NCF Nation: Connor Dietz

Here are three keys to today's Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl between Rice and Air Force (11:45 a.m. ET, ESPN):

1. Keep that momentum going: Rice enters today's game on a four-game winning streak and having won five of its past six games. Remember, this was a team that started the season 1-5 and was just getting eaten up by opposing rushing attacks. From that low point, the Owls completely transformed when it came to stopping the run, allowing teams to average a measly 116.2 yards over the final six games and giving up just nine total rushing touchdowns. The Owls outscored opponents by 80 points during their final five victories and averaged 432 yards of offense during their four-game winning streak. How well that rushing defense plays will be crucial against Air Force, which ranks second nationally in rushing offense (328.8 yards per game) and has 37 rushing touchdowns on the season. If the Owls can contain that triple-option rushing attack, they'll have a good chance to get a win in their first bowl game since 2008.

2. Hold on to the ball: The Falcons might be able to run the ball down other teams' throats, but they have really struggled in the turnover department of late. During its first eight games of the season, Air Force turned the ball over just 12 times. But during the Falcons' 1-3 finish, they handed the ball to opponents 14 times. With how well Rice is playing right now, and with how efficient the Owls have been on offense, Air Force can't afford to turn the ball over and expect to win. With the way the Falcons can run the ball, and given how much Rice struggled earlier in the season to stop the run, it could be a major advantage for the Falcons if they can just keep feeding running back Cody Getz, who became the first player in school history to register three 200-yard rushing games in a single season, and have quarterback Connor Dietz make plays with his feet to keep that option attack going. Grinding it out will wear Rice down.

3. Act like you've been there before: This is Air Force's sixth consecutive bowl game, while Rice is making its first trip to the postseason since 2008. That year, the Owls throttled Western Michigan 38-14 in the Texas Bowl. For the Owls, it's all about not getting cold feet and letting the nerves take hold. They had to work extremely hard to get six wins after the 1-5 start, so it's not the time to let the bright bowl lights intimidate them. As for Air Force, the Falcons have a ton of bowl experience, but the confidence might be lacking after such a bad end to the season. This team has to realize that it has been here before. It knows how to handle the magnitude of the final game of the season. Rice hasn't been in this situation in a while, so the Falcons will have the advantage when it comes to nerves today.

Pregame: Armed Forces Bowl

December, 29, 2012
Rice (6-6, 4-4 C-USA) vs. Air Force (6-6, 5-3 MWC)

Who to watch: Air Force senior running back Cody Getz. Air Force enters the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl with the No. 2 rushing offense in the country, averaging 328.8 yards per game. The main reason for the Falcons' ground success has been the play of Getz. He has 1,213 rushing yards and nine touchdowns despite missing two games this year because of an ankle injury. Getz became the first player in school history with three 200-yard rushing games in a season and averaged 6.4 yards per carry. He must be licking his chops at the thought of playing against a Rice defense that is tied for 91st nationally in run defense, giving up 192.8 yards per game.

What to watch: Can Rice put pressure on Air Force's backfield? The Falcons have been very good at protecting quarterback Connor Dietz this season. Through the first nine games of the season, Air Force's offensive line didn't allow a single sack. What might have been more impressive about that is that the Falcons' line did it without starting center Michael Husar, who went down in the season opener. Air Force is tied for second nationally in sacks allowed (seven). Rice ranks 47th nationally in sacks this season with 26 on the year. The Owls are averaging 2.17 sacks a game, and defensive linemen Cody Bauer and Hosam Shahin have combined for 10.5 sacks on the year.

Why watch: Who doesn't like culture clashes when it comes to offense? Air Force has that challenging triple option, but Rice owns a much more balanced offense. The Owls are averaging 201 rushing yards and 219 passing yards per game. Although Air Force has been very deadly running the ball, the Falcons really struggled down the stretch because of costly turnovers. Air Force finished the season with a 1-3 run, turning the ball over 14 times in the process after turning it over just 12 times in the first eight games. Rice comes in red hot, winning five of its last six games, including its last four. In the final six games of the season, the Owls allowed an average of only 116.2 rushing yards. Watching this Rice defense try to contain Air Force's potent rushing attack should be fun.

Prediction: Air Force 31, Rice 27. Rice might have all the momentum on its side after such a good end to the season, but Air Force finally got a substantial break and thus got some much-needed rest. The Falcons played for 10 consecutive weeks, and you could tell this team was hurting for a break. That break has come, and, although the Owls have been very good against the run lately, Air Force's triple-option attack will be just too much for Rice in the second half.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan was hoping for a strong rebound performance Saturday against Air Force.

