NCF Nation: Tim Jefferson

Military Bowl: Three Keys

December, 27, 2011
12/27/11
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You saw the preview and prediction, now here are three keys for Air Force and Toledo in the Military Bowl on Wednesday:

Air Force (7-5)

1. Page-turner: Where's Eric Page? That's the question Air Force's secondary needs to be asking every snap. Stopping -- or at least slowing down -- the Toledo receiver has to be a top priority. As good as the Rockets are running the ball, they are just as efficient throwing to Page, who set a Toledo record with 112 catches this season -- which included a five-touchdown performance against Northern Illinois. Air Force doesn't give up a lot of yards in the air (162.7 per game); Page averages almost 10 catches and 94 yards per game. Something has to give.

2. Simple, tackle: One of the things that makes Air Force's secondary efficient is that its members tackle well and keep everything in front of them. The front seven is going to have to do the same against one of the best rushing teams in the country. In the season finale against Colorado State, Air Force gave up 321 rushing yards to a team that was in the bottom half nationally running the ball. Toledo will get its yards -- just as the Falcons will on offense -- so yards after contact for both teams will likely be the tipping point.

3. Lean on experience: Air Force has a lot of veterans with bowl-game experience. This is the fifth consecutive bowl game for the Falcons, who have won their past two -- which included a 14-7 victory over Georgia Tech in last year's Independence Bowl. Quarterback Tim Jefferson has amassed 28 wins in his career -- more than any other quarterback in Air Force history. It's that knowledge and leadership that could make the difference for the Falcons.

Toledo (8-4)

1. Discipline: Air Force is going to try to confuse Toledo with misdirection, counters and a wide variety of offensive formations. The Falcons will work the triple option from the shotgun and the pistol and put a variety of different players in motion and in the backfield. Knowing the option rules -- and actually adhering to them -- will be paramount. Defensive freelancing won't get it done. Only one team has held the Falcons to fewer than 200 yards this year (San Diego State, 195), but they have gone for at least 340 yards in half of their games, including a 595-yard (yes, 595) day against Tennessee State. Smart reads and defensive discipline should be Toledo's top priority.

2. Make a stand: Few teams in the nation have been hotter offensively over the past five games than Toledo -- which is averaging 52.8 points per game during that stretch. Here's the problem: the Rockets have also given up a ton of points -- 63 in consecutive games against Northern Illinois and Western Michigan. Yikes. The offense does its job, and does it well. Now the defense has to pick the offense up against an offensively efficient Air Force attack that averages 34.4 points per game and has put up 45 in each of its past two contests.

3. Win one for the new guy: Don't expect any drop-off in production with Tim Beckman's departure to become head coach at Illinois. Offensive coordinator-turned-head-coach Matt Campbell has been the brains behind Toledo's offensive resurgence of late. His quick hire ensures continuity in the program and you can bet he and his players will be excited to get his head-coaching career off with a bang.
Two prolific rushing offenses take center stage Wednesday at Washington's RFK Stadium for the Military Bowl - Presented by Northrop Grumman. Air Force enters the contest with the nation's No. 2 rushing attack, averaging 320 yards per game. Toledo isn't far behind, ranking 14th nationally with 221 yards per game. Both teams have high-scoring offenses and opportunistic defenses -- Toledo in particular, which ranks third in the country in turnover margin.

Who to watch: Air Force senior quarterback Tim Jefferson is a veteran starter who knows how to operate the Falcons' triple-option attack. His experience and knowledge of the system allows him to make smart reads -- be it on the end or the mid-line -- and with 12 passing touchdowns and 10 rushing touchdowns, he can't be overlooked in either aspect of the game. He's completed almost 61 percent of his throws -- not great -- but good enough that if the Toledo defense doesn't respect him, he could beat the Rockets over the top.

What to watch: Toledo has used a two-quarterback system of Austin Dantin and Terrance Owens to keep teams off balance with its no-huddle offense. The veteran offensive line does a good job in protection and the multiple wide receiver formations will stretch out the Falcons' secondary. That allows the Rockets to open up their rushing attack, headlined by Adonis Thomas (963 yards, 11 touchdowns, 6.5 yards per carry). Toledo plays a pick-your-poison style of offense that can gobble up yards.

Why to watch: It's going to be a lot of fun to watch two contrasting styles of offense. All roads lead to the end zone -- Toledo just wants to get there quicker. The Falcons are happy to grind out long, methodical drives, but aren't afraid to take shots once the defense looks sufficiently lulled. True to its mascot, Toledo will be much more bang-bang with its attack -- but the Rockets also rank in the top 15 in time of possession so they know how to play the ball-control game, too. Don't expect either team's quarterback to spend much time on the ground behind the line of scrimmage -- both squads are tied for sixth nationally in sacks allowed.

Prediction: Toledo 42, Air Force 28. As someone who used to cover the Mountain West, it pains me to pick against Air Force. But Toledo has been so impressive over its past five games, averaging 52.8 points and 285.8 yards on the ground during that stretch. Conversely, Air Force gives up too many yards on the ground (227.8) and that could be a recipe for disaster against the Rockets.
Toledo Rockets (8-4) vs. Air Force Falcons (7-5)

Dec. 28, 4:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Toledo take from Nation blogger Andrea Adelson: Toledo overcame a 1-3 start to the season that featured two heartbreaking losses to Ohio State and Syracuse to run through MAC play 7-1 for the second straight season.

