Air Force quarterback Chance Harridge vows he won't talk trash on Saturday. This time, he's taking a more serene approach.
A year ago, when BYU played in Colorado Springs, he opened his mouth early and often, rubbing salt in the wounds of Cougar players who wound up getting drubbed, 52-9.
Harridge said he had heard that BYU defensive backs talked about how easy it was going to be stopping the option. So as the Falcons were rolling to a big lead that night, Harridge made it a point to tell the Cougar defenders how easy it was for him. At one point, BYU defensive lineman Brady Poppinga grew tired of Harridge's constant yapping and plowed into him after a handoff, getting flagged for a penalty in the process.
However, when the Falcons (4-0, 1-0) invade LaVell Edwards Stadium to take on the Cougars (2-2, 1-0), Harridge says, he'll let his play do the talking for him.
"I don't have any words for anybody on their defense," Harridge said. "I have no time for that. I'm channeling all my focus on a victory. If they say stuff to me, I'll just smile at them." Harridge's change in attitude stems from an incident that occurred during a Sept. 6 game at Northwestern. He and a Wildcat coach had a tussle near the Northwestern sideline, and Harridge was ejected. It was a learning experience.
"I'm a fiery guy, and I like to talk, but my team's more important to me," said the native of Bonaire, Ga. "Selfish actions don't help my football team."
It's not as though Harridge's reputation was built merely by his propensity to talk smack. He's much more than a big talker.
"He's a great, great option quarterback. He runs that option probably better than anyone they've ever had there," Poppinga said. "He's a feisty competitor. He's one of those guys you hate to play against, but I'm sure they love to play with him."
Last season, Harridge became the fifth Falcon, and only the 16th player in NCAA history, to pass and rush for 1,000 yards each in a single season. If he accomplishes that feat again this year, he'll become only the second player to do it twice. Air Force quarterback Beau Morgan did it in 1995 and 1996.
Harridge directs the nation's top rushing offense. Not only does he run with aplomb, but he worked hard during the offseason to improve as a passer. While he completed 44 percent of his attempts in 2002, this year he's at a 57 percent clip. "That's a pretty big jump," Harridge said.
The last time the Falcons came to Provo, it was both a highlight and a nightmare for Harridge. That day, in mop-up duty, he scored his first collegiate touchdown during BYU's 63-33 throttling of Air Force.
"That was one of the worst losses we've had here," Harridge recalled. "After the game, the coaches told us to look at the scoreboard. It was embarrassing being associated with a loss like that."
That explains why Harridge and the Falcons were so fired up last year against BYU. Following that overwhelming victory, though, Air Force's season unraveled. The Falcons were 6-0 after defeating BYU, then went on to lose five of their last seven games. "We thought we were better than we were," Harridge said.
This season, the team has adopted "Unfinished Business" as its motto and is eyeing a Mountain West Conference championship. The Falcons know a road victory in Provo would be a huge step toward that goal.
"As a team, we're better than last year," said Harridge, who wants to become either a fighter pilot or a dentist after graduation. "We're a more mature football team. We expect to win." And if Air Force beats BYU on Saturday, no words will be necessary for Harridge. His smile will say it all.