Air Force out to snap losing streak at BYU

Originally Published: September 24, 2003
By Ed Graney | Special to

The numbers are telling: Air Force hasn't won at BYU since 1982, a streak of seven Cougar home victories. "Maybe it's something in the water down there," said Falcons coach Fisher DeBerry. "We haven't had much luck in Provo, but neither have a lot of teams. This is obviously an important game for both teams. After it, one will still be in first place and the other will be moving down."

  • Air Force also began last season 4-0, but DeBerry senses this year's team can better handle such early success. "This is a more mature team," he said. "Last year at this time, the players were having fun and giggling and just felt fortunate to have gotten off to such a start. But now, we've battled back in some games and have a better knowledge of what we're doing. But I still don't think you really find out about a team until after five or six games."

  • Don't tell DeBerry about BYU's offensive woes this season. He has never felt that part of the program set the Cougars apart, anyway. "I have always thought their defense and kicking game helped make them so successful over the years," said DeBerry. "BYU has had great quarterbacks and receivers, but the other two phases really made them such a strong program."

  • Senior quarterback Chance Harridge is the conference offensive Player of the Week after rushing for a season-high 117 yards and throwing for 79 more and a score in a win against Wyoming.

    If you ever needed to know how valuable a senior center is to the success of an offense, glance only at BYU right now. The Cougars are playing with a freshman quarterback (John Beck) and didn't have center Scott Jackson (knee) in an 18-14 loss to Stanford. Against the Cardinal, BYU was held to minus-5 yards rushing. The Cougars have not scored a rushing touchdown in 26 straight quarters dating to last season. "We have redshirt freshmen and a true freshman around (Jackson) on the line," said BYU coach Gary Crowton. "That made a difference against Stanford. To say we're young is a good excuse, but we just need to get better up front. (Jackson) should be back this week, which will definitely help us."

  • In his first career start, Beck completed 22-of-45 for 279 yards and a touchdown. He is subbing for the injured Matt Berry, out with a broken finger. BYU's 66 points are the program's lowest through a season's first four games since 1975. "We have good players, but we're making bonehead mistakes," said Crowton. "The lack of a (run game) has obviously hurt us. But we've also played some very good defenses in Georgia Tech and USC and New Mexico and Stanford. There aren't any I-AA defenses in there. We just need to get better and build off our mistakes."

  • Crowton on BYU's dominance of Air Force in Provo: "It's just a statistic, but I hope it's hard for them down here again this year."

    Colorado State
    The Rams are 2-2 after a 41-21 home loss to Miami (Ohio) and now open conference play against visiting Utah. So far, the roller coaster has made a few sharp turns for CSU, picked in the preseason to defend its Mountain West title. "I have a lot of faith in the character of our players," said Rams coach Sonny Lubick. "We have a lot of good seniors on this team. We've been playing fairly hard, but not really getting it done. We need to find out how good we really are. I still don't have a real good read on this team."

  • The Rams surrendered 236 yards rushing to Miami (Ohio), but still rank second among conference teams in rush defense (109.5 average against). Now comes Utah standout Brandon Warfield, the league's leading rusher. "We've been fairly consistent there," said Lubick. "We're not shutting people down or dominating against the run, but I still feel good about us there."

  • Lubick pretty much allows his offensive coaches free reign when it comes to game plans. But even he would like to see quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt (323.2 total offense average) run more. In the last year, Van Pelt has significantly improved his passing. "We don't see eye-to-eye on it all the time," Lubick said of himself and staff. "But I wouldn't mind if we called 7-10 run plays a game for Bradlee. In fact, I think we need to."

    The Rebels should get a patent on these conference Player of the Week honors. UNLV received two more awards off its 33-22 win against visiting Hawaii. Junior cornerback Ruschard Dodd-Masters (career-best 10 tackles, two forced fumbles, fumble recovery) earned the nod on defense and senior kicker Dillon Pieffer (tied school record with four field goals) on special teams. More importantly, the Rebels intercepted Hawaii record-setting quarterback Timmy Chang three times. "(Chang) is almost impossible to sack because of their scheme," said Rebels coach John Robinson. "But we got pressure on him. We kept him off balance where he wasn't as effective as he might be."

  • UNLV has impressed to earn its 3-1 record and now gets a week off before an in-state road game against Nevada. The Rebels gladly accept such rest, especially starting tailback Larry Croom, who should return against the Wolf Pack after missing the last two games. "I think every team is grateful when byes come, but they can be difficult," said Robinson. "In the past, I have practiced too hard during them and then had a tired team for a big game following an off week. It's a tricky thing."

  • Robinson laughed when reminded that conference media picked the Rebels in the middle of the pack during the preseason. "We all know the wisdom of you guys," he said. "Let's examine this. You (were last correct) during pre-second World War time."