What cost them a spot in the MAC title game? A wild 63-60 loss to Northern Illinois that featured four lead changes in the final 10 minutes of the fourth quarter. The Huskies scored a 4-yard touchdown with 19 seconds left to cap the game, giving them the head-to-head advantage in the West Division and a spot in the MAC championship game. The 123 points scored was the third most in a game since 2004.

Still, Toledo is happy to go bowling for the second straight season, the first time the Rockets have back-to-back bowl campaigns since 2004-05. Third-year coach Tim Beckman made a two-quarterback system work with Terrance Owens and Austin Dantin -- though Dantin missed the final two games of the regular-season with concussion symptoms. All-purpose player Eric Page was as good as advertised as a returner and receiver -- he set the school record for receptions in a season with 112, and won first-team All-MAC honors as a receiver, punt and kickoff returner. Adonis Thomas played well at running back, winning second-team honors after rushing for 963 yards and 11 touchdowns. He ended the season with four straight 100-yard rushing games, and Toledo ended the season scoring 40 or more points in five straight games, a school record.


Air Force take from college football blogger Kevin Gemmell: A rare three-game losing streak put Air Force's bowl future in question midway through the year -- dropping games to Notre Dame, San Diego State and Boise State in succession. But the Falcons rallied to win four of their final five to become bowl eligible for the fifth straight season. With two FBS teams on the schedule, Air Force needed to reach seven wins.

Quarterback Tim Jefferson has 28 career wins -- a school record -- and commands the nation's No. 2 rushing attack at 320.3 yards per game. The 28 victories is the third best in conference history, putting him in some elite company with TCU's Andy Dalton (42 wins) and BYU's Max Hall (32).

Thousand-yard rusher Asher Clark (six touchdowns) headlines the triple-option scheme, averaging 91.3 yards per game. Mike DeWitt (10 touchdowns) goes for 45.2 a game and Jefferson check in at 41 yards per game.

But the Falcons aren't just the traditional triple-option team. Jefferson has an arm, and used it to throw 12 touchdowns this season.

Linebacker Brady Amack ranks among the top tacklers nationally -- but despite a slew of injuries on defense, the Falcons retained the Commander in Chief Trophy for the second straight year, notching wins over Army and Navy.
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."

Boise State set for MWC play

October, 13, 2011
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Boise State officially enters a new era Saturday at Colorado State, when the Broncos begin league play in the Mountain West.

They can only hope to have the same success they enjoyed in the WAC. During their 10-year run in that league, Boise State won eight league championships and posted a 75-5 mark in league games. That includes a perfect 40-0 record at home. To be sure, the Mountain West should provide more difficult competition.

[+] EnlargeChris Petersen
Brian Losness/US PresswireCoach Chris Petersen and Boise State face Colorado State for the first time this weekend.
But Boise State has never played many of the teams in the league before, so that provides one challenge. This will be its first ever game against the Rams.

"That's what everybody around the country is all about -- trying to win their league," coach Chris Petersen said. "We are under no illusions how difficult winning your league can be the first time you enter a new league with all the unknowns that come with it. We're excited to play. It's like you've been working the first part of the season to get yourselves ready for league play."

With TCU out of the Top 25, Boise State has no more ranked teams on its schedule right now and will be favored in every game the rest of the way. Many expect the No.5 Broncos to run the table and make it back into a BCS game. But much the same was expected last season, before an upset late in overtime against Nevada. The Mountain West has its share of bad teams the way the WAC did. Boise State should have no problems with UNLV (1-4), Wyoming (3-2, one win vs. FBS team) and New Mexico (0-5).

Potential road blocks?

Oct. 22, Air Force. Granted, the Falcons just lost badly on the road to Notre Dame, but they do have a unique offense to try and stop. They have been hit hard with injuries on defense, so they are probably not as good as many thought they could be when the season started. Still, Tim Jefferson is one of the better quarterbacks in the league, and they do have the No. 2 rush offense in the country.

Nov. 12, TCU. The Horned Frogs do not have the same dominating defense that they have had the past three seasons, but they played much better in a win against San Diego State last week. These teams have developed a nice rivalry over the past several seasons, splitting their past two bowl appearances. Boise State will have an edge in this one, but this should be the toughest game on the schedule.

Nov. 19 at San Diego State. The Aztecs also might not be playing as well as people anticipated after a breakthrough season in 2010. Ronnie Hillman ranks No. 5 in the nation in rushing, but the Aztecs are still looking for some consistency out of their wide receivers. They rank No. 78 in the nation in passing. This is a game that should not be overlooked, because San Diego State is capable of putting up a big fight, and it comes on the heels of an emotional game against TCU.

Notre Dame helmet stickers: Week 6

October, 9, 2011
10/09/11
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Lots of praise to go around after this one, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. Let's get right to it.

Theo Riddick: The much-maligned receiver stepped up in a big way Saturday, catching eight passes for 83 yards and a touchdown and rushing for 14 yards on his only carry. Riddick finally showed what he is capable of and quieted concerns around his early-season performance.

Tyler Eifert: When will defenses figure him out? The tight end once again was a favorite target of Tommy Rees, especially on third downs. Eifert finished with eight catches for 81 yards and a touchdown.

Michael Floyd: Another typical day for the senior receiver, who has already re-written the Notre Dame record books. His spectacular 34-yard touchdown catch on the opening drive got the Irish on the board early, and he finished with six catches for 78 yards. He even was back to return a pair of punts as well.

