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Falcons Keep Title Hopes Alive

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Thrilling triple overtime victory puts Falcons in good position for Mountain West Championship game

The Falcons appeared to be breezing to victory as the third quarter ended with the Falcons ahead 24-10 and controlling the game, already having racked up over 400 yards on the ground. But almost halfway through the fourth quarter, the mistake gremlin returned to plague the Falcons with inopportune errors that served to rally the Wolf Pack. After the defense forced two punts on Nevada’s first two possessions, Haaziq Daniels kept the ball on a option sweep around the right side and got hit by LB Trevor Price while DB AJ King reached in and stripped the ball out. The fumble was recovered by Nevada DB Jordan Lee and on the very first play of the drive for Nevada, Carson Strong hit Romeo Doubs for a 61 yard touchdown pass.

On the next drive for the Falcons, and on second down TE Dalton King got called for holding, saddling the Falcons with a 2nd and 20 situation. Despite a 13 yard run by DeAndre Hughes, the Falcons had to punt the ball back to Nevada.

On Nevada’s next drive, the Falcons were able to force a 4th and 10 near mid-field. Strong fired the ball to Doubs with Tre Bugg in tight coverage. The ball fell incomplete, but Bugg was called for pass interference for grabbing the jersey of Doubs. Six plays later, Strong hit TE Cole Turner in the end zone to tie the score 24-24, and send the game to overtime.

The Falcons got the ball first in the first overtime. The offense returned to form and methodically moved the ball into the end zone with five rushing plays. On Nevada’s first offensive play in overtime, Bugg was again called for a 15 yard pass interference penalty, giving Nevada a first and goal at the ten. Three plays later, Toa Taua ran into the endzone on a 6 yard carry.

Each team scored touchdowns and 2 point conversions in the second overtime, Nevada characteristically throwing the ball, and Air Force running the ball.

In the third and final overtime, Haaziq Daniels ran untouched into the endzone for the conversion. Nevada’s attempt at a pass to Tory Horton was broken up by Camby Goff, leaving the Falcons victorious 41-39.

For anyone who wants a more thorough summary of the game, read Matt Hanifan’s article here.

Analysis

Personnel Changes

There were numerous adjustments in the lineup this week.

On the defensive line, with Brockman and Pescaia out at nose guard with injuries, the Falcons went with Jordan Jackson at nose guard full time. Jaydon Thiergood started at DE along with Chris Herrera, and the results were excellent. Along with Vince Sanford, the front four produced 7 sacks, one QB hurry, and 10 TFLs. Linebackers rarely blitzed, which allowed them to drop back in coverage on passing plays. In the running game, Toa Taua had some nice runs, but overall Nevada netted .7 yards when they didn’t get a pass off.

At linebacker, Demonte Meeks did not play in this game for undisclosed reasons. TD Blackmon started, but went out with an injury early. Alec Mock and Bo Richter played most of the game after Blackmon’s injury, and proved their worth in the rushing game and in pass coverage. For Richter, it was his first action outside of special teams, but he was able to drop back in coverage and produced the Falcon’s only interception of the game. Mock had 4 tackles and provided some good coverage against TE Cole Turner on a pass that the very talented Cole Turner made a spectacular catch. Camby Goff at spur linebacker had four tackles and a TFL and was a factor in the incompleted pass to Horton at the end of the game.

In the defensive secondary, Eian Castonguay made the first start of his career due to an injury to Michael Mack. He couldn’t have had a more difficult assignment for his first start. Nevada definitely attempted to target his assignment, and he was providing coverage on Doub’s and Turner’s touchdowns in the fourth quarter and on Doub’s overtime touchdown. On the other hand, he had 8 tackles and one pass breakup, and should be comforted by the fact that very few DBs can reliably cover Doubs and Turner.

On offense, the only changes from last week was some increased playing time for Ben Jefferson, who turned it into the first touchdown of his career, and Thor Paglialong and Kaleb Holcomb started on the offensive line.

Roster Depth

I thought at the beginning of the season that the Falcons would have good depth on the defensive side of the ball, and that has certainly proved to be the case, as the game against Nevada proved. What I did not see was the depth on the offensive side of the ball. Virtually every position has seen multiple positive contributors to success.

Along the offensive line, nine different players have started games, five of whom are sophomores, and two others have seen significant playing time. There has been no noticeable difference in performance based on who is playing. The Falcons are currently averaging 326 rushing yards per game, which is the most since 1996. Army, Navy, and San Diego State were the only teams to hold the yardage below 200.

At slot receiver, Brandon Lewis, Micah Davis, and Dane Kinamon have been significant contributors as receivers and runners, and Ben Jefferson has contributed mostly as a blocker, but had a touchdown in this game.

At tailback, DeAndre Hughes has taken over the position with back to back outstanding games of 108 and 221 yards. He has shown eye-popping speed at times, proving himself a worthy successor to Kade Remsberg.

At fullback Brad Roberts is the workhorse, but Omar Fattah and Emmanuel Michel have provided breathers for Roberts while maintaining good rushing averages.

At wide receiver, David Cormier is the primary starter, but while he was injured Brandon Lewis moved to the wideout position, and has been the Falcon’s most productive receiver. Jake Spiewak has seen time mostly as a blocker. This unit has been productive in the running game, as can be seen when the ball is pitched to the outside edges.

At quarterback, Daniels has played every game, but when he went out with an injury against San Diego State, Warren Bryan led the team on their only two TD drives of the game.

Where do we go from here?

The results that played out this weekend are just what Dr. Calhoun ordered. Air Force and Boise State won their games and Utah State lost, and we now have a three way tie for first place in the Mountain Division. None of these three teams have their fate held in their own hands. There are three ways that the Falcons can get into the Mountain West championship game. The first is that the Falcons beat UNLV and Boise State beats San Diego State, regardless of what Utah State does against New Mexico. If the Falcons beat UNLV and Boise loses to SDSU, then the Falcons would need USU to lose to New Mexico. If the Falcons lose, they would need both Boise and USU to lose their games.

According to ESPN’s FPI/SP+ the most likely thing to happen is that Air Force beats UNLV (87% probability), Boise beats SDSU (61% probability), and USU beats New Mexico (81% probability). I think most oddsmakers and pundits will agree this is the most likely scenario, but this year in college football, who knows. In this case Air Force would meet Fresno State in the Mountain West Championship game. The location would be determined first by which of the two teams is highest in the CFP Playoff rankings (both teams would have the same conference record, which is the first determinate). I do not think it likely that either team will appear in the rankings. The next tie breaker is which team is higher in the composite computer rankings. I’m not sure which composite the MW uses, but the only one I know of is the Massey ratings. As I write this, the Massey rankings have Air Force at number 41 and Fresno at 46. Being so close in the rankings, it could go either way.

Come back Thursday for my UNLV preview. The game will be held on Friday at 1:30 PM MST at Falcon Stadium. Interestingly, Boise and Utah State also play their games on Friday afternoon before the Falcon’s game.