It really wasn’t as close as the score indicated. The Falcons dominated the game throughout the first half and took a 32-7 lead into halftime, and then took the opening drive of the second half for another touchdown to make it 39-7. After that, the Falcons got a little sloppy trying to run out the clock and the Aggies scored two more touchdowns, aided by some crucially timed Falcon penalties. Penalties played a large role in each of the Aggies touchdowns (although one of the penalties was a hallucination of the referees) , and I’m sure this will be a point of emphasis in practice this week. On the offensive side of the ball, the highlight was having two fullbacks reach the 100 yard mark. Owen Burk ran for 110 yards on only 15 carries and Emmanuel Michel got the workhouse role of carrying the ball 28 times for 106 yards and three touchdowns. Michel’s role was notable due to his fumble in the Sam Houston game that resulted in a benching for the remainder of the game. Coach Calhoun most likely wanted to send a message that fumbles aren’t acceptable, but he will give you plenty of opportunities to redeem yourself. Michel passed the test with flying colors.
The fullback workload made me feel sorry for John Lee Eldridge, who only had 7 opportunities to run with the ball, but once again averaged more than 8 yards per carry to notch 58 yards and a touchdown. Twice he had to pirouette in order to take errant pitches from Zac Larrier and still managed to make significant yardage while elegantly evading multiple tacklers.
Following a familiar script, the defense got after the quarterback early once again. On the first play of the Aggies’ second drive, Cooper Legas got flushed out of the pocket into the arms of PJ Ramsey for a 5 yard loss. On the next play, the Falcons sent ILB Alec Mock on a blitz, and he blindsided Legas for a strip sack. Bo Richter recovered the ball on the USU 11 yard line and three rushes later, the Falcons were in the end zone for a 14-0 lead. The Falcons had mostly been using Mock as the cleanup tackler after the D line takes their shots ( he has made 22 tackles in the last two games), but early in this game NG Payton Zdroik went out with an injury and DC Brian Knorr sent Mock on a few blitzes, resulting in two sacks for Mock. The Falcons had five sacks in the game, and now have 11 sacks, 3 batted down passes, and 4 QB hurries on the year. The result has been QBs that are a little gun shy on drop backs. Blake Anderson even made the decision to pull Legas and put in his true freshman QB McCae Hillstead. Hillstead showed excellent potential the rest of the way leading the Aggies to three touchdowns after the game was out of reach.
In the defensive backfield, two players forced into action by injuries to starters, CJ Boyd and Trey Williams, had solid performances in relief. Boyd has taken Camby Goff’s spot at spur linebacker and made 6 tackles, 1 TFL and 2 PBUs (one of which was a batted down pass on a blitz). Williams replaced Jerome Gaillard after a 2nd quarter injury and made 5 tackles, .5 sack, and 1 PBU. ILB Johnathan Youngblood made the Falcon’s first interception of the season on a one-handed grab early in the second quarter.
OH MY DEFENSE— Air Force Football (@AF_Football) September 16, 2023
One handed grab for Youngblood! pic.twitter.com/ScucMst6Gd
Kicker Matthew Dapore continued to try to make a case as the best kicker in the Mountain West among a crowded field of good kickers with a perfect 4 for 4 on PATs and a 49 yard field goal.
Overall, the team’s performance provided evidence that the Falcons will be in the hunt for the conference title. The results of this week’s MW games also provided evidence that the going will be tough for any contender. Fresno State beat ASU 29-0, UNLV got past Vanderbilt 40-37, Colorado State gave Deion Sanders, er, I mean Colorado all they could handle 43-35 in 2 OTs, and Wyoming scared 4th ranked Texas for 3 quarters 31-10. Boise got back on track with a solid win over a good FCS team, North Dakota, 42-18.
Next up for the Falcons will be San Jose State in San Jose on Friday night at 7:30 PM PST. The game will be televised on FS1. Come back on Thursday for my preview of the game.