2011 Air Force Preview – Offense
Air Force RB Asher Clark
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Preview 2011 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: You know what you're going to get. The Falcons are going to run for 300 yards per game, it'll hit on a few big passes here and there and average over 15 yards per catch, and it'll be maddeningly efficient at moving the ball. There are replacements needed in key spots, but reloading has never been an issue. Fortunately, there's a fantastic veteran to rely on under center with Tim Jefferson back to provide a good passing arm as well as a great leader for the ground game. Asher Clark will be one of the Mountain West's most effective runners, and Jonathan Warzeka will be as deadly as a 20-catch receiver can be. The line returns three starters and is as talented and as athletic as any in the Troy Calhoun era.
Star of the offense: Senior QB Tim Jefferson
Passing: Tim Jefferson
82-159, 1,459 yds, 10 TD, 6 INT
Rushing: Asher Clark
182 carries, 1,031 yds, 5 TD
Receiving: Jonathan Warzeka
18 catches, 406 yds, 3 TD
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior RB Wesley Cobb
Unsung star on the rise: Junior OT Jason Konz
Best pro prospect: Senior WR Jonathan Warzeka (as a returner)
Top three all-star candidates: 1) RB Asher Clark, 2) Warzeka, 3) Jefferson
Strength of the offense: Running, Big Pass Plays
Weakness of the offense: Passing, Line Size
State of the Unit: As always, the Air Force passing game will be along for the right. The yards won't be there – the Falcons finished 118th in the nation last year averaging 119 yards per game – but the attack is ultra-efficient. Fortunately, there's a veteran triggerman who knows exactly what he's doing.
Senior Tim Jefferson has a nice arm and is extremely tough, but more than anything else, he's an experienced veteran who is a proven, steady leader. At 6-0 and 200 pounds, he's not a wisp and he's tough running inside and out, finishing second on the team with 794 yards with 15 touchdowns. Not fazed by any setting, he played well at Oklahoma when he had to be the team's playmaker, and he made enough right decisions in the bowl win over Georgia Tech when he was being shut down. With a strong, he can get the ball down the field, but his accuracy is average completing just 52% of his throws for 1,459 yards and ten scores with six picks. The tools are there with quickness, speed, and toughness, and with the school issues and a knee problem well in the past, he should be one of the Mountain West's top all–around playmakers.
While Jefferson is the main man, senior Connor Dietz can step in without a problem and keep the offense moving. The 6-0, 185-pound senior is a thin, athletic quarterback who threw well when he got his chances, completing 5-of-7 passes for 67 yards and a score in the blowout over New Mexico while running for 57 yards on the year. Experienced, he was a factor in 2009 before getting knocked out with a broken hand, and with his time logged in he's ready to be more than just a backup option.
Watch Out For … A little more from Dietz. There's no question that Jefferson will be the leader of the attack, but Dietz is more than just a capable No. 2. He's too good and too experienced to not be on the field in some way.
Strength: Experience. Between Jefferson and Dietz, the Falcons have 34 games of starting experience to count on. Jefferson is the first Air Force quarterback to take his team to three straight bowl games.
Weakness: Passing. It's not just about the yards not coming in the flow of the offense; it's about consistency. The offense will take on a new dimension if Jefferson can complete about 65% of his throws, but it'll settle for 60%. The interceptions have to be kept to a bare minimum.
Outlook: It would be nice to develop another option for next year once Jefferson and Dietz are done, but it'll be hard enough just to get the No. 2 man on the field. The Falcons have two terrific option playmakers who know what they're doing, and they should be steady and productive all year long. With plenty of good backs Jefferson won't have to do everything, but he should be in for a big final year and he'll be as effective as any player in the league.
Unit Rating: 7.5
State of the Unit: The Falcons boasted a veteran backfield last year. This year they're missing the tone-setting inside presence that Jared Tew and his 599 yards provided, and there are newcomers to the equation to fill in the gaps, but QB Tim Jefferson will take care of most of the work while there are a few decent veterans to work around.