Jonas Gray: Saturday's Irish game captain chipped in with another strong performance, scoring two touchdowns and finishing with 69 yards on just seven carries. Gray, a senior, had no career touchdowns going into Pitt two weeks ago and now has four.

Andrew Hendrix: Most figured he'd see his first game action after Brian Kelly's hint during the coach's radio show Thursday, but few saw this kind of performance coming. Hendrix, a sophomore, rushed for 111 yards on six carries, going 78 yards on one fourth-quarter run before being tripped up and falling at the 2-yard line. Hendrix also completed all four of his pass attempts for 33 yards.

Tommy Rees: We can't forget the man who directed this offensive onslaught. The sophomore quarterback built off his big performance last week at Purdue by directing Notre Dame touchdown drives on the Irish's first six possessions. He finished 23-of-32 for 261 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions.

Manti Te'o: The junior linebacker was once again his usual self, which is good news for Notre Dame. Te'o finished with 10 tackles, 2.5 for loss, and nearly came up with a pick as well.

Jamoris Slaughter: The safety made his presence felt on Air Force's first offensive play, forcing Jonathan Warzeka to fumble and later picking off Tim Jefferson in the second quarter. Slaughter added six tackles and a pass break-up as well. Neither defense was very productive statistically, but forcing key turnovers early helped spring this game open.

Prediction: Notre Dame Week 6

October, 6, 2011
10/06/11
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So does Air Force do something special on offense? Seriously, though, the Falcons attack is a potent one, good enough to rank third nationally in rushing and fourth nationally in pass efficiency. Air Force lines up in a variety of different formations, will hand the ball off to any and every eligible player in the backfield and has a quarterback, Tim Jefferson, who has completed 70 percent of his passes.

But let's talk about the defense. Notre Dame's has been great for 19 out of 20 quarters so far this season and is tied for the national lead in rushing touchdowns allowed, with one. It has seen nothing like this offense before, and it struggled immensely in the fourth quarter against Denard Robinson and Michigan, but it is a veteran group in the back-seven -- one that knows its opponent this week cannot be overlooked with a bye and USC looming afterward.

I'm looking more at Air Force's defense, which is missing two of its top linemen in Zach Payne and Ryan Gardner. This is a defense that ranks no better than 70th statistically in any of the four major defensive categories -- rushing, pass efficiency, total and scoring. And it will be going up against a Notre Dame offense coming off its most complete performance of the season, a unit that has eclipsed the 500-yard mark in three of its first five games.

Notre Dame took a big step last Saturday by getting out of its own way and blowing out Purdue. That's something the Fighting Irish can build on this week. Sure, there will be some challenges early against the Falcons' offense, but the disparity between the two teams when Notre Dame has the ball is what will come to light Saturday.

Prediction: Notre Dame 31, Air Force 17
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Toward the end of his weekly news conference, Brian Kelly was asked questions on his opponent's offense: Is Air Force even really an option team? How much option do the Falcons actually run?

"That might be true in Troy's eyes," Kelly responded to the first question, speaking about Air Force coach Troy Calhoun. "But let me tell you what, if you fall asleep for one second on his offensive scheme, and that being the triple option and veer option, you're gonna be in big trouble. So I think what he does very, very well offensively is he forces you defensively to be ready for triple option, and when you are so committed to triple option, he's running the zone play at you. And his ability to morph back into either one of those, if the defense is overplaying one scheme or the other."

[+] EnlargeTim Jefferson
Evan Habeeb/US PresswireTim Jefferson has close to 500 yards passing and more then 200 yards rushing through four games.
In layman's terms, Notre Dame's opponent Saturday is not an option team as much as it is a team that likes to run the option.

But just how complex is Air Force's offense? If public discourse is an accurate measurement, then plenty.

Kelly fielded 51 questions on Tuesday, and 15 centered around Air Force's offense, including the first six.

The difference in Air Force's offense and schemes jump out when comparing it to Navy, a traditional option team that the Falcons beat Saturday in a 35-34 overtime contest. The Midshipmen ran for 367 yards in a 35-17 rout of the Fighting Irish last season in East Rutherford, N.J.

"There's many more pieces in the Air Force offense," Kelly said when asked to compare and contrast the offenses of the two military academies. "They're gonna run some traditional zone, inside/outside zone, they're gonna run some power, some gap. You're not gonna get any of that from Navy, whereas you're gonna get a balance in terms of what you'll have to defend.

"[Air Force quarterback Tim] Jefferson is obviously a guy that can throw the ball very well, and so the receiving corps, it's not off of play-action or crack-and-go, it's a comprehensive passing game. So this incorporates a lot of principles, so quite different in that respect."

The Falcons offense lines up in a variety of different formations, including the shotgun and spread, giving Jefferson more time to read defenses.

The senior quarterback has completed 70 percent of his passes (33-of-47) for 493 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions, and he has been sacked just once. Air Force ranks fourth in the nation in passing efficiency.

Kelly called facing Jefferson "a nightmare," thanks in large part to all of the different looks Calhoun can throw at defenses.

"You have to look at how the defense is playing," Kelly said. "If the defense is all out set for triple option, he's not gonna run much of it. He's gonna run zone, he's gonna run lead, he's gonna throw the football. So if you're running a middle-of-the-field alley player who's set for option, you're not gonna see much of it. They're gonna throw the football and they're gonna run the zone.

"So that's really where he has a great scheme here, is that he sets what he does based upon what the defense shows."

