Preview: Air Force 2012 Comment Count

Brian September 7th, 2012 at 2:48 PM

Previously here: Ace FFFF! Mini Program. Air Force/Umass wallpaper.

Other stuff: Daily interviews Falcons QB Connor Dietz. Know Your Foe from the MZone. Tremendous breaks down the Air Force offense. Previews from BWS, Holdin' The Rope



WHAT Michigan vs Air Force
WHERE Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI
WHEN 3:30 pm Eastern, September 8st 2012
THE LINE Michigan –21.5
TELEVISION ESPN2/ABC reverse mirror (coverage map)
WEATHER windy, mid-60s, slight chance of rain

[HEY BOO-URNSERS: I know ain't no one gonna tell you what to do, but booing a service academy when they are introduced is a terrible idea. Let's not do that! None of you are reading this blog, probably.]

Run Offense vs Air Force

Fitzgerald Toussaint Western Michigan v Michigan 5IrRccQg6G-l[1]

what up mr kotter, what up

After a comprehensively abysmal outing against Alabama, Michigan gets a slightly better matchup against the Falcons. Subtract 70 pounds from everyone on the Alabama defense and add serious engineering degrees for most: that's Air Force. Thank gawd.

Last week Air Force beat up on I-AA Idaho State. The Fighting Gutierrezeses were 2-9 last year, losing to the various Montana, Utah, and Washington I-AA teams by scores like 54-13. They averaged—wait for it—27 yards rushing doing so. This is not data.

We don't have much in the way of data we can take forward from last year's Falcon outfit since they turned over seven starters, but if we assume they'll be a lot like last year's outfit, Michigan should go buck-wild on what was the #109 rushing defense. The Notre Dame game featured in Ace's FFFF saw the Irish go for 266 yards on 29 carries, including a 78-yard run by Andrew Hendrix(!). Brady Hoke's old outfit and 2011 common opponent San Diego State put up 201 on 35 carries, with Ronnie Hillman going for 172. Undersized and heavily reliant on confusing the opponent with blitzes, Air Force stands little chance of holding up against any reasonably good BCS-level rushing attack.

Michigan should have one of those again. They've got Fitzgerald Toussaint back, and since this is an overmatched opponent Michigan will probably run Denard 30 times. I'm not sure we learned anything about Michigan in the first game for the exact opposite reason we didn't learn anything about Air Force in the first game; extrapolating from past seasons suggests Michigan will run riot.

Key Matchup: Offensive line vs getting push. This should not be a problem, but we're all spooked after last week's total inability to block any-damn-body.

[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the news. Which is less bad!]

Pass Offense vs Air Force

Sep 1, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; MIchigan Wolverines  wide receiver Devin Gardner (12) catches a pass during the third quarter of the game against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Cowboys Stadium. Alabama beat Michigan 41-14. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-US PRESSWIRE

This isn't much of a strength either. In 2011 the Falcons were so bad defending stuff on the ground that opponents mostly just did that. Air Force was 6th in passing yardage allowed… and 81st in pass efficiency allowed*. Tommy Rees put up a 23/32, 261 yard, 4 touchdown line (with no interceptions!). Ryan Lindley's was 15/21, 209 yards, 2 touchdowns. They were not good a year ago.

Judging from their opener, they're still not good. Idaho State's Kevin Yost—woo!—put up video game numbers: 41/52, 355 yards, 2TD-1INT despite having no running game to speak of.

I wish I could give you more than the thousand-foot overview but playing Academy teams, especially early in the season, is an exercise in reading season previews that all say "these 18 new starters are at the Air Force Academy, and this is all we know." Bill Connolly:

So does identity trump the individual? We will find out in 2012. Jefferson, Warzeka and Kauth are all gone, but that's not even the half of it. In all, Air Force must replace its top two quarterbacks, top running back, three top receivers, top two tight ends, four of its top six offensive linemen, four of its top six defensive linemen, three of its top five linebackers, its top two cornerbacks and its best safety. And for good measure, the Falcons must replace their top kickoff returner and punt returner too.

The new guys don't have recruiting profiles, obviously. They're unknowns. Probably not very good unknowns, yeah.

The bet is that Michigan will have plenty of opportunities to find open receivers as Air Force plays a conservative strategy based around having a nuclear engineer at corner instead of Dee Milliner. The test for Denard will be confirming this site's positive opinion of his accuracy and not throwing any of those ohhhh shiiii passes we have come to know far too well in recent times.

