Want to know how seriously TCU coach Gary Patterson takes Air Force?
His team starts working on the triple-option offense in the spring, taking the last 15 minutes of the final five days of practice. There is more practice work in the fall, on every third day of two-a-days. TCU began preparing for this game four weeks ago, working on it every Sunday night after they finished up the script for their upcoming opponent.
So you can bet No. 5 TCU (7-0, 3-0) will be ready for the rushing attack when the teams play Saturday in Fort Worth.
“No. 1, it helps get ready for those guys, but they do a lot of things that are outside the triple,” Patterson said. “Wyoming ran a lot of the Air Force offense, with fly motions and different reads. Tennessee Tech ran the triple option. On defense, especially in your back seven, it’s about eyes, feet and accountability. The triple option makes you become good at those things, and it’s helped us in the teams we’ve played against.”
Stopping this offense is the ultimate test for Patterson, who prides himself on the way his defense plays. In three Mountain West Conference games, his team has given up one field goal -- last week to BYU. Nobody has gone over 200 yards of total offense.
The last time the Horned Frogs gave up a touchdown came to SMU on Sept. 24. They are tied with Oregon for the second-fewest points allowed in the fourth quarter with seven (the aforementioned SMU touchdown).
But Air Force (5-2, 3-1) provides a much bigger challenge than the last three offenses TCU has faced. No offense to Colorado State, Wyoming or BYU, but none of them has the rushing capabilities of the Falcons, who lead the nation in run offense.
Tim Jefferson has spearheaded the attack this season with his veteran leadership and poise. The Falcons were ranked last week, but came up just short on a two-point conversion against San Diego State and lost. They have lost their two games by a combined five points, and gave Oklahoma fits, nearly upsetting the Sooners.
The big question is how Air Force will fare this week with several players out due to injuries. The biggest loss is fullback Jared Tew, who is second on the team with 540 yards rushing and three touchdowns. Tew has a broken fibula and is out six weeks. Coach Troy Calhoun has confidence in senior Nathan Walker, who becomes the starter, but said there would be some predesigned reads for Tew that would no longer be a part of the offense.
“Nathan Walker is a quality player, too,” Calhoun said. “Here’s a chance for him as a senior to try to make the most of these last five games.”
Among the others injured: WRs Kevin Fogler (knee) and Zack Kauth (ankle), DL Ryan Gardner (groin) and S (broken clavicle).
Patterson pointed to Jefferson as being the big difference-maker, and also praised his ability to throw. Jefferson already has a career-high six touchdown passes and needs 11 more yards to set a career high for passing yards in a season.
The challenge is there for TCU.
“They give you a lot of options, can spread you out a lot of different ways to attack you,” Patterson said. “Troy Calhoun does an unbelievable job finding other formations and being able to get angles on you. It definitely starts with the quarterback, and he’s definitely doing a great job right now.”