No. 8 Utah braces for Air Force’s option offense

The Mountain West’s marquee matchup between No. 8 Utah and No. 4

TCU remains just around the corner.

A week from now the Horned Frogs arrive in Salt Lake City for a

clash of hopeful BCS busters, a highly anticipated game that fans

and analysts alike have starred and circled on the schedule.

Only the Utes (7-0, 4-0) can’t afford to glance down the road

even a little. They have a major roadblock standing in the way as

they travel to Air Force on Saturday to play a Falcons squad that

has traditionally given them trouble.

Of the last 13 meetings, only one has been decided by double

digits and the game last season went into overtime before Eddie

Wide scored the winner on a 1-yard plunge.

Even more, the Falcons (5-3, 3-2) are steaming after two

straight losses, which has dropped them from the rankings.

Air Force definitely has Utah’s full attention.

”It’s been a great series with a lot of close ball games, and I

expect this year will be no different,” Utes coach Kyle

Whittingham said.

Part of that has to do with the Falcons’ tricky triple-option

offense. With teams hardly having any time to prepare for it, the

scheme causes many a defensive coordinator anxious nights and

extreme headaches. The Falcons enter the game with the top rushing

attack in the nation, averaging nearly 327 yards.

However, the Utes boast one of the best run defenses. They also

dedicate time to defending the option outside of the week leading

up to the game, going over containment assignments in spring ball

and again during their bye week.

”We got a head start,” Whittingham said.

Not that it necessarily helps. All it takes is one miscue, one

missed assignment and …

”You are looking at a potential big play,” said Whittingham,

whose team has won six of the last seven meetings.

After a promising start to the season, the Falcons have gone

into a tailspin. They were stunned at San Diego State and then

soundly thumped by TCU.

”Losing two straight really hurt us,” defensive back Anthony

Wooding Jr. said. ”Coach (Troy) Calhoun always tells us that great

teams don’t lose twice. So losing a second game in a row is a big

deal.”

Snapping the skid, receiver Jonathan Warzeka said, is as simple

as concentrating on the basics.

”Defensive players will tell you that they haven’t tackled. Not

against San Diego State and TCU. On offense we need to stay on

blocks,” Warzeka explained. ”We moved the ball really well on our

first drive against TCU and after that we weren’t able to stay on

blocks.”

Calhoun won’t argue with Warzeka’s assessment.

”You have to play. Part of that is the sheer sense of unity and

perseverance,” Calhoun said. ”It has been tough and yet at the

same time, if you have the right makeup, which we do, and with

character, it should make you even stronger.”

The Falcons are quite wary of Utah’s high-octane offense led by

quarterback Jordan Wynn, who threw for 321 yards and three TDs

against Colorado State last weekend. It’s a performance that earned

him the league’s co-offensive player of the week honors.

”He’s done everything this season. He is very skilled and has a

quick release,” Calhoun said. ”You ought to see the throws he is

able to make. He has a presence and poise and has an uncanny knack

of delivering a ball.”

The Utes also possess a dynamic rushing attack with seniors Matt

Asiata and Wide, who ranks second in the conference with nine

touchdowns.

”They have two very good backs, one very powerful in Matt

Asiata and the other with good strength and yet a home run guy in

Eddie Wide,” Calhoun said. ”We have a heck of a challenge this

week.

”They are pretty good. But the Air Force Falcons like to play a

little bit, too.”

A fact the Utes are well aware of, given the recent close calls

in the series.

”Most every year it goes down to the wire,” Whittingham said.

”A lot of that is attributed to the toughness of an Air Force team

that never quits, ever. They always hang in there.”