    New Mexico
    The team is struggling at 1-3 overall and 0-1 in conference. The Lobos now host New Mexico State, which they have defeated 11-of-12 times in Albuquerque. "I think we're disappointed and upset that things aren't going better than they are, but I don't think there will be a letdown," said New Mexico coach Rocky Long. "If we were ever going to have a letdown it would have been last week (in a road loss to Washington State). In this program, we put so much emphasis on conference games, and to lose a game like we did against BYU (10-7), that takes as much out of you as any game can. We played one of the top teams in the country in Washington State and if we were emotionally drained, it sure didn't show on the field."

  • Long's team continues to pressure opponents. New Mexico has led the conference in sacks each of the past three seasons and is tied atop the league with 13 so far this year. Senior linebacker Billy Strother is coming off a 15-tackle (nine solo) performance against Washington State.

  • New Mexico's vaunted defense will get tested this week against New Mexico State's two-quarterback system of Buck Pierce and Paul Dombrowski. "They run a bunch of trick plays with the two quarterbacks in the game at the same time," said Long. "They motion one of them, they run a quarterback power play, they run a bubble screen to the quarterback, they run the option. But it's the same offense with either quarterback playing."

    San Diego State
    The Aztecs are 3-1 for the first time since 1996, but just how good Tom Craft's second team is will begin to unfold this week. SDSU (which has wins against two Division I-AA programs and lowly Texas-El Paso, coupled with a three-point loss at Ohio State) is at UCLA on Saturday to face a Bruins program that is 17-0-1 all-time against the Aztecs. "(UCLA) has been to 14 bowls in the last 20 years and won 10," said Craft. "We've gone to three bowls in the last 34 years and haven't won any. We've got a bigger mountain to climb. I think this game is one where we'll look to close the gap. This game is a measuring stick to close the gap and we need to be realistic about that."

  • Craft's defense ranks second nationally, allowing just an average of 229.5 yards. If you ask him, it's more a trend than anything. "Our conference as a whole has begun to apply different types of styles defensively," said Craft. "New Mexico really started it. People have gone to a more pressuring 30-package, which is difficult to prepare for in a short time, especially for non-conference opponents that might not see it very often."

  • Dynamic running back Lynell Hamilton -- convinced he is good enough to break all of Marshall Faulk's school records -- joined the former Aztecs great as the only true freshmen to rush for over 200 yards in a game. Hamilton went for 220 in a win against Samford.

    Coach Urban Meyer was an assistant at Colorado State from 1990-95, but doesn't expect any grand homecoming festivities when he takes the Utes to Fort Collins this week. "Nobody knows who I am," said Meyer. That could change soon enough. Utah is 2-1, nearly won at Texas A&M and had last week off after its victory against Cal on ESPN. Now, the Utes open conference play against the defending league champion. "I think a lot of people in this country have taken CSU for granted in terms of how successful they have been for so long," said Meyer. "Sonny Lubick has done a wonderful job there. Now, everybody knows Sonny. My wife likes Sonny better than she does me."

  • With each passing game, the nation finds out a little more about running back Brandon Warfield, who ranks third nationally with a 149.3 average. "We're a zone team, which is different than a power run game where you primarily run downhill," said Meyer. "(Warfield) has to hit gaps more and set up blocks and press the line of scrimmage. He has been fantastic, one of the most impressive players in the country. We're going to continue to ride him."

  • It's official: All-conference defensive end Jason Kaufusi (shoulder) will miss the entire season. Kaufusi underwent surgery in July and has not practiced or played since. The senior has a redshirt season available and will return next fall.

    The scores alone show improvement, even if the record does not. Wyoming gave Air Force everything it wanted and more in the conference opener for both teams, but the Falcons emerged 35-29 winners. "Frying pan to the fire," said first-year Cowboys coach Joe Glenn. "We gave it all we had, but it wasn't enough. Air Force is 4-0 for a reason. Now, we have to lick our wounds and try to get back up on our feet to face a very good team." That would be Boise State from the WAC this week, a Broncos team that had its 13-game win streak snapped at Oregon State last Saturday.

  • The 1-3 Cowboys are concerned, for good reason, about Boise State quarterback Ryan Dinwiddie. The senior has completed 50-of-91 for 734 yards with two TDs and no interceptions. "That tells you how smart he is," said Glenn. "He can throw it over the top, has touch, throws a nice screen. They really have something going offensively there."

  • Wyoming is also solid at quarterback with senior Casey Bramlet, who leads the conference in passing yards with a 304.0 average. Against Air Force, he was 26-of-51 for 379 yards and two scores. "Casey threw the ball as well as I have ever seen a quarterback throw," said Glenn. "He was unbelievable."

  • The Cowboys lost linebacker Guy Tuell to injury on the opening kickoff against Air Force. If he can't go at Boise State, former walk-on Jeff Tatnall (14 tackles against Air Force) gets the nod again.

    Ed Graney covers college football for the San Diego Union-Tribune.