When attempting to pull off an upset, a team has to play a focused, flawless game and get some turnovers and penalties from the team you are trying to upset. For the Air Force Falcons, they did the exact opposite by committing a host of penalties in the first half, giving the Michigan State Spartans a touchdown defensively off a fumble, and being turned away twice inside red zone twice in the second half to lose in East Lansing by a score of 35-21.
The Falcons had 95 yards in penalties in the game, all but 15 in the first half, and handicapped their offense, who was able to run the ball effectively (279 yards) when they went to their outside sweeps and pitches. Once the Falcons were able to establish the edge runs by Benton Washington and Jacobi Owens, they were able to pop some holes in the middle, especially by fullback Shayne Davern. But, four chop block personal fouls in the first half by the offensive line and a fumble by D.J. Johnson on Air Force's second drive that was returned by RJ Williamson 64 yards for a touchdown put the Falcons in a hole that proved to be costly for Air Force. In the second half, a fumbled pitch by Owens killed momentum after forcing a punt on the previous drive.
Karson Roberts had an an up and down first start, especially early on in the game. It started with a bad pitch on the first drive that could have been a devastating turnover. He missed some reads on the option, both keeping the ball when he should have given it up or not keeping it when he was the best option. He did come out in the second half and perform better, including a 38-yard touchdown pass to Jalen Robinette, who was wide open behind the secondary. Roberts (149 yards passing) would start to find Robinette and Garrett Brown more in the passing game, which should bode well for the Falcons going forward.
The mistakes weren't limited to the offense, as Air Force's defense had some mental mistakes as well. Air Force did a masterful job stopping the run and forcing the Spartans into passing situations. The problem for the Falcons was that Michigan State won almost every one-on-one situation and when the Falcons seemed to get a stop, a penalty hurt the Falcons and kept the drives going. It improved in the second half, and the Falcons defense can be proud of the fact they held the Spartans to 77 yards rushing on the game, including stopping Michigan State late in the game on a fourth and one call when the Spartans were trying to milk the clock to end the game.
The Falcons also had no answer for Aaron Brundage, who ended the day with eight catches for 156 yards and three touchdowns, including a masterful top tap in the end zone that instant replay had to overturn when it was called an incomplete pass on the field. Brundage and quarterback Connor Cook picked apart the Falcons secondary when the blitzes were not able to get to the quarterback. Air Force put their secondary in tough situations, because the blitzes weren't effective, on Brundage and R.J. Shelton had big days on the outside for Michigan State.
In the end, the Falcons should be proud for how they physically competed against the Spartans. They ran the ball well and did not allow Michigan State to run the ball, two huge factors for an undersized team. Now for the Falcons, they now have two weeks to prepare for the first step in the defense of the Commander-in-Chief trophy. Air Force will travel to Navy on October 3rd to take on the Midshipmen.