Oddly enough, Air Force ranks 116th in the nation in time of possession, at 24 minutes, 55 seconds per game, though that likely speaks more to its offensive efficiency.

"They're running the ball effectively, getting tons of yardage, and then getting the opportunity to throw the ball over your head," Kelly said. "So consequently the time of possession's down a little bit. I would say that it's not attributed to their inability to put points on the board. I think that's the most important stat."

Kelly said Tuesday the Irish got away from who they were last season against Navy before re-gaining their physical edge four weeks later in a 27-3 rout of Army, another option team.

Maintaining that nature, specifically in the trenches, is something Kelly hopes to see from his team this Saturday.

"I think what I'm trying to say is that I don't want to get away from who we're becoming, and that is a team that's playing really physical," Kelly said. "I don't think you jump into the sixth week and all of a sudden now you stand up and you take a step back.

"I think we keep charging. I think we keep doing what we've been doing. Certainly we have to be aware of option and the responsibilities. It's an extremely multifaceted offense. But we've gotta be who we are, and that is being physical on both sides of the ball."

Non-AQ Players of the Week

October, 3, 2011
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Here are the non-AQ players of the week, as selected by each conference. The independent players are selected by a national media panel.

Conference USA

Offense: Darius Johnson, WR, SMU. Had a career-high-tying two receiving touchdowns, along with 12 catches and 152 yards as SMU defeated No. 20 TCU 40-33 in overtime. It was his third straight 100-yard game.

Defense: Tyson Gale, LB, Marshall. Had a team-high seven tackles against Louisville, including a tackle for loss and the biggest play of the game when he intercepted a pass with 4:32 left in a 17-13 win.

Special teams: Kase Whitehead, P, Marshall. Dropped four of his five punts inside the 20 in the 17-13 win at Louisville. On the season, 10 of his 30 have been downed inside the 20.

Independent

Co-offense: Riley Nelson, QB, BYU. Cierre Wood, RB, Notre Dame. Nelson came in in relief of starter Jake Heaps and accounted for 206 yards of total offense in four drives as BYU rallied from a 24-13 fourth-quarter deficit to beat Utah State. Nelson was 10-of-14 for 144 yards and two touchdowns, adding 62 rushing yards on 11 carries. Wood ran 20 times for a career-high 191 yards and a touchdown in a win against Purdue. His 55-yard scoring scamper was also a career-long run.

Defense: Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame. Had a team-high eight tackles unassisted, and a sack against Purdue.

Special teams: Alex Carlton, PK, Army. Made his first field goal of the season and made all six extra point attempts as the Black Knights beat Tulane. His six conversions moved him into sixth place on the Army career PAT made list.

MAC

East Division

Offense: Tyler Tettleton, QB, Ohio. Threw for over 250 yards for the third consecutive week as he finished with 276 yards passing and two touchdowns in a 17-10 victory over Kent State.

Defense: C.J. Malauulu, LB, Kent State. Had a game- and career-high 12 tackles in a 17-10 loss to Ohio. He also added three tackles for loss, a sack, a pass break-up and a forced fumble.

Special Teams: Boo Boo Gates, KR, Bowling Green. Had seven returns for 233 yards, including a career-best 77-yard return in the first quarter in a 55-10 setback at West Virginia. His seven returns are the second-most in school history, while the yards are the most ever in a game.

West Division

Offense: Alex Carder, QB, Western Michigan. Threw for a career high and school record 479 yards and five touchdowns, including three in the fourth quarter, in a 38-31 upset of UConn. His five touchdowns tied for second most in a game in school history.

Defense: Robert Bell, LB, Toledo. Had a career-high 12 tackles, including 2.5 tackles for loss and one recovered fumble in a 36-13 road win at Temple.

Special Teams: David Harman, K, Central Michigan. Was 6-of-6 on extra-point attempts and 2-of-2 on field goals for 12 total points in a 48-41 win over Northern Illinois.

Mountain West

Offense: Tim Jefferson, QB, Air Force. Went 9-of-10 for 136 yards and a touchdown, and rushed 18 times for 66 yards and two scores in a 35-34 overtime win at Navy. Jefferson, who scored the game-winning touchdown on a 1-yard run, led Air Force to its second-straight win over Navy and the first in Annapolis since 1997.

Defense: Brady Amack, LB, Air Force. Had a career-high 23 tackles (11 solo), a sack and two tackles for loss in a 35-34 overtime victory at Navy. The tackle total ranks as the sixth-highest in school history and tied for the most in Mountain West history. It also tied for the most in a FBS game this season.

Special teams: Alex Means, LB, Air Force. Blocked Navy’s extra-point try in overtime. Means has blocked two kicks this season and also tied a career-high with 12 tackles and intercepted a pass.

WAC

Offense: Matt Christian, QB, New Mexico State. Went 16-of-27 for a career-high 296 yards and a career-high four touchdowns with no interceptions in a 42-28 win at New Mexico. Christian also rushed for a career-high 101 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. He had 397 yards of total offense and accounted for five of the six Aggie touchdowns in the game.

Defense: Keith Smith, LB, San Jose State. Had a team-high 10 tackles and forced a fumble in a 38-31 win at Colorado State. The forced fumble occurred in the second quarter and was returned 20 yards for a touchdown to give the Spartans a 17-7 lead.

Special teams: Justin Hernandez, WR, Idaho. Blocked a punt that was returned for a touchdown with 3:11 left in Idaho’s game at Virginia. Idaho trailed 14-6 at the time and following the successful two-point conversion, the Vandals forced overtime. They lost 21-20 in the extra period.

