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History shows Falcons can hurt Rebels both on ground and through air

While Air Force ran the ball well last year at UNLV, the pass game decided the outcome


Sam Morris

UNLV defensive back Beau Orth, left, and defensive end Heivaha Mafi take down Air Force’s Asher Clark during the first half of action in a 29-28 Falcons victory at Sam Boyd Stadium on Oct. 18, 2008.

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The Rebel Room

One season begins, will another continue?

Ryan Greene, Rob Miech and Ray Brewer discuss both UNLV's ugly exhibition — which, remember, was just an exhibition — against Washburn this week on the hardwood. Plus, the guys look at what kind of shot the 4-6 UNLV football team actually has to keep its dream alive at Air Force this weekend.

Next game

  • Opponent: Air Force (6-3)
  • Date: Nov. 14, 3 p.m.
  • Where: Colorado Springs, Colo.
  • TV: The Mtn. (Cox Ch. 334)
  • Radio: ESPN 1100 AM
  • All-time series: Air Force leads, 10-4

Wherever Air Force's offense goes, it's reputation as a run-heavy machine follows.

That was certainly the case last season, when the Falcons came into Sam Boyd Stadium and squeaked out a 29-28 victory over UNLV.

But a look inside the numbers shows that it wasn't the run that really killed the Rebels in the long run.

"Last year, they rushed for more than 300 yards against us," junior defensive end Malo Taumua said. "But they only had one rushing touchdown. The rest were all passing."

The game's first score came on a 52-yard run by Todd Newell.

Take that one breakaway play out of the count, and Air Force finished the night with 294 yards on 67 runs, averaging 4.4 yards per carry.

That's still a healthy gain per pop, but nothing that can break your back. The plan for the Rebels this Saturday is to try and bend without breaking in the same fashion, when Mike Sanford takes his 4-6 club to Colorado Springs in another do-or-die contest.

The 6-4 Falcons this season possess the nation's fourth-ranked rushing attack, averaging 264 yards per game and 4.29 per tote.

What UNLV must do different this time around, however, is not fall into any traps in over-defending the run and leaving itself vulnerable to the pass.

"From a defensive standpoint, the only thing I remember is that we were stopping the run. It was a tight game the whole time and they really surprised us with their passing game," senior linebacker Jason Beauchamp said. "We'd been preparing for the run the entire week, and they surprised us with trick plays and just going deep down the field. So that's something we're going to take into consideration this week."

UNLV actually led that game heading into the fourth quarter, 21-20.

The back-breaker in that final stanza was a 44-yard touchdown pass from then-freshman Tim Jefferson to Kyle Halderman.

On the night, Jefferson was 6-of-7 for 162 yards, the first two TD tosses of his young career and no interceptions.

The Falcons rank 118th out of 120 FBS programs in passing offense this season but still have the potential to pop opponents with big plays. Seven of their 54 completions this season have gone for scores.

"We've just got to prepare well for the option," Taumua said. "And they can go deep, too, and catch you off guard."

The wild card in all of this is remaining mentally strong against Air Force's attack, as its offensive line makes a living by pulling and getting low.

Some contend that the Falcons could be called for chop blocks on almost every snap. But they're not, and battling that without boiling over is half of the battle.

"You can't get frustrated. You can't lose your focus and discipline," Sanford said. "Their whole deal on offense is to get you to lose your focus and discipline. That's the biggest thing about playing against this offense. It's focus, discipline and guys playing their assignments."

Taumua said that the best defense for it is preparing to give the Falcons a taste of their own medicine. The Rebels have begun practicing that with reps against the scout team this week, which has featured redshirts Caleb Herring and John Therrell mimicking Jefferson's every move.

"They come off the ball hard, and one thing about Air Force is that they play with heart every play," he said. "You've got to do what they're going to do to you, because they're going to try to cut you; they're going to try to scramble you, so you've got to do the same to them."

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