Senior Asher Clark came up with a terrific season averaging 5.7 yards per carry with five scores while running for 1,031 yards. The 5-8, 185-pounder didn't bust off any home runs with his biggest carry of the year just 28 yards, but he made big things happen every time he had the ball in his hands ripping off 121 yards against BYU and 125 against Colorado State. While he's not necessarily a workhorse, and he'll only handle the ball 15 times a game, he's effective. Now he has to prove he can still produce when he's the target of opposing defenses.
The problem is finding someone to replace Tew, and the issue is hardly settled. It would be nice to have a big, strong fullback-type, but Tew was only 210 pounds and he was effective. 5-9, 190-pound junior Wesley Cobb isn't going to power over anyone, and he only ran for 13 yards on five carries, but he's going to get his chances to run inside and out. While he's more of a speedy option for the outside, 6-1, 215-pound junior Mike DeWitt is bigger and has the potential to bring more power. Not just a plowhorse, he has a little bit of speed and mobility. If he can get healthy again after missing all of last year, he could be the fullback the team desperately needs.
Working as another outside option behind Clark is junior Darius Jones, a speedster who averaged 9.1 yards per carry last year. He only ran for 73 yards and tore off a 44-yarder against Northwestern State, but he showed potential. His brother, Roddy, plays for Georgia Tech.
Watch Out For … The fullback situation. Army and Navy tend to use big, barreling runners who try to set the tone and establish an inside presence. Air Force tends to like its fullbacks to hit the hole in a hurry and make big things happen. Cob isn't all that big, but he should be effective, while DeWitt, if healthy, could be extremely effective.
Strength: The offense. Having a ringmaster like Tim Jefferson to get the ball to the right man will help, but the backs are trained well, hit the ground running, and there's never a blip in production. Clark is a good veteran to work around, but anyone who handles the ball in the system will be qualified to tear off five yards.
Weakness: Power. There wasn't really much last year and it didn't matter much. However, there was more than there will be this year with Tew and Nathan Walker each running well inside. The attack might be more finesse, outside-oriented than normal.
Outlook: You know what's coming. With the quarterbacks and receivers included, Air Force will average around 300 yards per game, will score at least 35 touchdowns, more likely 40, and it'll average over five yards per pop. Clark is a star, Cobb will be fine, and DeWitt and Jones will be effective. The backs might not be as strong as last year, but they'll be more than fine. The rating is based on production over talent.
Unit Rating: 8
State of the Unit: As always, the receivers are along for the ride as it's their job to make big plays when called on, block well, and occasionally run the ball. The team will complete fewer than 100 passes, but it's all about the yards per catch. If Air Force can average 17.6 yards per catch again, everything will be fine.
Senior Jonathan Warzeka has been a regular in the mix over the last few years, following up an 18-catch 2009 with a team-leading 18 catches for 406 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 22.6 yards per grab, while also running for 312 yards and four scores averaging 7.6 yards per carry. At 5-9 and 180 pounds he's not all that big, but he's extremely quick, shifty, and he makes things happen whenever he has the ball in his hands. He seems to make the most of every opportunity.
6-4, 205-pound senior Zach Kauth is the bigger target in the equation, and he can also stretch the field averaging 17.1 yards per catch making 16 grabs for 274 yards and four scores. He's not going to run the ball, but with his size he's big blocker and he's a tough, physical target. He'll combine with junior Drew Coleman to work on the other side of Warzeka. Coleman only caught one pass for seven yards, but he has the speed and the athleticism to do far more. Also in the equation will be Brandon Hirniese, a 6-1, 185-pound junior who caught three passes for 31 yards. He's a good blocker.