The other thing everyone wearing blue will be looking for is progression from Devin Gardner after a debut that was equal parts promise and frustration. He'll be open, and Michigan will be throwing. Their ability to connect will be a big part of whether this is a comfortable victory or a nail-biter.

*[Pre-Snap Read, I like you, but man

The Falcons have held 35 of their last 36 opponents under 300 yards through the air. Over the last five years, Air Force has allowed an average of 180.2 passing yards per game. Few teams in the country do a better job defending the pass.


Key Matchup: The classic here: Man vs Himself.  Man, of course, being Denard.

Run Defense vs Air Force


This is going to be hairy. Michigan couldn't find a run fit to save their lives against Alabama and now they're going with what Connolly refers to "almost a Mike Leach approach to the triple option," running a small set of base option plays out of a blizzard of formations and alignments. Here's an Every Snap equivalent from their game with San Diego State last year:

That's a bit of an oddity since Tim Jefferson threw a whopping 36 times in that game, more than double his season average, as Air Force lost 41-27.

The Air Force offensive line is tiny but they just cut the daylights out of you and I saw most of Michigan's front seven react to that very poorly last weekend. A point in Michigan's favor: last year they rebounded from a crappy option performance against Northwestern to shut down Nebraska, and the critical guys on the edges and at safety all return.

New starting quarterback Connor Dietz is not wet behind the ears. He's a senior who's played with some consistency for three years. He had 678 rushing yards to his name before the year started and added 74 against Idaho State. Senior Cody Getz was the main guy last week with 218 yards on 17 carries. He's a 5'7" senior—Air Force is not large. As with all options teams, a blizzard of different players get carries.

Michigan will have to play the proverbial assignment football. More than that, they'll have to stay on their feet. Demens, Campbell, and Ryan have all had problems avoiding cut blocks in the past and will face a heap of them tomorrow. Keeping their feet and managing to pursue will help prevent eight yards plays from turning into 50.

I'm worried, but Michigan's best asset here is Kovacs, who was born to play against option teams. Safety in space against a tailback is sometimes kind of dangerous; not when it's Kovacs (and you're not TJ Yeldon). Big plays are more likely to happen on runs up the gut or the QB getting loose, and that should keep panic at a simmer instead of a boil.

Key Matchup: Kovacs versus tackles in space. In a universe not so different from our own, Kovacs is the best player on the Air Force defense (and probably an outside linebacker). Michigan will shoot him down into the box and use him in the space tackling role he excels in when he is not getting rolled by the Tide. A rebound day from him would cover up a lot of other mistakes.

Pass Defense vs Air Force

As with most option teams, the pass is just a keep-you-honest sideshow. Air Force attempted just under 16 passes a game last year; they opened 2012 by throwing eleven. Those passes are disproportionately effective due to their rarity. The Falcons averaged an impressive 8.9 YPA in 2011.

Like everywhere else, new folks man the QB and WR positions, so there's not a lot to tell you. Their #1 guy against Idaho State was 5'9" junior Ty MacArthur, who was mostly a runner a year ago. Dietz completed 53% of his passes in his first three years with the requisite high yards per completion.

Key Matchup: Not blowing it huge. Michigan will have to be careful here, as if the corners are never tasked with run support Air Force will adjust and blow out the safeties and bad news. If the corners get aggressive, that's a recipe for getting hit over the top.

Special Teams

Michigan's player of the game against Alabama came on special teams, whether it was Will Hagerup or Dennis Norfleet. Yay. Hagerup returned to his booming freshman ways, plastering six punts for an average of 51 yards each. Unfortunately, Michigan's crappy coverage…


this wasn't even the really long one

…saw those punts get brought back 16 yards each and Michigan's net punting is decidedly mediocre. Expect more of the same. You can't cover punts as long as Hagerup's with 20th century technology.

Brendan Gibbons did not attempt a field goal; Matt Wile was very good on kickoffs.

On the other sideline, Air Force only got two punts from junior David Baska in their blowout. Last year he averaged 41 yards a kick—eh. Senior kicker Parker Herrington was 15 of 18 last year, and those weren't just chip shots. Air Force was 14th in field goal efficiency last year according to FEI. Kickoffs were poor, though.

Key Matchup: Continue putting it through the uprights and booming it long ways, please.



that'll do, internet

Cheap Thrills

Worry if...

  • The entire defensive line is on their chests on the first drive.
  • The linebackers are still running right with line slants.
  • Denard's hypothetical Alabama accuracy turns out to be a mirage.

Cackle with knowing glee if...