It didn't quite get it. But the Wolverines did get a 31-25 victory in a game that came down to the final moments.

It was over when: Michigan redshirt sophomore linebacker Jake Ryan batted down a Connor Dietz pass with 1:28 left in the fourth quarter, forcing a turnover on downs and giving the Wolverines the win. Air Force had been driving with a chance to win. Ryan also had a career-high 11 tackles.

Game ball goes to: Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson. The Wolverines would have lost without him. He accounted for four touchdowns and 426 total yards of offense. He also was Michigan's sole running producer as starting running back Fitzgerald Toussaint had just 7 yards on eight carries.

Stat of the game: Michigan freshman tight end Devin Funchess had four catches for 106 yards, the first time a tight end has had 100-plus yards for the Wolverines since Sept. 13, 1997, when Jerame Tuman had five catches for 126 yards.

What we learned about Michigan: Michigan could have some major issues on defense. The Wolverines' defensive line struggled with being cut by Air Force's offensive line and then couldn't get around blocks when they weren't. The linebackers struggled to read the Air Force pitch correctly. The Falcons gashed their way to 290 yards rushing and left the Michigan front seven with questions for the second consecutive week. Robinson, though, played a lot better than he did against Alabama. He completed 14 of 25 passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 218 yards and two touchdowns.

Record performance: Robinson had the fourth 200-yard rushing game of his career. His two touchdown passes gave him 43 in his career, moving him past Steve Smith (42 touchdown passes) into fifth in school history.
After an eight-year drought, the Air Force Academy is poised to hoist the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy for the second straight season.

Well, hoist may not exactly be the right word.

It was in the middle of a practice last season -- shortly after the Falcons clinched their first CIC Trophy since 2002 -- that a golf cart rolled onto the field.

"Practice stopped," Asher Clark recalled in a phone interview. "It was one of the biggest trophies I had ever seen in my life."

Indeed the prestigious trophy, which goes to the winner of the series between the service academies, is 2.5 feet high and weighs 170 pounds. Clark said it was an incredibly special moment when they were able to see and hold the Trophy for the first time. But what would make winning the Trophy again this season much more special is the trip to the White House that goes with being a senior.

Air Force has the edge to win again after a wild 35-34 overtime win over Navy earlier in the season. Navy erased an 18-point fourth-quarter deficit and then scored first in overtime. But Navy quarterback Kriss Proctor was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct following his 1-yard touchdown run, and the 35-yard extra-point attempt was blocked by Alex Means. Tim Jefferson scored a touchdown on the next possession and Air Force made its extra point, giving it the advantage in the race for the CIC Trophy.

The Falcons have won five straight over Army, including a 47-22 win last season. Army has only won twice in the past 21 meetings between the service academies.

One big key to watch this season is whether both starting quarterbacks are able to play. Jefferson got hurt last week in an Air Force win over New Mexico, while Army starter Trent Steelman sat out a win over Fordham last week with a high ankle sprain. Army coach Rich Ellerson said Steelman was questionable for the game Saturday. Max Jenkins and Angel Santiago would play if Steelman is out again.

Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said of Jefferson: "It will be pretty tough to keep him out, and yet we've just got to make sure physically that he's sound." Connor Dietz would start if Jefferson cannot go, and he has got the full backing of his coach and teammates. He had 87 yards and a touchdown run last week in the 42-0 win over the Lobos.

While this game may not carry the prestige of Army vs. Navy, it still is an important rivalry game, one with a weighty trophy on the line.

"Obviously, that's part of the drama, but that won't impact the outcome," Ellerson said. "That's something that's part of our culture here. It's part of everybody's sensibilities. They know that's on the line. We'll have a great week of practice. This is a relatively easy week from a head coaching perspective. You have to make some good decisions along the way, personnel-wise and style of play-wise, but in terms of getting guys excited to practice, excited to play, just get out of the way. They're really looking forward to playing."

Spring superlatives: Air Force

March, 30, 2010
With Conference USA superlatives in the books, I’m moving on to the Mountain West. Air Force was one of the first teams in the country to start spring football and it came in with a lot of questions on the offensive line and at punter. While some of those questions were answered, the Falcons still have a lot of work to do in the fall.

Strongest position: Quarterbacks

Key returners: Junior Tim Jefferson (56.9 percent completion, 848 yards, five touchdowns, two interceptions, 254 rushing yards, two touchdowns), junior Connor Dietz (47.3 percent completion, 197 yards, one touchdown, 369 rushing yards, one touchdown)

Key departures: None

The skinny: Dietz got a little extra work this spring with Jefferson limited while recovering from knee surgery. Both quarterbacks played significant snaps last year, but the offense was stagnant at times, especially during the first half of the season. However, with slotbacks Jared Tew and Asher Clark returning, the quarterbacks probably won’t have any more pressure on them this year than they had a year ago.