Sun Belt

Offense: Ryan Aplin, QB, Arkansas State. Set a new school record for completions in a game when he completed 37 passes on 49 attempts in a 26-22 win at Western Kentucky. Aplin passed for a season-high 396 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions and also caught a touchdown pass against the Hilltoppers.

Defense: Lance Kelley, LB, Louisiana. Had eight tackles, a tackle-for-loss and an interception in a win over FAU. He currently leads the Cajuns and ranks fourth in the Sun Belt with 39 total tackles.

Special teams: Brett Baer, K/P, Louisiana. Scored 13 points in a 37-34 victory. He made field goals of 47 yards and 46 yards before hitting the game-winning 26-yard field goal as time expired. It was the first win for the Cajuns in the final 10 seconds of regulation since 2003.

Weekend Rewind: Non-AQs

October, 3, 2011
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Taking a look at the week that was in the non-AQs ...

The good: Marshall and Western Michigan pulled upsets on their AQ opponents -- the Thundering Herd beat Louisville 17-13 and the Broncos beat UConn 38-31. ... Boise State got its run game going in a 30-10 win against Nevada as Doug Martin went over 100 yards for the first time this season. ... New Mexico State beat New Mexico 42-28 - the first time in over 40 years that the Aggies have won three straight in the series. ... San Jose State scored the go-ahead touchdown on a pass with 54 seconds remaining to beat Colorado State 38-31. The Spartans have won back-to-back games for the first time in three years. … Louisiana is 4-1 for the first time since 1988 after Brett Baer hit a 26-yard field goal with no time left to lift the Ragin’ Cajuns to a 37-34 win against FAU.

[+] EnlargeDarius Johnson
AP Photo/Matt StrasenReceiver Darius Johnson and SMU ripped TCU's pass defense in a 40-33 overtime victory.
The bad: The TCU pass defense continues to struggle. SMU beat TCU 40-33 in overtime, throwing for 349 yards in the victory. All of its offensive touchdowns came on passes. In all, TCU gave up more than 450 yards for the second time this season, and the Horned Frogs are out of the AP Top 25 for the first time in 47 weeks. ... Temple had a huge win against Maryland in Week 4, but the Owls fell flat at home against Toledo, dropping an important MAC game 36-13. All seven of their drives in the second half ended with a punt or turnover. ... Northern Illinois lost to Central Michigan 48-41 -- the third time this season the Huskies' defense has given up 40 points.

The heartbreak: Utah State is the poster child for broken hearts this season. For the third time, the Aggies lost a game in the closing minutes. This time, it happened against in-state rival BYU. Riley Nelson came off the bench to lead a comeback for the Cougars, engineering a 96-yard game-winnning drive with 11 seconds left for a 27-24 BYU win. His 13-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Matthews was tipped by Utah State defender Will Harris near the goal line. The Aggies blew a 24-13 lead, and were hoping for consecutive wins against BYU for the first time since 1973-74.

Meanwhile in Annapolis, a penalty flag helped decide one of the biggest rivalry games in college football. Navy erased an 18-point fourth quarter deficit behind quarterback Kriss Proctor, who had a 7-yard touchdown run and 5-yard touchdown pass to Gee Gee Greene with 19 seconds left in regulation. Alexander Teich ran in the 2-point conversion and the game went into overtime. Proctor put Navy up first in the extra period on a 1-yard touchdown run, but was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for getting in the face of an Air Force player. The extra point was blocked. Air Force quarterback Tim Jefferson answered with a 1-yard touchdown run of his own and the Falcons made their extra point to win 35-34 and get a leg up in the competition for the Commander-In-Chief Trophy. Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo was incredulous after the game, "I would hope the referees would have said something like, 'Settle down,' in that situation," he said. "It's too critical a call to make. I hope those guys can sleep well tonight."

Idaho nearly pulled the upset at Virginia, but the Vandals failed on their 2-point attempt in overtime and lost 21-20. Coach Robb Akey decided to go for the win in the extra period, but Brian Reader had his pass batted down. "My only disappointment was that we didn’t make the play at the end of the game," Akey said.

Case Keenum watch: Keenum threw for 471 yards and two touchdowns in a 49-42 win against UTEP, the 15th time he has reached 400 yards in his career. He now ranks third on the NCAA career pasing list, and needs 1,482 yards to break the mark held by Timmy Chang. Keenum is averaging 401 yards passing a game. If he keeps that pace up, he will break the passing record at UAB on Nov. 5.

Helmet stickers

Alex Carder, QB, Western Michigan. Carder threw for a career-high and program record 479 yards and five touchdowns in a 38-31 win against UConn.

Harry Peoples, WR, Louisiana. Peoples had 12 catches for 176 yards in a win against FAU. His 12 receptions tied the mark Brandon Stokley set against Louisiana Tech in 1995 for most catches by a UL receiver at Cajun Field.

Brady Amack, LB, Air Force. Amack amassed a career-high 23 tackles (11 solo), a sack and two tackles for loss in the Falcons’ 35-34 overtime victory at Navy. Amack’s tackle total ranks as the sixth-highest in school history and tied for the most in Mountain West history.

Matt Christian, QB, New Mexico State. Christian went 16-of-27 for a career-high 296 yards and a career-high four touchdowns in a 42-28 win at New Mexico. Christian also rushed for a career-high 101 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. He had 397 yards of total offense and accounted for five of the six Aggie touchdowns in the game.

