For at least one more week the Falcons are contenders.
As has been the pattern all season, the Falcons came out with a long opening drive that included two fourth down conversions, one third down conversion, and a lot of running by Brad Roberts. 8 minutes and 18 seconds later, the Falcons had a 7-0 lead. Even during this drive, however, it was apparent yards weren’t going to be that easy to come by.
The Falcon defense came out strong and and immediately forced a three and out and on the second Wyoming drive, linebacker Vince Sanford forced a fumble by Sean Chambers which was recovered by Corvan Taylor at Wyoming’s 38 yard line. The Falcons followed it up with an 11 play 38 yard drive that took 6 minutes and 8 seconds off the clock and included a third down and a fourth down conversion to make it 14-0.
Wyoming finally broke out of the defensive shackles applied by the Falcon defense with four and a half minutes left in the half. Xazavian Valladay provided the stimulus with a 74 yard run around the right side. Five plays later, the Cowboys were in the end zone to make it 14-7.
Still feeding off the energy provided by Valladay’s run, Wyoming forced a Falcon punt and quickly moved down the field for a touchdown to tie the game just prior to halftime. Sean Chambers provided the big plays with a scramble and three consecutive completions.
The second half was all Falcons. Haaziq Daniels got a chance to show off his arm and completed 7 out of 10 passes while the Falcon defense shut down Wyoming’s offense. Brad Roberts and Emmanuel Michel continued to pound the middle of the line. The Falcons managed a touchdown and a field goal while shutting out the Cowboys.
This was a solid effort by the Falcons. The rushing yards were hard to come by, as the Falcons only averaged 3.3 yards per carry. Of course, if you add it up, it’s a first down every time, as long as you are consistent, and the Falcons were pretty consistent. Add up the third and fourth down conversions and the Falcons converted 10 out of 16 times they ended up in a late down situation. They also scored on each journey into the red zone.
In my opinion, Brad Roberts has put himself in the position to be first team All-Mountain West with his ability to be consistent through the middle in spite of every team making it a priority to “stop the dive.” He has great instincts on play development and is sneaky hard to tackle. He was credited with the first fumble of his career in this game, but the replay clearly showed Daniels blew the handoff. Roberts was quick enough to recover the fumble and save the day.
On the other side of the ball, another Falcon has emerged from anonymity to put himself in the conversation for first team All-MW, and that is Vince Sanford. Sanford was behind Lakota Wills to start the season and when Wills was injured stepped right in and immediately started to excel as a playmaker. He leads the Falcons in tackles with 31 and has 8 TFLs, 6.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and 1 fumble recovery, 3 PBUs, and 3 QB hurries. He provided the big plays in this game by forcing two fumbles from Sean Chambers resulting in the Falcon’s second touchdown and icing the game late in the fourth quarter. In my ignorance I didn’t even mention him in my season preview, but in my defense, I did state that we might see some unknowns emerge this year.
Haaziq Daniels showed off his skill as a passer in this game, in spite of missing two big receivers in Kyle Patterson and David Cormier, who stand 6’6” and 6’3”. Brandon Lewis (5’9”) and Micah Davis (5’11”) provided the targets for the game, and showed off their good hands and evasive running skills. It was good to see a few more passes from Daniels, the Falcons will likely need him more for the next game against Boise State. One of the more glaring negatives in the game was Daniels ball protection on the snaps and handoffs. I already mentioned the handoff to Roberts, but he also fumbled the ball away on the second drive. In addition, he dropped the ball on the snap for a pass play, but recovered nicely to complete the pass. It seems Daniels can lose concentration at times while otherwise doing a great job of running the offense. The errors didn’t hurt the Falcons this game, but again, against Boise, he will need to clean this up.
The Falcons have a huge game next week in Boise, come back Thursday for my preview.
P.S. As I was writing this Vince Sanford was named Mountain West Defensive Player of the Week!