Weakest position: Offensive line

Key returners: Sophomore A.J. Wallerstein

Key departures: Left tackle Ryan Gonzales, left guard Nick Charles, center Michael Hampton, right guard Peter Lusk, right tackle Chris Campbell

The skinny: Outside of Wallerstein, there’s very little game experience up front, though several players took reps with the first team during practice last season. About 10 players were competing for starting roles on the offensive line this spring and while some starters emerged, the competition will continue into fall camp. Coach Troy Calhoun said last year's offensive front was one of the best he's coached, so the new line will have a lot to live up to.
Posted by’s Graham Watson

Air Force quarterback Connor Dietz will miss at least three weeks after suffering a broken hand during last week’s game against Utah.

Dietz suffered the broken bone during on an inside run on Air Force’s fourth play of the game, but still finished the 23-16 overtime loss.

Dietz broke the bone behind the knuckle of his right throwing hand. He had surgery Monday and doctors inserted two pins at the site of the break.

Tim Jefferson, who began the season as the starting quarterback before suffering a sprained ankle against New Mexico on Sept. 19, will start this weekend’s game against Colorado State. Since the injury, Dietz and Jefferson have been alternating starting assignments. Dietz has led the team to two wins, including a fourth-quarter win over Wyoming after Jefferson was ineffective.

The strength of Jefferson’s ankle has been hit and miss this season, which has resulted in inconsistent play. However, Jefferson was back at practice on Monday and told local media that he felt better than he had in several weeks.

Dietz questionable for AFA

October, 26, 2009
Posted by’s Graham Watson

Air Force football enters this week’s preparation for Colorado State with yet another quarterback quandary, only this one’s less about competition and more about health.

Last week’s starter, Connor Dietz, injured his right throwing hand on an inside run during Saturday’s 23-16 overtime loss to Utah. Dietz played through the pain and nearly led the Falcons to an upset. In his third career start, he rushed for a team-high 98 yards on 28 carries and completed 7-of-10 passes for 64 yards.

“He really did some good things,” Calhoun told local media on Sunday. “He’s got to come a ways fundamentally, just on carries and being tighter to the line of scrimmage. And yet the thing you love, he just drips leadership. He’s got a ton of fire, he’s got good poise, he loves competing.”

Dietz will miss practice today, which might put his standing for Saturday’s game against the Rams in jeopardy. Calhoun said Dietz’s injury would be evaluated to determine whether he could be effective enough to help the team. If he can’t go, sophomore Tim Jefferson might be ready to step in. Jefferson has been battling ankle injury that he suffered early in the season and his absence has allowed Dietz to emerge. While Calhoun hasn’t named Dietz the starter, he’s been the most effective quarterback in terms of moving the team downfield and keeping it in games.

Calhoun also said cornerback Reggie Rembert won’t practice today after leaving the Utah game in the third quarter with concussion-like symptoms. He took a couple big hits during kickoff returns.
Posted by’s Graham Watson

When Tim Jefferson missed most of spring football to concentrate on academics and remain eligible for the 2009 season, he thought his main competition for the starting quarterback roll would be Asher Clark.

But Jefferson’s absence allowed sophomore Connor Dietz a chance to become comfortable with the offense and the receivers during the spring, and now that comfort is showing on the field.

Dietz, who replaced Jefferson after he suffered a sprained ankle three weeks ago, is 1-1 as the starter, but nearly led the team to a comeback victory against TCU two weeks ago. Last week, after Jefferson failed to ignite the offense for the better part of three quarters, Dietz came off the bench and led the Falcons to two scores and a 10-0 win over Wyoming.

Coach Troy Calhoun remains undecided about who will start under center against Utah this week, but he can’t deny which quarterback has been most effective.

“I don’t know if necessarily it’s an edge, but I do think [Dietz has] been more effective,” Calhoun told local media Sunday.

Air Force has defeated Utah just once in the past six tries, but a win would push the Falcons into third place in the Mountain West Conference and possibly second, depending on the outcome of the game between TCU and BYU.

Air Force’s greatest strength so far this season has been its defense. The Falcons rank 10th in the country in total defense with 266.71 yards per game. They’re seventh in the country in scoring defense with 11.86 points per game. Air Force also is first in the country in turnover margin, which could prove the difference against a Utah team that is averaging a turnover per game and has at least two in all but one game this season.

Posted by’s Graham Watson

Air Force’s bid to stay in the top half of the conference standings for the third consecutive season has taken a hit.

