Michigan vs. Air Force Primer

Connor Dietz

Going to the game…a tailgate… maybe just the day with watching with friends on TV? Don't be caught off guard with what happens on the field, Saturday. Know your opponent with the Michigan vs. Air Force Primer.

Each week we scout Michigan's opponent. We'll start with the basics, and then explore some relevant match-ups. For those that want to know more, we'll sprinkle in a mixture of history, reflection, and philosophy for a comprehensive look.

#8 Michigan (0-1) vs. Air Force (1-0)

Michigan Schedule
 (L) Alabama (in Dallas, Tx) 41-14

Air Force Schedule
(W) Idaho State 49-21

Air Force Players to Watch:
QB Connor Deitz (Sr. #11) Rushed for a 49 yd TD last week; from Columbus, Ohio.
RB Cody Getz (Sr. #28) Rushed for a career high 218 yards and three scores.
RB Mike DeWitt (Sr. #25) Led the team with 12 touchdowns in 2011; 2nd in rushing (567)
LB Alex Means (Sr. #9) One of two returning defensive starters; Honorable Mention for MWC in 2011

Last meeting:  U-M wins 24-7 in 1964

What a win means for Michigan: It means the sky isn’t falling. It would be likely that their fundamentals and disciplines, especially on defense, would be improving.

What a win means for Air Force:  It would be their first win over a ranked team on the road since beating California in 2002. It puts them on track for a 6th consecutive bowl appearance.

What Does Air Force Brag About?

  • They haven’t been shutout since 1992, as span of 224 games, the fourth longest nationally.
  • They’ve played in five consecutive bowl games, a school record.
  • They’ve led the Mountain West Conference in rushing the previous 13 seasons
  • They’ve won the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy the last two seasons.

Last Week: Air Force cruised past Idaho State, 49-21, at home. The Falcons option attack rushed for 484 yards. Cody Getz (Sr. #28) rushed for career highs of 218 yards and three touchdowns including scores from 63 and 41 yards. Senior quarterback Connor Deitz (#11) also scored on a 49 yard run. Deitz was 8-11 for 142 yards passing. Idaho State plays out of the Big Sky, an FCS team.

Injuries:  Starting center Michael Husar Jr. (Jr. #65) will miss the 2012 season with ACL and MCL injuries suffered in the Idaho State game. The timing couldn’t be worse for the family. His father Michael Sr. was likely excited to see his son play in the stadium he did as a four year starter from 1985-1988. Husar is arguably their best lineman.  Austin Hayes (Jr. #61) will likely make his first start after playing the previous two seasons on the junior varsity squad.

Wide receiver Ty MacArthur (Jr. #27) was knocked out of the game in the 2nd quarter. He’s questionable for Saturday. Despite the brief appearance MacArthur led the team in receiving with four of the team’s eight catches and 78 of the team’s 142 passing yards.

Overview

Air Force uses a variety of run-oriented offenses that makes it very difficult for defensive coaches to prepare for. The execution and precision are what makes them successful. The Falcons nearly upset Oklahoma in 2010, and put up 565 yards in a losing effort to Notre Dame, 59-33. The best scenario for Air Force is to play a team that may be focused on a prior game or gearing up for a rivalry game. This is what they got when facing Michigan right after the Alabama loss and two weeks before Notre Dame.

The best case for Michigan is to play an Air Force team that is inexperienced early in the season, which is what they got as well. The Falcons lose eight on offense and nine on defense. It has to be comparable with Boise State with the least returning players in all the FBS. Five of the six all-conference players in 2011 will not be back this year. The one that did is kicker Parker Herrington (Sr. #18).

The Air Force Academy doesn’t give out scholarships and they don’t redshirt their players. The Cadets attend the Academy for eight semesters. Only in the rare occasion, when a student is so injured that he can’t complete his physical regimen and his academic course work, is a student-athlete get granted a ninth semester. Such is the case with Deitz. With the absence of Husar, there are only 64 players on the roster. It’s like they’re playing on probation -- but under head coach Troy Calhoun, the Academy is 24-15 in conference play and have appeared in a bowl game in each of Calhoun’s five seasons. Calhoun and several of the assistant coaches are also Cadet graduates.

Michigan Offense vs. Air Force Defense

Like an Indiana or a Minnesota right now, the Falcons can’t put up a significant defense. They may have a few players that could get some post season recognition, but as a unit, this team gives up yards against the more successful schools. This year there are a number of things that further that handicap. First, the Falcons don’t have the team speed necessary to keep up with Denard Robinson (Sr. #16) and Fitzgerald Toussaint (Jr. #28). Air Force ranked T-109th in rushing defense last season. This defense has two returning starters, linebacker Alex Means (Sr. #9) and Nick Fitzgerald (So. 97). Two other partial starters from last year’s defense, linebacker Jamil Cooks and safety Anthony Wooding are mysteriously not on the roster. Calhoun has said they are not suspended and are enrolled in school, but are not practicing. Cooks and Wooding combined for 107 tackles last season.

