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Nevada football 2021 offseason opponent preview: Air Force

NCAA Football: Air Force at San Jose State Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Nevada football begins less than a month away!

Barring any unforeseen circumstances, there are now TWO Saturdays until the Wolf Pack season kicks off!!

This is our second annual offseason opponent preview. Each Thursday leading up to the season, I will be previewing each Pack opponent on their 2021 schedule — starting at the beginning.

This week, we preview Nevada’s 11th game against Air Force. Here’s a look at Nevada’s full 2021 schedule:

Nevada Football 2021 Schedule

Date: Opponent: TV: Time (all time PT)
Date: Opponent: TV: Time (all time PT)
Sept. 4 at California FS1 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 11 vs. Idaho State TBA TBA
Sept. 18 at Kansas State ESPN+ 11:05 a.m.
Sept. 25 BYE ---------
Oct. 2 at Boise State Fox Networks (specifics not yet announced) TBA
Oct. 9 vs. New Mexico State CBS Sports Network 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 16 vs. Hawai'i CBS Sports Network 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 23 at Fresno State Fox Networks TBA
Oct. 29 vs. UNLV CBS Sports Network 7 p.m.
Nov. 6 vs. San Jose State Fox Networks TBA
Nov. 13 at San Diego State CBS Sports Network 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 19 vs. Air Force FS1 6/7/7:30 p.m.
Nov. 27 at Colorado State CBS Sports Network 6 p.m.

Without further ado, let’s get into it!

Week 12: Air Force Falcons

2020 record: 3-3 (2-2 MWC)

When: Friday, Nov. 19

Where: Mackay Stadium in Reno, Nev.

Matchup History: Air Force leads 3-2

Air Force 2020 season-in-review:

Air Force opened the Mountain West season — three weeks before anyone else — in an appearance against service-academy rival Navy. Air Force mopped the Midshipmen, 40-7. The victory extended its win streak — dating back to 2019 — to nine straight. It was quickly snapped by two consecutive losses to San Jose State (17-6) and Boise State (49-30), both of whom eventually met for the Mountain West Title championship. The Falcons’ contest against Army — their other service academy counterpart — was postponed, while their following game against Wyoming was cancelled due to COVID-19. It shutout New Mexico by four scores before another COVID cancellation against Colorado State. Air Force’s split its two games on the road against Utah State (35-7) and Army (7-10). Its three victories came by an average of 29.7 points, while its three losses came by 11.0 points per game.

Air Force on offense:

When August of 2020 hit, the quarterback position in Colorado Springs, Colo., was in flux.

It was reported in July that Donald Hammond III, who threw for 1,316 yards and 13 scores with 533 rushing yards and 13 additional touchdowns in 2019, was a cadet but was “no longer a cadet in good standing” with the Academy and couldn’t “represent the Academy in outside activities.”

The Falcons started then-sophomore Haaziq Daniels — with no prior experience — against Navy. He went 4-for-9 for 41 yards, adding 96 yards (on 10 carries) with a score on the ground in the 40-7 victory.

They didn’t look back.

Daniels returns after starting all six contests. He completed 55.5 percent of his passes for 433 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. He rushed for 297 yards on 5.4 yards per carry with three scores.

Air Force led the nation in rushing last season, tallying 305.7 rushing yards per contest. The next highest total, you ask? Buffalo, who averaged 287.4 yards per carry led by phenom Jaret Patterson, who signed as a undrafted free agent with the Washington Football Team in May.

The Falcons registered 86.2 yards per game more on the ground than Wyoming (219.5), who ranked second in the conference in rushing.

Air Force’s leading rusher, Brad Roberts, returns. Roberts tallied team-highs in carries (64), rushing yards (461) and rushing touchdowns (5) in just four games. He finished second behind Brandon Lewis in yards per carry (9.0).

In typical triple-option fashion, the Falcons ran the rock on 78.5 percent of its plays last season, the second-highest percentage nationally (Army - 87.3 percent). Thus, one player hauled in double-digit receptions last season.

That player was tight end Kyle Patterson, who returns. He added a team-high 12 catches for 205 yards with two of the team’s three receiving touchdowns.

Patterson was the first tight end to lead the team in receptions since Adam Strecker recorded 14 (for 261 yards) in 2002.

Air Force loses three All-Conference offensive linemen from a year ago — Nolan Laufenberg (first team), Parker Ferguson (first team) and Kyle Krepsz (Honorable Mention).

None of its returning offensive linemen from last year return, though the unit should be buoyed by seniors Cody Mercer, Hawk Wimmer and Kris Campbell.

Don’t expect this group to take a massive step back. Head coach Troy Calhoun has a good track record of generating positive results from his offensive line, given that over a dozen of his offensive linemen have made the All-Conference first- or second-team since he took over in 2007.

Air Force on defense:

Without multiple returning starters from 2019 — including All-Conference linebacker Demonte Meeks, linemen Jordan Jackson and corner Milton Bugg III — the Falcon defense was very inexperienced entering last year.

Regardless, they still finished atop the Mountain West in scoring defense (15.0 ppg) — its best mark in over two decades — and passing defense (166.8 ypg). It did, however, surrender 212.5 yards in four games against non-triple option offenses, which would’ve placed fifth.

Jackson tallied 38 tackles with 4.5 tackles-for-loss in 2019. He is joined by Chris Herrera, who opted-out of 2020 as well. He tallied 20 tackles with a pair of sacks across six starts in 2019.

Meeks is two years removed from topping the team in tackles with 98, adding 9.0 tackles-for-loss and four sacks.

Outside linebacker Lakota Willis, who had 36 tackles with six tackles-for-loss in 2019, also didn’t play last year. Neither did Thadius Blackmon, who’s appeared in just two games since the start of 2018.

Corvan Taylor is the Falcons’ top returning tackler from last year and is one of their leaders in the secondary along with Bugg. The safety racked up 33 tackles with three pass breakups and recorded two of the team’s five total interceptions. Ethan Erickson finished third amongst 2020 returnees in tackles (21) in five starts at strong safety.

My thoughts:

This will Nevada’s first matchup against Air Force since 2018, when Nevada squeaked out a 28-25 victory in Colorado Springs, Colo. Nevada held the Falcons’ triple-option attack to 154 yards on 51 carries (3.0 ypg). At the time, Nevada had a remarkable front seven led by now-Denver Broncos EDGE rusher Malik Reed, Gabriel Sewell and Lucas Weber. That’s not including Dom Peterson and Korey Rush, who both eclipsed double-digit tackle-for-loss figures that season. Make no mistake that this year’s front six (4 DL, 2 LB) is also talented — led by All-Conference honorees Peterson, Lawson Hall and Sam Hammond — but there’s a drop off, in comparison. This year’s defense, however, returns a bevy of experience — potentially starting 10 seniors (!) — to make up for it. Air Force’s defense will likely be the strength of its team for the second consecutive season, which will have a tough task slowing down this high-octane Wolf Pack offense. It will be Senior Night for Nevada, so it should be amped up to get one more victory at Mackay Stadium as the season enters its final stretch.