Coach Troy Calhoun announced Sunday that linebackers Ken Lamendola and Patrick Hennessey have been lost for the season with injuries. Lamendola suffered an MCL injury against Navy two weeks ago and Hennessey has a torn labrum. Hennessey has had shoulder injuries that have been bothering him for the past couple of seasons.

“It’s the second time he’s had it,” Calhoun said of Hennessey’s injury. “We’ll do surgery here in the next week and see if we can get him healed up. He’s always had something with the shoulder since he’s been here. He hasn’t really been through a spring ball yet.”

Calhoun also said linebacker Andre Morris Jr., who was injured against TCU, suffered a mild concussion and will be held out of practice for the next three days. Calhoun said he wasn’t sure whether Morris would be able to play this week against Wyoming.

Injuries have not been limited to the defense. The status of quarterback Tim Jefferson against Wyoming is still up in the air. Jefferson missed last week’s game against TCU while recovering from a severely sprained ankle he suffered against New Mexico on Sept. 19.

"I have to see that he's full speed and not holding back on anything," Calhoun said.

Connor Dietz has started games against San Diego State and TCU this season and played a series against Navy when Jefferson re-injured his ankle. Dietz will be the team’s starter if Jefferson can’t go.

Posted by’s Graham Watson

AIR FORCE ACADEMY -- Connor Dietz looks to be the starting quarterback for Air Force.

Dietz took almost all of the pregame snaps with the first team while Ben Cochran took the second-string snaps. Tim Jefferson, the team’s starter who has been hampered by a sprained ankle, warmed up but didn’t take many reps.

Dietz started for the Falcons against San Diego State two weeks ago and played a series against Navy last week after Jefferson reinjured his sprained ankle.

Jefferson was limited all week in practice and didn’t take any live reps with the team on Wednesday or Thursday.

Posted by’s Graham Watson

AIR FORCE ACADEMY --- Air Force will not disclose its starting quarterback until after team warmups.

Starter Tim Jefferson has been hampered by an ankle injury he suffered against New Mexico on Sept. 19 and re-aggravated last week against Navy. He finished the game, but Connor Dietz took several first-team reps this week in practice.

Coach Troy Calhoun said that he would watch Jefferson in warmup and if he was hampered -- even a little bit -- he would not play.

I’ll have more after the Falcons take the field for warmups.

Posted by’s Graham Watson

Air Force isn’t going to show its hand when it comes to naming a starting quarterback for Saturday’s game against rival Navy, the first leg of the Commander-in-Chief Trophy race.

Sophomore Connor Dietz made his first collegiate start against San Diego State last week and led the Falcons to a 26-14 win. He was filling in for sophomore starter Tim Jefferson, who missed the game because of a sprained ankle he suffered at New Mexico two weeks ago.

Calhoun said he thought Jefferson might be ready to play this week and that he would evaluate both quarterbacks to see which gave the Falcons the best chance against the Midshipmen.

“I just think you’ve got to go out there [Sunday] and also the following day and get a sense if [Jefferson’s] full speed or not,” Calhoun told the Colorado Springs Gazette.

Calhoun also told the Gazette that sophomore tailback Asher Clark’s status for Saturday is “a wait-and-see situation.” Clark suffered a shoulder injury against San Diego State.

Posted by’s Graham Watson

Air Force backup sophomore Connor Dietz could start at quarterback this weekend against San Diego State.

Coach Troy Calhoun said Sunday that the status of starting quarterback Tim Jefferson was still unknown and probably wouldn’t be known until the end of the week. Jefferson suffered a sprained right ankle on the second offensive possession of last week’s 37-13 win over New Mexico and didn’t return.

“It could be a few days, it could be a few weeks,” Calhoun said of Jefferson’s return. “It’s one of those where I think it’s a pain threshold.”

Dietz came into the game, completed 2 of 4 passes for 40 yards and a touchdown, and rushed for 23 yards. He helped the Falcons roll up 371 yards of total offense to notch their second win of the season and first Mountain West Conference victory.

Calhoun said starting tailback Asher Clark, who competed for the starting quarterback job both in the spring and throughout fall camp, would remain at tailback. Clark leads the Falcons’ No. 1-ranked rushing offense with 80.67 yards per game.

Calhoun said if the team elects to go with Dietz, it would run more triple option in its offense. The Falcons racked up 298 yards of total offense against New Mexico and could have similar success against a San Diego State defense that is allowing 135 rushing yards per game and has given up six rushing touchdowns in three games this season.

Air Force might be wise to allow Jefferson an extra week of rest with a tough trip to Navy on the slate in two weeks.