Since the Academies rosters aren’t generally blessed with speed, it will be extremely difficult for anyone to simulate Robinson or Toussaint in practice. As a 3-4 base, they will try to attack more under new defensive coordinator Chartlon Warren and take their chances. Warren doesn’t believe that ‘reading and reacting’ under their previous coordinator was a good idea. Opponents converted just over 50% on 3rd down last season as the defensive line allowed the offenses to instigate control, while the secondary played very soft in coverage.

They’re severely underweight on the line (averaging 255 lbs) and most teams run on them instead of passing because they can at will. Last week was an exception as Idaho State, a primarily passing team did what they do best. Bengal quarterback Kevin Yost hit 41-of-52 passes for 355 yards and two touchdowns in the loss.

If Michigan doesn’t put thirty on the board, there might be some real cause for concern about the offense, but expect everyone on the Michigan offense to get some confidence.

Michigan Defense vs. Air Force Offense

If Michigan’s defense can play fundamental, gap-assignment football like Alabama did last Saturday, then the Wolverine defense should look as dominant as the Crimson Tide. Make no mistake, Alabama was going to win, but part of Alabama’s success were aided by Michigan's self-inflicted errors that included gap responsibility, over pursuit, under pursuit, and containment.

“Alabama was a very good football team, but Alabama did not have the success they had solely because they were bigger, faster, stronger,” echoed Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. “They had it because we didn’t play technique and we didn’t tackle.”

Technique-wise, Michigan didn’t likely grade out very well, and this Saturday they’ll need to get A’s to stop a diversified offense that is broadly described as a triple-option. However, they throw out there a bit of everything except pass-spread.

“You watch us right now -- we’re a zone running team and we’re a toss sweep, and those are two things you see in the running part of it, with a good bit of play-action pass,” says Falcons head coach Troy Calhoun.

Don’t be too concerned with the Air Force passing game. Their dual threat ability was taken away with the loss of four year starter Tim Jefferson, who statistically was their best quarterback in history. Deitz had been the back-up the whole time getting some spot duty each year, but after watching the highlights last week on their website, the ball seemed to flutter in the air without much velocity. The Michigan defense should be salivating whenever the ball is thrown. Against Idaho State, Deitz averaged nearly 13 yards per attempt, but any question of success for the Falcons passing game may rest with whether MacArthur will be available to play (see injury report above). Their leading returning receiver Mikel Hunter has also mysteriously disappeared from the roster and may not be returning at all. Michigan’s corners will be more concerned with run support than pass coverage.

Deitz does have the requisite ability to run, and proved it with his 49 yard touchdown run last Saturday. Getz surprised many by being a top of the depth chart for the first game but became the first 200 yard rusher for the Falcons since 2007. Getz came into the season with 286 career rushing yards in three years playing behind Asher Clark, who finished 18 yards short of becoming the Academy’s all-time leading rusher. As a team, rushing for nearly 500 yards, as they did last week, should give concerns to any defensive coordinator, including Mattison.

“As a coach I’ll be dead honest with you. This is an offense that put 500 yards of rushing -- I don’t care who you’re playing, getting 500 yards is a lot of yards. Playing a wishbone first of all makes you be unbelievably sound technique and assignment. If you slip up one time it can be a big play. So that’s a concern.”

The average O-line weight is less than 260, but the Falcons don’t play a power run game. It’s about misdirection. One of things they do is run different plays from the same formation in hopes a defense will predict incorrectly what the play will be coming out of the huddle. The Falcons also run the same play from a different formation.  Mattison believes the scout team is instrumental in how the defense plays.

“As quick as we get our scout team to do a good job, that’ll determine how we’ll play. When we win this football game, it’s going to be because the scout team gave us a great picture. That’s always the case when you’re playing a wishbone. That scout team can win or lose that game for you by how they give you a great picture all week in that kind of offense.”

The Michigan defense should have this game under control play after play, but if any mental lapse could result in big plays for the Falcons. If enough of those were to occur, Air Force can stick around in the 2nd half -- and create even more questions about the state of the defense in 2012.

Falcon you’ll remember after the game is over:  Connor Deitz

Really, this won’t be a memorable cast of players unless there’s an upset, but Deitz is the quarterback that either keeps it or hands it off. He’s also from Columbus, Ohio.

ENJOY THE GAME!

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