Navy wants CIC Trophy back

September, 27, 2011
9/27/11
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There is a simple story line to follow as Air Force travels to play Navy on Saturday.

The Midshipmen want the Commander In Chief Trophy back.

They owned it for seven straight seasons until 2010, when Air Force beat Navy and Army to take the trophy -- given to the winner of the competition among all three service academies. That 14-6 loss to the Falcons has stuck with the Midshipmen throughout the offseason, not only because it hurt to lose but because they felt they let down all the players who came before them.

[+] EnlargeNavy Midshipmen
Ron Chenoy/US PresswireNavy will try to make up for their loss to Air Force last season that cost them the CIC Trophy.
"You feel like you dropped the ball, you let those guys down," Navy back Alexander Teich said. "In all my years of playing sports, that was the hardest loss I've ever had to take because of the magnitude of it."

The goal every year is to win the trophy, and that has been renewed for the Midshipmen this season. Coach Ken Niumatalolo wants to make sure his team remains focused on the game and not emotionally distracted. He hopes that the bye week his team just had will help, especially with the health of his team.

Niumatalolo hopes to have both starting linebackers Jarrod Shannon (shoulder) and Mason Graham (knee) back on the field. He says his team is in much better physical shape and mental shape, too, after a heartbreaking 24-21 loss to South Carolina a few weeks ago. Navy had the lead three different times on the No. 10 Gamecocks, but Marcus Lattimore wore the Midshipmen down and the offense could not make a play down the stretch.

"You're always down when you lose," Niumatalolo said. "But my son was on the sideline and he gave me an observation. He said, 'Dad, South Carolina played good and we went toe to toe with them.' I've had to take a step back as a coach and look at the big picture that we went to SEC country, played the No. 10 team at their place, and they played well. We couldn't ask for a better situation. We had the ball to end the game with 5 1/2 minutes left and two timeouts. For us and our offense, you couldn't ask for a better scenario. We could stay within who we are with that much time.

"We went down there, we took their best shot and I don't think our kids flinched. I'm very impressed by the mental toughness of our guys. We were crushed in that locker room. We were devastated. As I looked at our guys' eyes, they fully expected to win. I was pleased from the standpoint ... our guys have taken from that game when you play good teams, you have to play it to your best abilities, but mentally you have to be dialed in, too."

Air Force is coming into this game banged up as well. Four starters on defense are going to miss this game -- linebacker Patrick Hennessey (thumb), nose guard Ryan Gardner (knee), cornerback Chris Miller (leg), defensive end Zach Payne (knee) -- leaving what was a strength of the team with some inexperienced players. But Tim Jefferson has been even better on offense for the Falcons, who leads the nation in rushing with 412 yards a game.

Navy has a first-year starter in Kriss Proctor, but he has done a good job running the triple-option. "You can tell he's very comfortable executing the option part of it in what they do," Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said.

This game marks the first one on the road for Air Force. The Falcons have won three-straight service academy games dating back to 2009, the longest since Air Force had a 12-game streak from 1997-02. But Navy has won three straight at home against Air Force and is eager to keep that run going. A win would mean it has a leg up in the race for the CIC Trophy.

"Get the trophy back -- that's been a team goal," Teich said. "That's what we work toward and the opportunity to start that journey begins Saturday."

Non-AQ Weekend Rewind

September, 12, 2011
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The good: It was a weekend of big wins for non-AQs. FIU picked up the first win against an AQ team in school history when the Panthers upset Louisville 24-17. New Mexico State stunned Minnesota 28-21, picking up its first win against a Big Ten team, and first win against an AQ opponent since defeating Arizona State in 1999. The Aggies have been one of the worst teams in college football -- coach DeWayne Walker has won six games there in three seasons. Taveon Rogers had two touchdowns and 88 yards receiving.

[+] EnlargeGeorge O'Leary
AP Photo/Reinhold MatayCentral Florida and coach George O'Leary dominated Boston College.
Meanwhile, Conference USA pulled out two wins against AQ opponents: UCF handled Boston College 30-3 and Rice beat Purdue 24-22. Both were milestone wins. Though UCF has beaten AQ programs before, the Knights had never done so at home. They are off to their first 2-0 start since 1998, a season removed from making the Top 25 for the first time in program history. Rice had lost 22 consecutive games to AQ opponents. The win was the Owls' first against a Big Ten team since a 40-34 win at Northwestern in 1997.

TCU rebounded in a big way against Air Force, winning 35-19 in a game that was never close. In fact, the Horned Frogs led 35-9 in the fourth quarter, and played much better on defense, even without leading tackler Tanner Brock.

The heartbreak: The MAC easily had the most heartbreaking day. Central Michigan, Toledo and Northern Illinois had leads on their AQ opponents only to come up just short.

Central Michigan led the Wildcats 13-6 at halftime and had outgained them 227 yards to 94. But the turning point came midway through the third quarter, when coach Dan Enos elected to go for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 34. Tim Phillips ran for no gain. Kentucky scored on the next play to tie the game at 13, and Central Michigan never scored again in 27-13 loss.

Toledo had Ohio State on the ropes, but the Rockets killed themselves with one mistake after another: 14 penalties for 102 yards; a missed 45-yard field goal and botched hold on a 50-yard attempt; allowing a punt return for a score. A final interception from Terrance Owens on the Ohio State 17 with 48 seconds closed out a 27-22 loss.

