named honorable mention all-conference after last season, made his return to the field in 2013 after suffering a season-ending knee injury a year earlier.
DEFENSE: The defense for the Falcons has a lot of work to do. The unit, decimated by injury, had difficulty stopping almost everyone in front of them. Looking at the positive, the group brings back eight players who were penciled in as starters at one point or another in 2013. All of them are now juniors and seniors, but make no mistake, they will need underclassmen to help shoulder the load and bring them back from what was a dismal campaign.
Senior defensive back Christian Spears might be a bit undersized at 5-foot-9, but that didn't stop him from being the biggest hitter for the Falcons a year ago, posting a team-best 92 stops and also accounting for two of the squad's four interceptions.
Also ready to patrol the secondary again is Dexter Walker who came away with 91 tackles and three forced fumbles in 2013. Unfortunately, the fact that defensive backs were the ones headlining the tackles list goes to show just how ineffective the linebacking corps was for the Falcons. However, don't tell that to Joey Nichol, third in tackles with 80 in just nine games, because he would have surely been atop the stat sheet had it not been for an injury that put him on the sidelines for the final three games.
Ready to make more of an impact this time around is linebacker Connor Healy who missed the first couple of games last year because of injury. Healy is still getting his feet wet at the Academy, having produced just 25 total stops in 16 games over the last two years, but he is itching to get back on the field and right some wrongs from a year ago.
"I think just a different attitude in our program now, really an attitude that we're fed up with losing -- its not Air Force football, it's not what this program is about," says Healy.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Hopefully the Falcons will not have to call on him too much this season, but if they do, kicker Will Conant might be one of the best the team has ever had at the position. He is one of just two Air Force kickers to convert three field goals from 50 yards or beyond in a single season, matching Ryan Harrison who turned the trick in 2007. Conant, named to the 2014 Lou Groza Watch List, ranked third in the conference with 84.6 percent accuracy on his field goals last season, the fourth-best mark in program history.
While Conant is a constant for the squad at his position, the Falcons will need to find a replacement for punter David Baska who was forced to kick away an average of four times per game and did his best to aid his defense by averaging 39.5 yards per punt.
Bringing back kicks will be an area that needs attention since LaCoste is no longer around to reprise his roll on kickoffs and punt returns, of which the team registered a mere seven, averaging a paltry 3.3 yards in the process.
OUTLOOK: While predictions are rarely spot-on, it should be noted that the Falcons failed to place a single player on the preseason all-conference team this year. That's not to say that there isn't talent to be found up and down the roster, but it does intimate that this will probably be another tough campaign for coach Calhoun and his crew.
Outside of meetings with Nicholls State and Georgia State during the first few weeks of the season, there doesn't seem to be much in the way of comfortable matchups for the Falcons in 2014, and that could easily see a repeat of last year's disappointing turn.