  • "Guys, I plumb forgot the guy at quarterback has 2800 rushing yards the past two years. My bad."
  • Jordan Kovacs has 15 immaculate tackles.
  • The line throws various DL into the stands.

Fear/Paranoia Level: 3 (Baseline 5; –1 for Dee Milliner Is Thousands Of Miles Away, –1 for So Is The Rest Of Alabama, +1 for Run Fit Nyet, –1 for Now We'll Run Denard 30 Times, +1 for A Triple Option Team In The Week After You Played Alabama Seems Unwise, –1 for Denard/Fitz Versus Poor Rushing Defense Equal Confetti Explosion, –1 for And Now Denard's Accurate!, +1 for Maybe, +1 for And The Defensive Line Is Just Going To Fall Over All Day, –1 for Security Blanket Kovacs Was Born To Play This Game)

Desperate need to win level: 9 (Baseline 5; +1 for Let's Avoid Inverse First Two Games Of 2007, +1 for Losing After Being A Three Touchdown Favorite Is Bad, Mmmkay, +1 for Drinking More After UFRing A Game Would Be Toxic, +1 for This Is Michigan Fergodsakes, +1 for Senior Denard Sendoff Season, –1 for Nonconference Games Are Exhibitions /bo'd)

Loss will cause me to... blame Dave Brandon.

Win will cause me to... exhale about the offensive line.

The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:

Air Force's defense hasn't been able to stop anyone on the ground for a couple years now and they're breaking in mostly new players. The leap from Idaho State to Denard and Toussaint  is immense. The offensive line should handle the opponent a bit more easily than Jesse Williams and company. And Denard might be pretty accurate.

Michigan grinds on the ground and uses Denard as a sideshow. They stab themselves in the foot from time to time and there will be one drive snuffed out by a d'oh turnover. Other than that Michigan should roll down the field and put up points.

On the other side of the ball, Air Force will give you hives. Those linebackers were hesitant last week when they were playing an offense that just hands the ball off. Against the option there's a 50-50 shot the two inside linebackers run into each other on one play.

When Michigan gets it right, Air Force won't get anywhere. They'll get it wrong enough for this to be a close game longer than you're comfortable with it being unless the safeties come up huge.

Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:

  • Hoo, boy do we look like we need a lot of work containing the option. Air Force launches two knee-wobblingly long touchdown runs.
  • Denard completes 65% of his passes, looks super(!).
  • Fitzgerald Toussaint goes for 150 yards himself on around 20 carries.
  • Michigan, 32-22


Voltron Blue

September 7th, 2012 at 3:02 PM ^

...made me do a literal LOL.  Well done, internet.

That said, no way we have that much ease on the ground and only put up 32 unless we do a purposeful clock melt all day, which seems unwise until we have a three score lead.  I think this is a forty or fifty something to twenty or (gasp) thirty something game.


September 7th, 2012 at 3:51 PM ^

giving us a kitten on a jet when soon we will have Hockey Bear!?

This is a game that Bo would win by 30 or 40 while demonstrating as much respect as possible; Lloyd would turn into a gut wrencher, but a win; and RR would just lose ... maybe not if he was still around, but certainly with any of the 3 teams he fielded.  We'll see what BH does...I'm betting BO!


September 7th, 2012 at 3:05 PM ^

Putting aside the all ready mentioned idea that opponents frequently won't bother with passing when the running game suffices, since when is holding a team to under 300 yards passing a benchmark?


September 7th, 2012 at 3:08 PM ^

[HEY BOO-URNSERS: I know ain't no one gonna tell you what to do, but booing a service academy when they are introduced is a terrible idea. Let's not do that! None of you are reading this blog, probably.]

Good friendly reminder. This could only be topped by the idiots that clap after 'Taps' on Memorial Day.


September 7th, 2012 at 4:23 PM ^

Worth reminding: 

Go Blue! is such an improvement over You Suck! We especially have little room to point out other teams flaws on either side of the ball after our pummeling last Saturday. Keep it classy, student section, and just stick to supporting your team. It's to the point that people are pushing to have the band NOT play Temptaion at all anymore to stop it, so just stop it already.



September 7th, 2012 at 4:49 PM ^

At the viewing of the Bama game in the Big House, some alum or something got on the microphone during pregame and attempted to instruct the freshman in the Temptation chant, saying that they should say "Defense" instead of "You suck."  He then put Temptation on for a demonstration, and the stadium did "You suck" anyway as he was trying to lead the "Defense" chant.  Sorta painful.

Long story short, it doesn't sound like You Suck is going away anytime soon, whatever attempts there are to change it.


