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Air Force-Lafayette Preview

FCS Leopards provide the competition on Parents Weekend

Ever since Troy Calhoun became head coach at Air Force in 2007, the Falcons have scheduled an FCS team on opening weekend at Falcon Stadium. It’s a special weekend for the recently arrived doolies (first year cadets), as their parents are invited to come to the Academy to celebrate the end of basic training and see a football game.

The game also provides a good opportunity for the team to work out some kinks and give some experience to younger players who have worked their way into higher depth chart positions. Since Calhoun’s arrival, the Falcons have not lost any of these games and fans generally have the opportunity to see some players who are further down the depth chart get some action.

Meet the Leopards

Lafayette has one of the oldest football programs in college football, having played since 1882, and have the longest running rivalry, with Lehigh University, in college football. It is coming off a shortened spring football season, posting a 2-1 record in the Patriot League.

The star player for the Leopards is defensive end Malik Hamm, who has been named as an FCS pre-season All-American. In 2019, he racked up 8 sacks and 11.5 TFLs and was named Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year. Defensively, the Leopards also have two other preseason All-Patriot League players in DL Damon Washington and LB Marco Olivas. The strongest players on the Leopards are in the units of the defense that will be trying to stop the strength of the Falcons, the running game. So, I’ll be watching how well the new Falcon offensive line can manhandle the Leopard front seven. I don’t expect it to be a problem, but it could give an indication of struggles with effectiveness in the future.

Lafayette’s strength on offense is the rushing attack, led by RB Selwyn Simpson and RB Jaden Sutton. Simpson and Sutton were listed on Phil Steele’s 2nd and 3rd All-Patriot teams. In front of them, the offensive line has three All-Patriot team players in OL Gavin Barclay, TE Mason Gilbert, and TE Steve Stillianos and three other linemen who were named by Phil Steele on the 2nd and 3rd teams. All the offensive linemen are close to or over 300 pounds.

Since I live in the Philadelphia area, I was able to watch a Leopards game in the spring, and the offense relied heavily on the run and short passes mainly to the running backs and tight ends. Unfortunately for the Leopards, their top two quarterbacks have graduated and none of the remaining quarterbacks have any college playing experience. Likely the top two candidates for the starting job are Washington State transfer and redshirt freshman Aaron Angelos, and senior Shane Davis, who held the third spot on the depth chart last year. Whoever it is will have a tough job against what should be a hungry Falcon pass rush led by Jordan Jackson, Chris Herrera, Demonte Meeks, and Lakota Wills.

Falcon Updates

It appears that Brad Roberts will be used in a role similar to that of Jacoby Owens - that is both as a fullback and as a tailback, depending on the situation. Omar Fattah will see a lot of playing time at fullback in the role that Matt Murla filled last year, that is short yardage and blocking duties. A linebacker in high school, he has the more typical fullback physique - along the lines of Shayne Davern and DJ Johnson.

Slotback Micah Davis has been seeing time with the first team lately. In high school he played at Harrison High School in Atlanta alongside Justin Fields as one of Fields’ top receivers. He was also a top return specialist and we may see him fill that role with the Falcons this year. I’m sure we will still see a lot of Brandon Lewis at that position.

At quarterback, Zach Larrier has been taking snaps with the second team. Last year Larrier was expected to compete for the starting job and then he mysteriously vanished from the team. A few weeks later, I was perusing Twitter and this tweet came up:

So the guy has some wheels and now he’s competing for second on the depth chart.

I don’t expect to see a lot of passing from the Falcons in this game. I’m sure they’ll want to get in the flow with the running game and break in the new line. But if we do, a lot of fans are looking forward to seeing David Cormier in action for the first time. Here’s a quick preview of what we might see from Cormier this year:

Prediction

Currently, Vegas has no line on this game. ESPN’s FPI predicts a 97.7% chance of an Air Force win. I’m nitpicking, but I think that’s a low estimate. I would expect a nice victory for the Falcons, but nothing like the 72-0 victory against Nicholls State in 2009 (72-0). The defense is excellent and a shutout is possible, even if the Falcons finish the game with third and fourth stringers. We will see a lot of offensive players get playing time with a basic set of plays, like we saw against Navy last year.

Air Force wins 41-3.