June 13, 2007

Calhoun puts the 'air' back in Air Force

Air Force football fans might have scratched their heads in wonder during the Falcons' spring game.

Some of the verbal exchanges that might have gone like this:

Q: "Where is the quarterback?"

A: "He's standing a few yards behind center to take a shotgun snap."

Q: "What's a shotgun snap?"

There have been bunch of changes in Colorado Springs, and the biggest one is that Air Force is looking to the skies. That would be expected anywhere else in the world except at Falcon Stadium, where Air Force was grounded in coach Fisher DeBerry's flexbone offense.

However, DeBerry retired last December and was replaced by former Houston Texans offensive coordinator Troy Calhoun - who immediately installed a Spread offense. That's akin to Nebraska shelving the power option system it ran under Tom Osborne to the West Coast offense of Bill Callahan.

In 1990 and 1991, the Falcons' leading receivers caught just eight passes. Air Force has ranked no higher than 98th nationally in pass offense since 1999. Now, Calhoun is throwing caution to the wind. His team will be throwing into the wind - and everywhere else.

"No doubt about it, it's definitely strange," said Shaun Carney, the Falcons' starting quarterback since 2004. "I ran the Spread in high school, so we're doing things I've done in the past. That makes me feel more comfortable.

"I think everyone is really excited. We came out in the spring with a fresh opportunity and everyone attacked it. Guys that didn't get a lot of touches last year will get them this year. That brought the morale of the offense up."

The Falcons needed a morale boost, especially after three consecutive losing seasons.

"It was time for a change," Carney said.

Carney's role in the offense will definitely change.

In his three seasons as Air Force's quarterback, he has completed 268 of 434 passes for 3,900 yards. He has 30 touchdown passes and 16 interceptions.

Just last year USC's John David Booty completed 269 of 436 for 3,347 yards with 29 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

Carney only threw 137 passes last year, and he'll likely exceed that many attempts before the end of September.

"I hope it won't be too long," Carney said. "I'm excited about it. I know coach definitely wants to throw more and take a couple of carries away from me to preserve my body. I'm curious to see how it works out."

Grounded Air Force
Here's a look at where Air Force has ranked nationally and how much yardage it averaged in pass offense the last five seasons.
YearNational rankYards averaged
2002116th90.4
2003115th104.9
2004108th148.1
200599th170.7
2006118th101.3
No doubt, the Falcons receivers are just as excited and curious.

"They've been glorified linemen out there," Carney said. "But we have guys who can stretch the field."

But can the Falcons, who have managed only 13 wins the last three seasons, stretch out their victory total?

Carney thinks so, but his optimism might be questioned.

When Nebraska changed its offense in 2004 the Cornhuskers finished 5-6, their first losing season in 43 years.

That Nebraska team was comprised of players that were recruited specifically for a power-option offense.

But that's not the case at Air Force. In fact, Carney was a very successful quarterback at St. Edwards High School in North Elmstead, Ohio. He threw for 3,849 yards and 30 touchdowns as a senior.

Besides, he said the Falcons won't completely abandon the flexbone.

"Coach said for that (offense) to be so successful for a long period of time and then to throw it away doesn't make sense," Carney said. "That will make it a lot harder for teams to prepare for us. We're ready to run the Spread, the 'I' and the flexbone.

"Unlike Nebraska which went straight to the West Coast offense, we're still using the flexbone. Anytime we need our bread and butter, we feel like can go back to it."

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.



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