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USU football: Air Force's rushing attack creates major headaches

Published September 4, 2013 2:06 pm

College football • The Aggies are set to begin Mountain West competition against Falcons.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Logan •Â Every defense knows what's coming — it's just hard to stop it.

There's a platoon of different backs and playmakers who could get their hands on the ball. And if a defense manages to figure out who is running with it, the linebackers have to dodge blockers diving at their legs to make the tackle.

Any mistake could result in a touchdown. And that's what makes Air Force a frustrating offense to stop.

"They don't have the biggest guys or the fastest guys, but they will find the breakdowns, wherever they will be," Utah State linebacker Jake Doughty said. "You just have to do your job, do your assignment. That's kind of the key to handling their offense."

There aren't many teams that run the ball as much as Air Force. The Falcons ran on 64 of their 75 snaps against Colgate and rang up 409 yards and five rushing touchdowns last week.

The key to the success lies in the program's methodic patience on offense. A few yards here, a few yards there, then move the chains. Repeat.

"They're kind of on a schedule: It's like first down, they get 4 yards. Second and 6, then third and 2 and then get a first down," Doughty said. "They keep that pace that entire time, so you kind of have to break that schedule to have a chance against them."

That means getting Air Force in more second-and-long and third-and-long downs. The Aggies believe that the Falcons will struggle more if faced with situations they can't run their way out of.

Utah State gets a critical advantage this week with Air Force's second-string quarterback Jaleel Awini starting over injured Kale Pearson. But running back Jon Lee and fullback Broam Hart should be fine to start, and both went over the century mark last week.

Air Force also is difficult to prepare for. The Aggies have last year's film and one week of the Falcons facing FCS foe Colgate. The offense is unlike any other the Aggies will face this season, so the scout team has to work harder to get up to speed. Cornerback Dee Hamala, a former quarterback at Murray, took snaps on scout team during fall camp to get the Aggies a look at Air Force's offense.

"In preparation, our scout team will do a nice job of simulating it," coach Matt Wells said. "In these scenarios though, you usually don't simulate it in the same speed that you'll see it in a game. It is a unique offense."

The Aggies will use much of the same technique they would use any other week, but carrying out their correct assignments will be as important as any week. Paul Piukala, who could see more snaps if Connor Williams' foot injury keeps him sidelined, will be responsible for keeping the players behind him blocker-free.

"Our main objective is to keep their O-line from cutting our linebackers," he said. "So we're gonna stay on the O-line so our backers can make the plays."

A lot will be on the linebackers and safeties to make the right reads. This plays into Utah State's strength, but the cut blocks that Air Force's linemen throw can be frustrating. A single stumble can throw an assignment.

Maurice Alexander, the Aggies' strong safety, knows what's on the line. After making some mistakes in last week's loss, he's ready to make up for it as the Aggies seek their first win.

"I'll do anything for my defense to help win the game at the end of the day," he said. "This is a big game for us, man. It's our first game in the Mountain West. We just have to come out and dominate."

kgoon@sltrib.com

Twitter: @kylegoon —

Air Force's top rushers

Falcons' top players against Colgate:

Fullback Broam Hart • 101 yards, two touchdowns, 5.6 yards per carry

Running back Jon Lee • 130 yards, two TDs, 11.8 ypc

Running back Anthony Lacoste • 77 yards, 7.0 ypc —

Utah State at Air Force

O Saturday, 1:30 p.m.

TV • CBS Sports