Northern Illinois lost to Kansas 45-42 with 9 seconds left when Jayhawks quarterback Jordan Webb threw a 6-yard touchdown pass on fourth down to B.J. Beshears. The Huskies had taken the lead with 5:03 remaining when Jasmin Hopkins scored on a 1-yard touchdown run. Kansas converted two fourth down opportunities on the winning drive. Chandler Harnish finished 27-of-33 for 315 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, and added 89 yards and a career-high three touchdowns on the ground. Harnish has 11 total touchdowns in two games this season.

Not to be outdone, Fresno State and BYU each had halftime leads in their games before losing. The Bulldogs gave up a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that turned the tide and lost to No. 10 Nebraska 42-29. ... BYU led Texas 13-3 but the Longhorns changed quarterbacks in the second half and that seemed to spark them to a 16-13 win. The BYU offense has not exactly gotten immediate results from new offensive coordinator Brandon Doman. The Cougars rank No. 108 in the nation in total offense (275.5 ypg), and No. 107 in scoring offense (15 ppg). Despite that, they could very easily be 2-0.

The ugly: The offense clearly was not invited to the Louisiana-Kent State game. The teams combined for 19 first downs, seven turnovers and 15 penalties in one of the ugliest games of the day. Louisiana had 159 total yards; Kent State 186. Louisiana quarterback Chris Masson threw for 18 yards.

Army was one of the best teams in the nation last season in turnover margin, but so far this season, turnovers have been a big problem in an 0-2 start. In a 23-20 loss to San Diego State, the Black Knights fumbled eight times -- losing three. In two games, Army has given the ball away six times and is at minus-4 in turnover ratio.

Record watch:

  • Ohio coach Frank Solich notched his 100th career win Saturday in a 30-3 win against Gardner-Webb.
  • Southern Miss quarterback Austin Davis broke Brett Favre's school passing yards mark of 7,695, in a 26-20 loss to Marshall.
  • Houston quarterback Case Keenum threw for 458 yards and five touchdowns in a 48-23 win against North Texas. He moved into fourth place on the FBS career list for passing yards (14,354) and tied Danny Wuerffel for sixth in career passing touchdowns with 114.
  • Pete Thomas became the first sophomore quarterback in Colorado State history to reach 3,000 yards passing. In a 33-14 win against Northern Colorado, Thomas was 28-for-42 for 259 yards and a touchdown -- but he also threw three interceptions.
Injury update: Colorado State linebacker Mychal Sisson broke his ankle in the second quarter against Northern Colorado and is out indefinitely. Coach Steve Fairchild said the hope is for Sisson to be able to return later this season. ... UTEP starting quarterback Nick Lamaison separated his shoulder in a loss to SMU. ... Air Force quarterback Tim Jefferson was pulled from the loss to TCU and got precautionary X-rays after the game for an undisclosed injury. Nose guard Ryan Gardner injured his knee.

Helmet stickers

Eugene Cooper, WR, Bowling Green. Had career-highs in catches (6), yards (134) and touchdowns (4) in the Falcons’ 58-13 win against Morgan State. Cooper’s four receiving touchdowns tied a school record for touchdown catches in a single game.

Jerome Long, DT, San Diego State. Had a career-high 10 tackles in a 23-20 win against Army, and his sack on a critical third-down on Army's last drive of the game took Army out of field goal range.

T.Y. Hilton, WR, FIU. Set a career-high and school record with 201 yards receiving and two touchdowns in a 24-17 upset win against Louisville.

Adrien Cole, LB, Louisiana Tech. Had 9 total tackles, 1.5 tackles for a loss, one sack and blocked Central Arkansas’ field goal in overtime, his second blocked field goal in as many games.

UCF defense. Held Boston College to three points and 84 yards passing in the 30-3 win. The Knights have yet to allow 100 passing yards in a game this season and have limited their first two opponents to three points and 260 total yards.
Defending Rose Bowl champion TCU has won 36 of its past 40 games, but the No. 25 Horned Frogs will fall to 0-2 after playing at Air Force on Saturday.

TCU’s rebuilt defense was exposed in last week’s 50-48 loss at Baylor, allowing 564 yards of offense. Falcons quarterback Tim Jefferson, a senior from Atlanta, doesn’t throw the ball like Baylor star Robert Griffin III, but he runs the triple-option offense to near perfection.

The Falcons ran for 391 yards in last week’s 37-20 victory over FCS opponent South Dakota.
They are fierce rivals, yes, but everybody who coaches at and plays for a service academy understands the difficulty of making a bowl game. So it should come as little shock that they applauded what happened last season -- when Army, Navy and Air Force all made bowl games for the first time in college football history.

"All three are phenomenal places. Each one has their own niche that our country badly needs," Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. "We’re fortunate to have each one of these academies. When they all have winning seasons, that’s pretty cool stuff."

Now the big question -- can they do it again and again?

[+] EnlargeArmy quarterback Trent Steelman
Hunter Martin/Getty ImagesLast season Trent Steelman passed for 995 yards, rushed for 721 yards and led Army to its first bowl game since 1996.
"There are no guarantees in this, but I think that’s a realistic outcome when you look at who we are and our schedules and how well we’re playing," Army coach Rich Ellerson said. "It’s not hard to visualize that."

Navy and Air Force have been playing at high levels in recent years. The Midshipmen have been to eight straight bowl games; Air Force to four straight. It had been Army that lagged behind. But Ellerson has changed the culture at West Point, taking his Black Knights to a bowl game for the first time since 1996.

