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Aztecs Have Wishbone to Pick With Air Force’s Quarterback

Times Staff Writer

To understand just how confounding the success of Air Force Academy quarterback Dee Dowis is, catch him out of uniform.

Without his spiffy cadet garb or football uniform, there is no hiding behind pomp or padding.

Just get a look at Dowis dressed in gym shorts and a T-shirt. That was how he could be found in the Air Force locker room last September after he had rushed for 188 yards in 18 carries while leading the Falcons to a 49-7 victory against San Diego State.

Sitting there, still dripping with sweat, he looked considerably smaller than his listed height (5-feet 10-inches) and weight (160 pounds). Hard to believe that this pint-sized quarterback had so much to do with handing the Aztecs their worst loss to Air Force.

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“I like him so much because he’s the only guy I’m bigger than,” Air Force Coach Fisher DeBerry joked that day.

He probably likes him for several more reasons, starting with 1,315 rushing yards last season. That not only led the Western Athletic Conference but set a single-season NCAA Division I-A record for a quarterback. (Fred Solomon, the former 49ers wide receiver, rushed for 1,300 as a University of Tampa quarterback in 1974).

And Dowis is only a junior. So his appearance Sunday night against SDSU in its home opener at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium probably will not be the last time the Aztecs have to deal with him.

“He is a master at running that wishbone,” said Ed Schmidt, the SDSU defensive coordinator.

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He has been doing it for some time. Dowis has been in a wishbone offense since his days as a quarterback at Franklin County (Ga.) High School. He came to the Air Force Academy, he said, because he could receive a good education and play in an offensive system in which he was comfortable.

Not all went well for him early. He became homesick and almost transferred after his freshman year. He started last season on the bench behind Steve Letnich, but when the Falcons fell behind, 20-0, in a 27-13 season-opening loss at Wyoming, he replaced Letnich in the second half.

He started the next week in a 21-10 victory against Texas Christian and came into his own in the third game against the Aztecs.

“That was the main game for me last year,” Dowis said by telephone earlier this week. “It was important for me as far as my confidence. After that game, I got lot better; I was more in control.”

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Dowis went on to have four more 100-yard games, including 241 in a 48-27 victory at Utah. His totals could have been even better had he not broken his right wrist (throwing arm) in a regular season-ending 34-31 victory at Hawaii. The injury kept him out of his team’s 33-28 loss to Arizona State in the Freedom Bowl and caused him to curtail his work in spring practice.

Dowis said his wrist has healed completely and that it should not keep him from throwing more regularly. Dowis completed only 40.2% (45 for 112) of his passes for 600 yards last season. He threw 4 touchdown passes, and 8 passes were intercepted.

DeBerry has called Dowis the best throwing wishbone quarterback he has coached and said he plans to throw the ball more than in the past. But the early results were far from impressive. Dowis failed on all seven passing attempts in a 29-23 victory at Colorado State last Saturday. The Falcons tried only one pass in the second half after missing all six attempts in the first. Dowis also gained 55 yards on 15 carries.

“Like anything when the offense doesn’t go, the quarterback gets blamed,” DeBerry said. “But the passing wasn’t all Dee’s fault.

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“It was an average performance for Dee. Certainly, we didn’t burn up the world throwing the football. But overall he read (the defense) pretty well and ran pretty well at times.”

While Dowis is reasonably accustomed to the intricacies of the wishbone running game, he is still working on the finer points of passing. He has yet to feel as comfortable throwing the ball as he does handing it off or running it himself.

“I just hadn’t thrown the ball too much before I came here,” Dowis said. “We’d throw it maybe five times a game in high school. When I came here that first year, it was pretty much new to me.”

DeBerry remains patient. He insists the threat of Dowis’ passing in the usually conservative, run-dominated wishbone offense is no bluff.

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“Dee can throw the football,” DeBerry said. “He’ll have a good day one day and everyone will think what a great passer he is.”

Aztec Notes

Wide receiver Patrick Rowe (bruised thigh) has all but been ruled out of the Air Force game, San Diego State trainer Don Kaverman said. Monty Gilbreath is expected to start in Rowe’s place. Rowe’s place on kick returns should be taken by either Ron Slack or Randy Peterson. Offensive guard Nick Subis (ankle) and wide receiver Alfred Jackson (back) are expected to be ready to play, Kaverman said. . . . Derek Santifer, a reserve outside linebacker, will not play against Air Force, defensive coordinator Ed Schmidt said. Asked if Santifer was being disciplined, Schmidt said: “Derek has not had a good week.” Santifer, who was on the first team during spring practice, had fallen to third-team linebacker after last Saturday’s 59-6 loss at UCLA. . . . UCLA Coach Terry Donahue on Aztec quarterback Brad Platt, who made his major-college debut against the Bruins last Saturday: “I was personally kind of impressed with San Diego State’s quarterback. I thought he played a good game. He has a nice feet. He has a nice arm. I can see him being a successful player.” . . . Stadium and SDSU officials are requesting that fans attending the 6:35 p.m. Sunday game against Air Force at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium refrain from entering the stadium parking lot until after 4:30. This is to allow fans attending the Padres’ noon game against the Atlanta Braves to clear out. The only access to the stadium parking lot during the Padre game will be through the east entrance off San Diego Mission Road. The main entrance off Friar’s Road will be closed from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. An early tailgate area will be reserved for football fans in parking lot section A.


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