SI Vault
Douglas S. Looney
October 16, 1989
High-flying Air Force is winning big because quarterback Dee Dowis is staying on the ground
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October 16, 1989

On Top Of The World

High-flying Air Force is winning big because quarterback Dee Dowis is staying on the ground

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Who is Dee Dowis?

"I enjoy sports, sir, and I care about people."

Anything else?

"Sir, talking about myself is not me."

Tom Ratterree, a Colorado state legislator who from time to time opens his home to cadets needing a break from the military grind or simply a home-cooked meal, says of Dowis, "He's not at ease off' the football field." Cal McCombs, an assistant coach who recruited Dowis and was instrumental in keeping him at Air Force, says, "He doesn't say much to anybody."

But his actions speak volumes on the football field: Dowis thrilled a nationwide ESPN audience when he carried 21 times for 201 yards and two touch-downs in the win over Wyoming, the defending WAC champion. Afterward he said, "The defense was great. This was their game tonight." Having had a chance to watch Dowis make a shambles of the Cowboys, Northwestern was determined not to let him beat it by carrying the ball. So, on Sept. 16, the Wildcats held him to 40 yards on eight carries. Those who don't understand the wishbone expressed disappointment over Dowis's performance. They could not have been more wrong. All he did was hand off to the fullback eight times for 57 yards and pitch to the halfback 24 times for 190 yards and two TDs. Air Force won 48-31. Disappointing?

For the wishbone really to get cracking, the quarterback must be able to make rapid-fire decisions under extreme pressure. That's Dowis. To begin with, 50% of the time Dowis calls an audible to change the play at the line of scrimmage. Then, in most cases, a defensive tackle is left unblocked. If the tackle goes for Dowis, Dowis hands off to his fullback. If the tackle goes for the fullback, Dowis keeps. Then he either takes the ball up the middle or sprints out, turning inside the end, forcing that defensive player to take him or go for the trailing pitchman, the halfback—the end goes for Dowis, Dowis pitches; the end goes for the halfback, Dowis keeps. A ton of quick decisions. "I just react to things, sir," Dowis says. "There's no time to think." His special gift is that his mind is as quick and nimble as his feet.

Because of those quick decisions and all those handoffs and pitches, the wishbone is a high-risk offense. And a high-opportunity offense. Oklahoma has run it with great results but little discipline, so while the Sooners score a bunch, they also fumble a lot. Air Force brings discipline to the 'bone. Tell Dowis and the other Falcon backs not to fumble, and they take it as an order. So far, Air Force has lost only six fumbles in six games.

It helps that Dowis makes the correct decision on his reads about 90% of the time, according to Falcon quarterback coach Charlie Weatherbie. The goal is 85%. If Dowis becomes the first quarterback ever to lead the nation in rushing, that achievement could obscure the fact that all of Air Force's yards are directly attributable to his knowing what to do, when to do it and how to do it.

Every team the Falcons play is frightened to death that Dowis will get out on the corners and do them in. Which is what enabled Dowis to burn UTEP 43-26 on Sept. 23 with a 35-yard quarterback draw straight up the middle, making the score 31-7 at halftime. Two weeks ago, against Colorado State, Dowis carried the ball a mere 10 times, but gained 147 yards, which included touchdown runs of 38 and 41 yards, as Air Force won 46-21.

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