Senior Joshua Freeman will take over the fight end job is built like a big receiver at 6-3 and 200 pounds, and he played like it averaging 30.5 yards per catch on his four grabs. All of them came over a four game stretch including a 51-yarder against Colorado State. 6-4, 230-pound senior Daniel Pickett is a bigger option who hasn't caught a pass yet, but he's a big, smart veteran who can get physical.
Watch Out For … Warzeka to get the ball even more. He's so dangerous no matter how he's used, including as a kickoff returner, that he has to someone handle the ball far, far more than 59 times a year. He'll get more carries.
Strength: The big play. The receivers never have to come up with eight catches a game to keep the offense moving. All they have to do is hit on the big catch when the defense is worrying about the running game. They lull everyone to sleep and then hit the home run.
Weakness: The offense. When there are only 166 passing attempts, there's not a lot for the receivers to do. However, they're all great blockers.
Outlook: With Tim Jefferson under center, the Falcon receivers will have their chances to make plays and be a part of the passing game. Warzeka is a real, live receiver that defenses will have to work about, and Kauth can be dangerous with a little more work.
Unit Rating: 5
State of the Unit: The line that led the nation in sacks allowed, giving up just five, and it paved the way for over 300 rushing yards. Granted, it's easy for the sacks allowed stat to look good when the offense doesn't throw the ball, but the line really was a fantastic and now there are three solid starters returning to build around.
Anchoring the line once again is veteran A.J. Wallerstein at right guard after starting every game last year and working at left guard in 2009. At 6-4 and 280 pounds he has good size and the versatility to play tackle, or anywhere else on the line, if needed. He's the one the team works around on key downs, and he provides the power when needed. A top recruit a few years ago, he's playing like it.
Returning at left tackle is Jason Kons, a 6-4, 255-pound junior who moves extremely well and more than held his own in pass protection. He's never going to get much bigger, and he'll always be a tall, lean blocker, but he has been great at walling off speed rushers and he provides the blocks needed to spring the big plays on the outside. Working at the other tackle spot in place of Chase Darden will be Kevin Whitt, a 6-3, 255-pound senior who also runs well and is great at getting out on the move. He might not be Darden right away, but he has the athleticism to be more than fine in a bigger role.
It'll be an interesting fight for the starting center job. Michael Hester started every game last year and was solid, but the 6-3, 250-pound senior was dinged up in spring ball with a leg problem and has to fight for his job. Extremely quick, he could move around where needed but was steady enough in the middle to be counted on to be the quarterback up front again if Jeffrey Benson doesn't take over. The 6-0, 255-pound senior was on top of the depth chart coming out of spring ball, but he's hardly a given to stick in the starting spot with Hester pushing to be the main man once again. Benson isn't the most athletic blocker and is a short plugger, but he's experienced and brings decent power.
6-3, 255-pound junior Jordan Eason has been groomed to be ready to take over a starting spot at left guard, he's a bit more of a road grader than several other Falcon offensive linemen, while 6-1, 270-pound junior Michael Husar is a bigger option with the strength to become a tough interior blocker. Both players will see plenty of time at one guard spot, if not in a rotation.
Watch Out For … the center situation. Hester is the one who should own the job as the season goes on, with the experience and the ability to be a steadying force, but Benson will play somewhere.
Strength: Quickness. The Air Force line will never flatten anyone, but it's great at boxing out and coming up with the types of blocks on the move to push and wall off so the runners can get by. It might be considered a finesse blocking scheme, but it always works.
Weakness: Bulk. Few teams run more effectively than the Falcons, but it would be nice if all the 250ish-sized players came in around 275. The line will be solid and it'll work, but there are times when it it would be great to line up and flatten someone.
Outlook: This might be the most talented Falcon offensive front in a while. It's not big, it's adequately strong, and it has to replace a few starters, but the coaching staff has made a point to get more agile, more skilled blockers who can move around where needed. The line will allow fewer than ten sacks, it'll pave the way to big runs, and it'll be effective for what the offense wants to do.
Unit Rating: 6
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