For its first conference win of the 2022 campaign, the Air Force Falcons dominated the visiting Nevada Wolf Pack 48-20. It marked Nevada’s inaugural conference affair, now having lost three straight and dropping to 2-3. Meanwhile, Air Force improves to 3-1.
Let’s get into some of my takeaways from the game!
1. Unexpected Nevada injury could be big loss
To a degree, all injuries are unexpected. And the Wolf Pack have been tight-lip on injuries so far this year — most notably failing to disclose injuries to JoJuan Claiborne and preseason All-Mountain West tackle Aaron Frost just weeks before the season began.
Though perhaps Nevada’s most costly injury up to this point was announced before the game: The injured player was placekicker Brandon Talton — one of the top kickers in the Mountain West — first reported by Nevada Sports Net’s Chris Murray.
The injury nor the severity was disclosed, but the Wolf Pack’s all-worldly kicker missed Friday’s game, which is unquestionably a big blow to the Pack. Talton was on track to break the school’s single season record in field goals made — held by Marty Zendejas with 72 (Talton has 64) — and the FBS record, held by Zane Gonzalez with 96 (Talton would be on track for 97 if he remained with the team next season and played all 12 games both seasons.)
The Wolf Pack didn’t attempt any field goals, as backup Matthew Killiam making two of his three PATs.
2. Air Force’s option was death by 100 cuts
In all honesty, perhaps my best description of the triple option offense is that it’s death by 1,000 cuts.
It’s not your modern-day, four-wide aerial attack that’s flooded programs across all levels of football; it’s death by 1,000 cuts on the ground that forces defenses to be incredibly disclipine with their gap responsibilities while also playing sideline-to-sideline. Though Air Force only needed 100 cuts to get the job done Friday.
The famed offense is a well-renown clock chewer; Air Force, who was within the top-15 offensively in time-of-possession, had the ball for 43:41 compared to 16:19 from Nevada. It had four drives of nine-plus plays and three with 14-plus. If you don’t count the final drive of each half, Air Force scored on each of their eight drives.
Collectively, Air Force had 30 first downs and 541 yards — 461 on the ground (on 6.1 ypc). 2021 All-Mountain West first team honoree Brad Roberts led the Falcons with 123 yards on 20 carries (6.2 ypc) and three scores. John Eldridge III had 102 rushing yards on 12.8 yards per carry.
All in all, it was a dominant night of option football for the Falcons, who struggled last week in their conference opener against Wyoming.
3. Trouble slowing Air Force down on early downs
In my preview, when I made my predictions one of the things I said that Nevada needed to do was slow Air Force’s option down on early downs. It did not do that. Not even a little bit.
The Falcons operated like a knife through hot butter on early downs, averaging 8.7 yards per play on first down — including an 80-yard touchdown pass to David Cormier in the with 2:11 left in the first quarter. Scrap that, and Air Force still averaged an absurd 6.6 yards per play on first down.
Note for next year: If you’re not able to force them into long down-and-distance situations, it’s incredibly hard to stop the triple option. And that proved to be true Friday.
4. Nevada still can’t find offense when they need to
Nevada was still unable to generate quality offense throughout much of the evening. It had a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter and a pair of scoring drives in the final quarter. But there wasn’t much else otherwise, punting on its other seven drives with three three=and-outs.
Throughout the season, head coach Ken Wilson’s been coy about picking between either Nate Cox and Oklahoma State transfer Shane Illingworth. Cox got the call Friday, but completed only 12 of his 20 passes for 130 yards. Nevada’s ground game struggled for much of the first three quarters, but still finished with 112 rushing yards on 18 total carries — including a seven-carry, 72-yard, two-touchdown night for Toa Taua.
Collectively, Nevada totaled 242 yards with 11 first downs. Not ideal!
Though perhaps the final two drives were “get right” drives that the Pack could use as momentum heading into its much-anticipated Colorado State matchup on Oct. 7?
Only time will tell!