Coming off an emotional win against long-time rival Nebraska and with Pac-12 Conference play starting next week, the Colorado football team could be primed for a letdown this week.
Don’t count on it. At least not if head coach Mel Tucker’s message to his team sinks in this week.
The Buffaloes (2-0) will host Air Force (1-0) on Saturday on Folsom Field (11 a.m., TV: Pac-12 Networks) in a game that will be just as big of a test as any on the schedule.
“I think that you have to be totally uniformed to not know what this is all about when you’re playing a team like Air Force,” Tucker said Tuesday. “You have to be totally clueless to get caught off guard by a team like this. This particular game I don’t see as a trap game.
“Everyone in America, anyone in the world who knows anything about football knows that when you play Air Force, you better strap it up. They know what the heck they’re doing. They have talented guys that are tough, that are physical, that are disciplined and they attack people. They get after it and their believe factor is at the highest level. So, if we don’t realize that, shame on us.”
Forget the fact that Air Force has posted back-to-back 5-7 seasons ( just like CU), plays in the Mountain West Conference and that the Falcons’ opener was a cakewalk against an FCS foe in Colgate.
Air Force has a decades-long reputation for making life difficult on opponents from Power 5 conferences. The Falcons don’t always win those games – in fact, they’ve lost six in a row against Power 5 foes – but they don’t make it easy, either.
“I know they are disciplined,” CU linebacker Davion Taylor said. “I know they’re not probably going to get tired, because they’re in altitude, as well. We have to make sure we play all four quarters and make sure we execute our assignments.”
Since head coach Troy Calhoun took over at AFA in 2007, the Falcons have won at Notre Dame (41-27 in 2007), took No. 7 Oklahoma to the wire in a 27-24 loss in 2010 and kept pace at Michigan (twice), at Minnesota and at Michigan State.
“We’re excited to play them,” Buffs quarterback Steven Montez said. “They’re going to be a very good football team both offensively and defensively, so we’re excited for the challenge.”
It’s a challenge that certainly isn’t easy, especially because of Air Force’s triple-option offense. The Falcons are one of only a few teams around the country, including fellow service academies Army and Navy, that run the option.
“Every week is a huge challenge to prepare to play, especially when you play this type of offense that you don’t see on a weekly basis,” Tucker said. “There’s some coaches that have never even coached against it. That just adds an additional element to it.”
Many of the coaches on Tucker’s staff do have experience facing the option in the past. Tucker was the defensive coordinator at Georgia the previous three years and faced Georgia Tech’s option. This isn’t the same animal, though.
“A lot of people kind of group that one family all together and it is a lot different than Georgia Tech, to be honest with you,” Buffs defensive coordinator Tyson Summers said.
The Air Force offense, Summers said, has more versatility in its formations and its attack than Georgia Tech.
“Coach Calhoun has obviously done a tremendous job there and been able to keep his offensive staff in place I think with the exception of one assistant,” Summers said. “They know what they’re doing, they know what they want to do, they’ve got good players and they do exactly what you do.”
Last weekend, Army nearly pulled off an upset at No. 10 Michigan before falling 24-21 in double overtime. The Black Knights’ near upset could serve as a wake-up call for the Buffs, but Tucker said he hasn’t referenced that game with the Buffs.
Air Force’s history is enough to get the attention of the Buffs, who followed their “24-hour rule” of celebrating the Nebraska win before looking ahead.
“We have our hands full focusing on what these guys do,” Tucker said. “I didn’t sense that (let down from the Buffs). I was looking for that. Human nature is to relax. What we’re doing is not always the easiest thing to do, so leaders have to step up and discipline is 75 percent anticipation. We tell them ahead of time, you have 24 hours; enjoy the win, make sure you come in here ready to work and this is what needs to be done; and we lay it out so they can follow the plan. At this point I feel like the plan is being followed and that’s really all I can ask.”