I was in the stands on October 5, 1974, the last time the Buffaloes visited Falcon Stadium. The Falcon football team was at the beginning of a poor stretch of seasons that led to the departure of long time coach Ben Martin, who had led the team since the Falcons’ second season in 1958.
Animosity still lingered between the two schools from the divisiveness brought about by the Vietnam War. Because of that animosity, it was to be the last game between the teams until three years ago, after enough time had passed to heal some of the wounds. That game resulted in an exciting 30-23 overtime victory by the Falcons in Boulder that was very satisfying to those of us who attended the Academy during those years.
The game in 1974 was every bit as exciting as the game three years ago. Colorado led the Falcons by the score of 28-25 with a little more than 4 minutes left in the game when the Falcon defense came up with a safety to make the score 28-27. After a series of plays, the Falcons had moved the ball into Buffalo territory just enough to attempt a 50 yard field goal as time ran out. Kicker Dave Lawson had converted on a 60 yard attempt earlier in the game and also had converted on a 62 yard kick earlier in the year, which is still an Academy record. The kick went wide and Colorado ended as the victor.
The game will be played on Saturday starting at 1:30 pm MDT. The game will be televised nationally on CBS.
Scouting the Buffaloes
Last week, the Buffs played TCU in Boulder and lost 38-13. The Buffs played well enough in the first half, but fell apart in the second half. Notably, the the rush defense was poor, allowing big runs through the center of the line. The Frogs ended up with 275 rushing yards at a 9.2 ypc rate.
On offense, sophomore Brendon Lewis led the Buffs in the first half, and exhibited good mobility, leading the team with 8 rushes for 42 yards. Lewis struggled in the passing game, throwing for only 78 yards on 18 attempts. In the second half, the Buffs brought in Tennessee transfer JT Shrout, who managed 157 yards and 1 touchdown through the air, but exhibited little mobility. The consensus appears to be that Shrout will start to bolster the passing game.
Overall, the Buffs were able to move the ball, but struggled on third and fourth down. They converted only 6 out of 15 third down attempts and were 0 for 2 in fourth downs. The running game was lackluster outside of Lewis.
There were a few surprises and new looks for the Falcons last week against UNI.
On defense, sophomore Payton Zdroik was the surprise starter at nose guard. At 6’ and 260 pounds, he is a bit smaller than other recent nose quards. He had a successful performance for a debut, making two tackles and earning the second highest rating for a Mountain West interior defensive linemen from Pro Football Focus.
With new Defensive Coordinator Brian Knorr, the Falcons seemed to have abandoned the term spur linebacker, and started the game with five defensive backs. In the first game, the defense was fluid with respect to who lined up closer to the line of scrimmage and who played deeper on pass defense. An example of this flexibility was when last year’s spur linebacker Camby Goff lined up fairly close to the line of scrimmage, and then dropped deep as the play began. He ended up making an interception on a pass that went off the fingertips of the receiver on a pass over the middle. Watching on the streaming feed, I had trouble following how the assignments changed between Goff and Jayden Goodwin, who was listed as the fifth defensive back in the first game. We’ll have to watch this new scheme as the season develops.
At cornerback, Michael Mack appears to be the most talented, but Jemari Bellamy, Eian Castonguay, and Corey Collins are all capable DBs who will share time at the position.
On offense, tailback John Lee Eldridge appears ready to share tailback duties with DeAndre Hughes. Eldridge has the speed of a track star and at 5’ 9”, 195 pounds, a low center of gravity that gives him the ability to run through tackles.
At tight end, Caleb Rillos got the start, and Kyle Patterson was only in the game for a few snaps. The Falcons want to guard against the possibility of another knee injury to their most talented TE. We’ll probably see more of him when the Falcons really need him.
Currently, the odds makers have the Falcons as 17.5 point favorites with an over/under of 49.5. The odds opened at Falcons -13.5 and got as high as Falcons -18.5. Those are very rich odds against a P5 team that isn’t Kansas or Vanderbilt. It’s clear that Colorado was not gelling as a team in their opening game, but they should improve in their second game, and their players have P5 level size, strength, and speed.
In the opening game, the defense was a little lackluster in the areas of the pass rush and pass coverage. It’s possible that the game plan was a plain vanilla version of what the Falcons will end up utilizing. The first string defense allowed some movement of the ball, but tightened up when necessary. The Panthers had only 3 points until the fourth quarter and the second and third strings were getting some snaps in. In this week’s press conference, FS Trey Taylor stated that he thought this years defense is one “we haven’t seen in a long time.” That’s a kind of statement that we don’t often hear from Air Force athletes. If that’s true, the Falcons could easily cover the spread.
The Falcons also have an offense that adjusts well to whatever scheme defenses are presenting. All four skill players in the backfield are dangerous threats if ignored. If the safeties sneak up to help against the run, Haaziq Daniels can sling it deep. And all of that occurs behind an experienced offensive line skilled enough to compete for the Joe Moore award.
Air Force wins 35-20. I would take the over and Colorado to cover the spread.