September 8th, 2012 at 11:08 AM ^

I'll say it again.  If I was at that game I would yell "You Suck" so loud my future CGOs would recognize my voice.  It is slightly not classy and I will give you that.  But at this point its become common place and like you said its not going away anytime soon because The Band won't stop playing Temptaion anytime soon.  If I were a cadet I would want to be treated like every other team that comes to the Big House. 


September 7th, 2012 at 5:11 PM ^

Not just for Air Force.  If we want to boo somebody, make them earn it.  For example, I'd say it's OK to boo a Boren, and I could get behind booing Gholston this year.  But what's the point in booing anybody -- or, especially, everybody -- on UMass?

Besides, these are all 18-23 year olds risking -- literally -- life and limb to entertain us.  I applaud the opponents for visiting, and I'll even cheer (begrudgingly) for an outstanding play they make.  It's entirely possible to cheer vehemently for the Wolverines without denigrating our opponent.

But, as Brian said, probably the boo-urns crowd isn't reading the blog anyway.


September 7th, 2012 at 4:04 PM ^

I grew up on the shore of lake Michigan at a time when the B-58s were in service. They used to practice low level penetration exercises using Gary Indiana as a target city. I was just a kid, but a friend and I would camp out on the dunes close to our houses, We'd roast some hot dogs for dinner and get up watch the sun come up and fry eggs and bacon for breakfast. We always camped in the same place, a top a dune that rose about 300 ft above the water. One morning, we watched a B-58 come barrelling along the shore line maybe a couple of hundred feet from the waters edge and below the dune. Looking down at a B-58 in flight is something I'll never forget. 


September 7th, 2012 at 3:09 PM ^

How does an Air Force team compare to an EMU team?  Because it seems like games versus EMU always end up being quasi-nail-biters.  I feel that same thing coming on tomorrow . . .


Jeff M

September 7th, 2012 at 3:42 PM ^

worry about Air Force. Using end season FEI rank as a proxy for 'how good are you', Air Force is consistently been better than EMU over the past five seasons. Air Force ranged between 40th and 79th among FBS teams (though that 79 was last year), while Eastern hovers around the 90th and 100th range. However, I wouldn't recommend worrying about Air Force (*knock on wood*)


September 7th, 2012 at 3:30 PM ^

These are pretty good expectations that hopefully Michigan exceeds. I'm noticing the pattern that the lines are not given enough credit and that both of ours are somewhat shakey for now. Hope the d line continues to work and will be better as the season goes on. Hopefully the o line continues to stay in one peace and our backups keep learning.

Kaizen Michigan.


September 7th, 2012 at 3:36 PM ^


I just thought it would be a good idea to add what channel will be playing the game in Puerto Rico. Considering it's part of the US, gets the same channels, and has a few hundred fans on the island (and dozens of alumni, me included), it would be a nice touch. Thanks. 

Jeff M

September 7th, 2012 at 3:54 PM ^

The coverage map linked above is just the one that ESPN provides. A quick Google search doesn't yield the Puerto Rico coverage map. I'd assume it'd be the same as Florida and the Southeast though. Have you noticed it being different in the past?


September 7th, 2012 at 3:47 PM ^

That deep pass to Gardner looks terrible. Garbage, I say!

I guess I'd better go ahead and say that this a self-depricating joke lest the infamous THEY get all internety on me.

Chill, babies*. This is s'posed to be fun.

*that's the affecctionate version not the descriptive one...oy, this is markedly not fun.



September 7th, 2012 at 3:38 PM ^

to an extent that seems really bizarre. Last week you would have thought that they had beaten a vintage BCS-busting Boise State team instead of the team that's been totally gutted and retooled.


September 7th, 2012 at 3:43 PM ^

So how did our linebackers go from pretty decent at the end of last year to a huge liability this year?  I really think people are overreacting from the Alabama game.

EDIT:  Brian keeps saying that we have 'a long way to go' on defense, but we return 8 (7 now, with Countess out) starters from a top 20 D last year.  Alabama is far and away more talented than all but the top 2 or 3 teams in the nation.


September 7th, 2012 at 3:48 PM ^

Alabama was a very good football team, but Alabama did not have the success they had solely because they were bigger, faster, or stronger. They had it because we didn’t play technique and we didn’t tackle.

As a coach I’ll be dead honest with you. [Air Force] is an offense that put 500 yards 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 in technique and assignment. If you slip up one time it can be a big play. So that’s a concern.