Is that enough to get the momentum going for Army? On paper, it appears that Army has the longest shot of the three service academies to make it back to a bowl game.

The defense lost six starters, including all-important nose guard Mike Gann and defensive end Josh McNary, who holds the school record for tackles for loss and sacks. The defensive line is more undersized than usual for a service academic, so the team is hoping its quickness and athleticism can make up for that. The Black Knights also lose leading tackler Stephen Anderson, who had 108 stops last season, and both starting safeties.

If you take a look at the Army schedule, you will find very few gimmes. Six of the 12 games feature bowl teams; only four of their FBS teams had losing records last season. The opening stretch is tough, starting with a game at Northern Illinois (11-3 last season), then home to San Diego State (9-4) and Northwestern (7-6). Army plays six straight games before getting a bye.

But if there is a bright spot for Army, it has to be on offense. Quarterback Trent Steelman and fullback Jared Hassin return, and they should given opposing defenses fits. Hassin ran for 1,013 yards last season and Steelman added 721 on the ground and 995 yards passing. Army does have to replace four starters on the offensive line, but Ellerson has been pleased with their progress.

Navy faces a rebuilding year as well, but the Midshipmen are a team that knows how to win and win consistently. They only return 10 starters -- and just three on defense. Navy lost its top four tacklers from a year ago -- Wyatt Middleton, Tyler Simmons, Aaron McCauley and Jerry Hauburger.

There are some bright spots returning, though. Defensive end Jabaree Tuani, their best defensive lineman, returns. Cornerback Kewsi Mitchell will anchor the defensive backfield, though just exactly where he will play remains up in the air. On the latest depth chart, he is listed as a possibility at rover, right and left cornerback.

Offensively, Ricky Dobbs is gone, but there isn't much concern about Kriss Proctor coming in to run the triple-option. Proctor has had extensive experience running the offense as a backup the past two seasons. Plus, he has fullback Alexander Teich to help him out. Teich had a breakout year in 2010, running for 863 yards and is in line to be a 1,000-yard rusher this season. Four of five starters on the offensive line return as well.

As for Air Force, the Falcons are the defending Commander-In-Chief Trophy winners after breaking the seven-year Navy streak. Air Force has to be the favorite to repeat as CIC champions because of everybody it has returning. In fact, the Falcons were picked to finish third in the Mountain West in the preseason media poll, and some have called them a darkhorse candidate to win the conference.

Air Force has the best quarterback of the service academies in Tim Jefferson, and the best return specalist in Jonathan Warzeka. The Falcons also have the most solid defense. Eight starters return on defense, including the team's top three tacklers from a year ago -- Jordan Waiwaiole, Jon Davis and Brady Amack.

All three programs need to get to six wins to be bowl eligible. If that happens again, Navy would head to the Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman on Dec. 28 in Washington against a team from the ACC. Army would head to the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco against a Pac-12 team on Dec. 31. Air Force would go to a Mountain West tie-in.

MWC Day 1 wrap

July, 26, 2011
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LAS VEGAS -- Here are some notes and quotes from Day 1 of Mountain West media day:

The biggest talk of the day was the arrival of Boise State and the imminent departure of TCU. To the surprise of no one, the Broncos were tabbed the preseason favorite to win the conference, a position they were quite accustomed to in the WAC.

Boise State coach Chris Petersen said: “Preseason polls are saying we’ve got some good players coming back. I don’t think it says anything about the team we have. We do have some good players but what we have to do is we have to develop our young talent. We have some older players who have played a lot of football and then we’ve got a gap between some guys who haven’t played and need the experience, need the knowledge. Our job as coaches is to narrow that gap.”

The Horned Frogs are the defending league champs, but have a new starting quarterback in Casey Pachall. Many believe the game between the two schools in Boise on Nov. 12 will decide the conference championship. Of course, that game was originally scheduled to be played in Fort Worth. But once TCU announced it was leaving for the Big East, the game was switched to Boise.

TCU coach Gary Patterson has voiced his displeasure on the matter, and said Tuesday he initially felt TCU was being treated as if it had already left the conference.

The Horned Frogs have a tough slate of games, and open MWC play in Week 2 -- at Air Force. That comes a week after opening at Baylor in a Friday night game on ESPN.

“The mark of a great football team is how you do on the road,” Patterson said. “You have to go on the road, every year we’ve ever had a great season, we’ve always started on the road.”

One thing is for certain in the game between the two teams -- Boise State won’t be wearing all blue uniforms. As part of its entry into the league, Boise State administrators agreed that the school wouldn’t wear its traditional blue jerseys and blue pants on the blue home field.

The MWC board of directors felt the all blue uniforms gave the Broncos an unfair advantage.
  • Air Force was tabbed to finish No. 3 in the conference and could be a dark horse contender in the league, especially if the Falcons pull off the upset of TCU to open conference play. They return eight starters on a solid defense, along with Tim Jefferson, Asher Clark and Jonathan Warzeka on offense.
  • San Diego State quarterback Ryan Lindley looked like a new man walking around media day, appearing much bigger in the upper body. Even Patterson took note, saying Lindley looked transformed. San Diego State coach Rocky Long said this about his veteran quarterback: "He’s big, he’s strong, he’s smart. He’s got a great arm and he’s got accuracy. What else do you want? The leadership role started toward the end of last year when he had complete confidence in his own ability and complete confidence in the system. That’s why we have not changed the system."

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