COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- From a statistical standpoint, the numbers posted by the Air Force football team last week were far from what fans here are accustomed to: the Falcons managed just 201 yards in total offense against Texas-El Paso and had only 30 with two first downs in a forgettable first half.
But when it was over, after UTEP failed in four attempts to score from the 4-yard line in the final seconds, it was the Falcons who walked off the field with their fourth victory of the season, 28-22.
"They play pretty heads-up football and they're a highly opportunistic team," said Navy coach George Chaump. "They find a way to win."
That's a trait Chaump hopes his team will find this afternoon when Navy (0-4) plays Air Force (4-1) at Falcon Stadium. Navy is hoping to remain in the running for the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy that is awarded to the winner of the series among Army, Navy and Air Force. But Navy has failed to beat Air Force in the past 10 meetings, and has won just two games here in 11 trips.
The Midshipmen are coming off their best showing of the season in a 28-14 loss at North Carolina last week. Using an I-bone formation that used three running backs, Navy, which went the first 15 quarters of this season without scoring, was able to cut the deficit to six late in the game.
"I was never as proud of a football team as I was against North Carolina," Chaump said. "We still have a lot of football to play. If we can put it together, it can be one of the greatest things to happen this year in college football."
The turnaround would have to come against an Air Force team on a three-game winning streak. But the Falcons have struggled at times this season, losing, 6-3, to Hawaii and shaking off poor first halves the past two weeks to beat New Mexico (Air Force rallied from 22-0 halftime deficit for a 33-32 win) and UTEP.
"We're just proud to be where we are -- our football team has done what it needs to do to win," said Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry. "The UTEP game showed the maturing of our offense because we had just 15 plays in the first half and came back. Some day we're going to play four quarters, and when we do that we're going to be a very competitive football team."
Long known for their wishbone offense, the Falcons have shown more variations this season. But those variations don't include a passing game. Quarterback Jarvis Baker has thrown just one touchdown pass (tight end Peter Wilkie also has one) and the team has completed 20 passes in just 47 attempts. "We've probably broken the 'bone' a little more than in the past, but we feel we're doing what best suits our personnel," DeBerry said.
The offense should see a familiar defensive alignment this afternoon since Navy defensive coordinator Greg McMackin +V headed the Utah defense the past two years. Air Force won the two games over Utah during McMackin's time, 24-21 last year and 52-21 in 1990.
"Greg did an excellent job at Utah and gained the respect of every team in our conference," DeBerry said. "It'll be a great challenge for our offense."
"This is a big, big game -- just like the Army game," said Navy linebacker Javier Zuluaga. "We're really going to be focused and go after them. We're looking to put it all together."
The ratings game
Navy has started the season 0-4, which relates to how the team stands nationally among the 107 Division I-A teams in several categories:
Category. . . . .... Rank. . . ................ Average
Scoring offense. ... 107. ... .............. 3.5 points
Punt returns. . . ... 105. . . .............. 1.7 yards
Scoring defense...... 104. . ...............37.3 points
Total offense........ 103. ................ 229.2 yards
Total defense. ...... 101. ................ 445.8 yards