September 7th, 2012 at 4:00 PM ^

So I am to believe that bad tackling and bad technique are now the norm, not the exception?  Those things were not issues last year among our starters.  We have 3 new linemen, and perhaps technique is still a problem with their play, but I don't think that we should all enter panic mode based off of a blowout against the top team in college football.  That is all I'm trying to say.


September 7th, 2012 at 4:11 PM ^

I didn't think that Brian meant that our defense is (absolutely) bad, but that there are concerns. Mattison has concerns, too.

Hoke has also said in the past that every year is a new year, and that the coaches can't assume that the players will not regress, that fundamentals need to be coached even to players who had mastered them in the past. So there is that.

But agreed that the Alabama game is just one game. On the other hand, let's hope that our defense can play better than that. Certainly mattison believes they can.


September 7th, 2012 at 3:46 PM ^

Although I've done this numerous times I cannot remember what time the band gets inspected /presented and walks to and into the stadium.  The Google machine didn't give the answer either.  Will someone enlighten me?

Jeff M

September 7th, 2012 at 3:51 PM ^

"I wish I could give you more than the thousand-foot overview but playing Academy teams, especially early in the season, is an exercise in reading season previews that all say "these 18 new starters are at the Air Force Academy, and this is all we know." "

This made me curious as to how much variance there is year to year for Air Force, and similarly for Navy. If you consistently have this level of turnaround, how much better or worse can you be year to year? Too lazy to do a deep dive (and not enough points to post it if I did), but here are their end season Overall FEI ranks (out of ~120 FBS teams):

Air Force generally hovers around #40, with a larger drop off coming between the 2010 and 2011 seasons, and a big improvement from 2008 to 2009. Navy hovers around the same area, and had a big improvement from 2007 to 2008. So, the best team one could reasonably expect would take a leap back to around that #40 rank, which is about where Penn State was last year. If they stay at the same level, they're about where Purdue was last year. Pretty impressive either way given the level of personnel turnover and restrictions they face.

Air Force 79
Navy 67

Air Force 42
Navy 32

Air Force 40
Navy 37

Air Force 64
Navy 38

Air Force 51
Navy 60

Alexandre DeLarge

September 7th, 2012 at 4:25 PM ^

Does anyone know what the logic is behind picking non-traditional football scores (32, 22) in a prediction piece? Brian does it here and I've seen other pundits go there before. Is it just to denote what you think the over/under number will be? Nobody would actually predict a team will end with those scores instead of conventional final numbers like 34, 31, 28...


September 7th, 2012 at 4:44 PM ^

I think Brian is right on most of the time, but the prediction that Denard will run the ball 30 times in this game is ridiculous, IMHO. If Michigan really is going to blow AF away, why in the world would Borges risk Denard's health and run him repeatedly, especially if Fitz is back?  Historically with Borges we mostly see heavy deployment of Denard dilithium only when the rest of the offense isn't working. Otherwise it's just sprinkled in here and there.

I predict Denard runs the ball ~10 times, and comes out of the game in the late 3rd quarter if we have a comfortable lead, at which point Bellomy straps on his helmet and we get our first real look at him, which will be interesting.

Jeff M

September 7th, 2012 at 4:53 PM ^

That would be a callback to last year's early games (see: EMU) where Denard ran a crapton unexplicably. Brian is being sort of half-sarcastic. It's a commentary on several levels -- Borges' use of him in the past year, general sports predictions, general pessimism of Michigan fans around now, and I can't believe I'm really explaining this nevermind.

Also, don't expect UM to "blow Air Force away." A one or two score lead at half time, then pulling away late third quarter or early fourth quarter are more likely, unless they connect on some bombs to Gardner/Gallon. If Air Force were in the Big Ten, they would probably be around the 3-5 in conference mark historically. High probably of win to be sure, but not a MACrifice.

Magnum P.I.

September 7th, 2012 at 5:21 PM ^

What, no weekly "BRIAN: Insider Tidbitz (!)"? That was one of the most exciting board posts in ages.

(...though the credibility of sources came undone a bit regarding the BWC predictions).  


September 7th, 2012 at 6:08 PM ^

I dont see how we don't score 5 touchdowns or more unless AF chews up the clock and we turn it over a bunch of times. I think the latter is less likely but you never know. Go Blue!


September 8th, 2012 at 1:46 AM ^

I hope we get back to running fitz alot and use rawls as the second back. Vincent smith really never can get past 3-4 yards and I am talking before the alabama game! I hope denard keeps his patience and doesn't throw off his back foot!

Go blue we need to stomp airforce!!