Coach Troy Calhoun can make it sound like the Falcons are playing against Alabama every week. Such was the case this week when he was asked about the Sam Houston Bearkats, a team transitioning from FCS to FBS and coming off an impressive defensive performance against BYU. He rattled on about the number of highly recruited transfers had joined the team, the size of the defensive front, the exceptional linebacking corps, and how not many teams can go into Provo, Utah and hold the Cougars to 14 points. My error was not listening to him more closely and then making a prediction that the Falcons would put up 30 points on the Bearkats, thinking they would have trouble with the option attack even with a better than average FBS defense.
My delusions were quickly dispelled as the Bearcats forced 3 three-and-outs in the first quarter and held the offense to -6 yards total offense.
From there on, the Falcons began to move the ball more effectively, but made some crucial errors that kept them from converting opportunities into points. After a field goal on the first drive of the second quarter, they committed two costly penalties that put them out of scoring range at the end of the half.
In the second half, the offense got moving again, but gave the ball up on a fumble by Emmanuel Michel after a 22 yard gain, giving the ball to the Bearkats at their own 38 yard line. The Bearkats turned that into their only score of the evening, a 45 yard field goal.
The Falcons followed with two long drives, a 12 play drive for a field goal and an 11 play drive for a touchdown.
But the main story was the Falcon defense, which held the Bearkats to only 80 yards total offense, was the defense and specifically, in my opinion, the defensive line’s ability to punish the Bearkats whenever they wanted to try any deep passes.
The defensive line first showed what they could on the Bearkat’s third drive on third down. With three yards to go, Shoemaker dropped back to pass, and the Falcons rushed only the three linemen. PJ Ramsey was able to easily evade the blocking for a sack and loss of 9 yards. Two drives later, Shoemaker dropped back on third and eight, and Bo Richter manhandled his blocker and sacked the quarterback for a 13 yard loss.
Add to that another sack and a QB hurry by Richter, a batted down pass by PJ Ramsey, and a sack from Payton Zdroik, and the Bearkats began to limit their offense to runs and quick passes. It was obvious enough that the announcer started complaining about the Bearkats lack of passing downfield while trailing by two scores but he didn’t link it to the Falcon pass rush. The Bearkats only attempted 14 passes all evening, so the four sacks gives the Falcons a 22.2% sack rate, second best in FBS. For comparison’s sake, BYU only had one sack against the Bearkats, while they attempted 33 passes.
Just for fun, here’s a couple of highlights:
DEFENSE‼️— Air Force Football (@AF_Football) September 10, 2023
That's another SACK pic.twitter.com/QPaT5UtHjq
Next up is Utah State on Friday evening. Come back Thursday for my preview of the game.