Because they have no margin for error, the Panthers know they can’t repeat any of those mistakes against Air Force or any opponent the rest of the season.
“I can guarantee you Air Force will play with discipline, and they will embarrass you if you turn the football over,” Miles said.
Air Force offers a unique challenge because playing against its option offense requires discipline on every play. Any mistake made by a defender could result in a fullback running untouched up the middle, a tailback screaming down the sideline, or a wide receiver yards open down field.
The Falcons average 345 rushing yards and 122.5 passing yards per game. They are paced by quarterback Kale Pearson, who is also averaging 34 rushing yards per game, and tailback Jacobi Owens, who has averaged 154.5 rushing yards per game.
Air Force owns the third-longest active scoring streak at 260 games. Only Florida (323) and TCU (268) have scored in more consecutive games.
The key to slowing the Falcons is to limit the effectiveness of the dive play. If Air Force can run up the middle, that will be a go-to play that will suck defenders inside and allow wide open lanes on the outside, or space for receivers in the secondary.
“If you don’t stop the dive, it’s pretty much unstoppable,” said Grant Drakeford, a backup wide receiver who is running the scout team for Georgia State this week and who ran the offense in high school.
Stopping that play will take discipline because it’s only part of a larger combination of plays that Air Force is skilled at running, according to Miles.
If the quarterback sees that the defense is in position to take out the dive, he can pull the ball out of the fullback’s stomach and run down the line, turning that option play into another involving a trailing tailback or wide receiver. Or, the quarterback can gather himself and attempt a pass. In all, the defense can be tasked with stopping as many as four options on one play.
Maintaining that mental discipline is something the Panthers haven’t been able to do for a whole game in several years.
Last week’s loss to the Aggies, which featured an interception returned for a touchdown and a lost fumble as the team was about to score, was another in a long list of incomplete performances.
The Panthers have allowed an average of 35.5 points, 144.5 rushing yards and 322 passing yards per game this season.
It must buckle down to stop Air Force.
“Our guys will have to play with great discipline,” Minter said.