The Air Force Falcons enter their second bye week of the 2014 season with a 5-2 record and in control of achieving two of their major goals. Each season the Falcons set three team goals: 1) Win the Commander-in-Chief Trophy, 2) Become Bowl Eligible and 3) Win the Mountain West Conference. The Falcons can accomplish their top two goals in their next game when they face Army on November 1st at West Point, New York. At the bye week, it is the perfect time to access the Falcons and grade their performances to this point in the season.
Kale Pearson has been the stabilizing force for the Falcons this year. He has provided the senior leadership necessary for the Falcons to make their resurgence back to respectability after last year's fiasco of a season. He has been solid in the running game as the Falcons are the 10th best rushing team in the NCAA and has provided the Falcons with a steady passing game (957 yards passing, 7 touchdowns, 1 interception) that takes advantage of play action and utilizes the strengths of wide receivers Jalen Robinette (475 yards receiving and 1 touchdown) and Garrett Brown (342 yards receiving and 5 touchdowns). Pearson, who has rushed for 370 yards and four touchdowns, balances the running game that features running back Jacobi Owens (735 yards rushing, 4 touchdowns) to this point in the season. The Falcons also reintroduced the fullbacks into the game plan against New Mexico with the strong rushing performances of Shayne Davern and D.J. Johnson. The fullback attack had been missing going into that game, but the duo rushed for 136 yards and three touchdowns in that game, almost doubling the output the position had produced in the first six games. The Falcons have as balanced of an attack offensively heading into the second half of the season as they have had in years and Pearson's steady hands have been all over the offense. Grade - A-
The Falcons had their hands full with the New Mexico running game, giving up 367 yards on the ground to the Lobos. That has been the one major hiccup for a vastly improved Air Force rush defense this season. Still, after that ground surge by the Lobos last weekend, the Falcons are a respectable 49th in the nation in rushing defense surrendering only 146.3 yards per game on the ground. The Falcons have also faced two top ten rushing attacks in Navy and New Mexico and a top fifty rushing team in Boise State along the way. The pass defense is still a work in progress and is where the Falcons are the most vulnerable. Opponents average 250.3 yards a game through the air and the Falcons defeats can be traced directly back to their suspect pass defense. What has balanced out the defense is that Air Force has only allowed 10 touchdowns through the air and have forced seven interceptions to go along with six fumble recoveries to win the turnover battles, which was highlighted in their huge upset of Boise State. The Falcons improvement has a lot to do with the defense being coordinated solely by Steve Russ after he had to shard last year's co-defensive coordinator assignment. Grade - B
Air Force has been an entertaining team to watch again in 2014. The Falcons have executed at a much better rate than they did last year, and while still over-matched at times, their defense has made the most of their opportunities and has gotten the ball back to the offense at a greater rate than in 2013. This team will always rely on its offense, and the offense has been very good to this point in the season. But, it has been the defense that has provided the biggest moments of the year. Weston Steelhammer and his three interception game that saw a total of seven turnovers created against Boise State and holding Navy to 36 yards rushing in the second half have been the highlights of the season for the Falcons to this point, and have put the team in the driver seat to earn back the Commander-in-Chief Trophy and become bowl eligible. Also, with their victory over Boise State, the Falcons still have a say in winning the Mountain Division in the conference. They don't control their destiny, as Boise State is a game ahead of them in the standings, but should Boise State stumble and Air Force and Colorado State win all their remaining games in conference, the season finale in Colorado Springs could be for the Mountain Division title. Grade - A-