A quarterback controversy will usually arise when two quarterbacks are competing for the starting job. Air Force has endured a quarterback traffic jam.
“There’s all kinds of twists and turns,” said Army coach Rich Ellerson, whose team will play the Falcons Saturday.
None more so than that at Air Force. Last week, in its 45-10 loss to Notre Dame, Air Force freshman Nate Romine, who didn’t even suit up for the team’s opening-day victory against Colgate, got the start. He completed six of 10 passes for 37 yards and rushed 21 times for 76 yards. For the season, he has competed in five games and is 12 for 26 for 163 yards, with one touchdown pass and one interception.
The Falcon’s QB problems began the week following the opener, when junior quarterback Kale Pearson suffered a season-ending knee injury. It’s possible that Karson Roberts, who suffered a head injury against San Diego State Oct. 10 may be available. Roberts played two full games before his injury. Sophomore quarterback Jaleel Awini made three starts before being dismissed for not meeting academy standards. Another freshman quarterback, Pate Davis, is now seeing more practice time.
Whoever finally does play will likely not be using his arm much, anyway. Air Force has averaged just seven complete passes per game. But its seven-game losing streak can certainly be traced to its defense. Or almost complete lack of it.
Following their 38-13 victory over Colgate, the Falcons have allowed an average of just over 42 points per game. Included was four straight games in which they allowed 52, 42, 56 and 45 points. They were relatively competitive against Navy and San Diego State, but that was followed by last week’s pounding by the Fighting Irish. The Falcons are 1-7, which is surely no surprise. Despite Air Force having scored no more than 23 points in a game – with the exception of its 45-42 loss to Nevada – it is still their offense that concerns Ellerson, particularly on the ground. Air Force doesn’t have one signature runner. Instead, it has three backs – Broam Hart (411 yards), Jon Lee (373) and Anthony LaCoste (353) – who are almost interchangeable. The Falcons are averaging 366.9 yards per game, 271.2 of it on the ground.
“Air Force will run the ball, and they are one of the better running attacks in the country,” he said. “Our challenges in the passing game, when it’s one of those matchups where it is a well-thrown ball and they get one on you, you say good for them. What’s got us talking to ourselves is not trying to do the right things in some critical situations where we give up some goof balls because that is what undoes a large body of good work.”
This is the first of Army’s two games against a fellow service academy, and if Army is to remain in contention for this year’s Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy, it must win this game. Navy has already beaten Air Force, so if Army defeats Air Force its Dec. 14 against the Midshipmen will be for the trophy. If Army loses Saturday, the best it can do – even if it defeated Navy – is finish 1-1 in the academy games. With a loss to Army, Navy would also finish 1-1, but as the defending winner, it would keep the trophy. Navy has won the trophy eight of the last 10 years; Army last won it in 1996.
“These are iconic with respect to the programs, and it is part of our culture,” Ellerson said. “It permeates us at every level. The recent graduates, old graduates, current players and people who are attending the service academies, the games bring the national attention on these young people and the path that they have chosen. I think it is a lot of fun being part of something like that. Obviously, at the end of the day I am coaching football. I am battling the larger media world as well as a large academy network. There are a lot of people who are trying to get a piece of our guys this week. I have to make sure our voice is the one that resonates with the guys, and we know what it takes to be in the right place. You can get into a sort of tug-of-war in games like this because it does mean so much to so many people, and everyone’s heart is in the right place.”