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Falcons Travel to Houston to Face Sam Houston Bearkats

Looking for a seventh straight program win

Location: NRG Stadium, Houston, TX

Date/Time: Saturday, September 9th at 7PM Central Time

Television: CBS Sports Network

Draft Kings Odds: Air Force -15

The Falcons will make the journey to Houston, technically meeting at a neutral field about 80 miles south of the Sam Houston State University. The Bearkats are coming off a good showing against BYU in their inaugural FBS football game. Their defense held the Cougars to only two touchdowns and 257 yards of total offense, but the offense struggled mightily and was shutout while managing only 185 yards of total offense.

Sam Houston has been an elite FCS in recent years prior to the transition. They won the FCS Championship in the Covid shortened year of 20-21 and finished 11-1 in 2021 before falling to 5-4 last year. The team started early in their transition efforts by redshirting some of their better players last year to bolster the team’s experience this year. They’ve also picked up a few transfers from FBS teams this year. Head coach K. C. Keeler is in his 10th year at Sam Houston and has two FCS championships under his belt, having also led Delaware to the title in 2003.

Scouting the Bearkats

The starting quarterback in game one for the Bearkats was Keegan Shoemaker, who started the last six games last year. Sticking mostly with short passes, he went 18-33 against BYU but also threw 3 interceptions. The Bearkats also have two QBs who transferred in from other FBS programs this year: Grant Gunnell comes from North Texas after starting his college career at Arizona, and Xavier Ward comes from Washington State. Both were highly rated coming out of high school. Given the poor performance of the offense last week, we might see at least one of the two transfers at some point in this game.

The main running backs are 3rd team all-WAC Zach Hrbacek and Utah State transfer John Gentry. Running backs combined for only 35 yards against BYU.

The Bearkats use the running backs extensively as receivers. Half of the receptions in the first games were from running backs. Primary wide receivers are Noah Smith and Ife Adayi who combined for 72 yards in the opener.

On defense, the strength of the team is at the linebacker position. Markel Perry and Trevor Williams were both all conference during their title run in 2022 and return for their senior years. Sincere Jackson is a talented JUCO transfer who was injured in the first game last year, but is expected to excel this year.

The defensive backs have no standouts, but they did manage to keep USC/Pittsburgh transfer Kedon Slovis to only 145 yards and no touchdowns last week. In the weekly press conference, Calhoun was emphasizing that the shutdown of the BYU passing attack was something he wasn’t used to seeing, having played against them in the mid 80’s when they won a national championship.

Falcon Update

Here’s the main takeaways from this week’s depth chart:

Four projected starters who missed last week are back on the depth chart, but listed as the #2 at their position. Kaleb Holcomb is behind Mason Carlan, Caleb Rillos is second to James Bryant, Dane Kinnamon is behind Cade Harris (he’s also listed as the primary kick returner), and Payton Zdroik is second to James Tomasi. I’m not sure what that implies about their readiness to play, but I will say that Coach Calhoun doesn’t put too much effort into ensuring the accuracy of his depth charts, to put it mildly.

CJ Boyd will take over the spur linebacker role for the injured Camby Goff. Jayden Goodwin is listed as the #2, and it’s possible he could move between strong safety and spur with Jalen Mergerson filling in at strong safety when he plays spur. Mergerson has been a regular part of the rotation for a couple years now.

Jayden Thiergood is still not on the depth chart at DE, so appears to be out for another week.

What to Expect

The Falcons will have to step up their game against the Bearkats. With a roster bolstered by transfers and strategic redshirts last year, the Bearkats have enough talent to give the Falcons some headaches. The strong linebacking corps will make yards on the ground tougher. However based on their first game, the Falcons should have a good advantage when the defense is on the field. I would expect some improvement from the Bearkat offense, and it’s possible that either Gunnel or Ward could provide a good boost to their output if Shoemaker flounders again.

One of the more encouraging signs from the Falcon’s first game was the relatively error-free performance of the offense and defense (notice I’m leaving out special teams, whose problems may be solved with the return of Dane Kinnamon this week). Zac Larrier had the one errant pitch, but there were no defenders in the vicinity of John Lee Eldridge who made an easy recovery. The team only committed 2 penalties for 10 yards, which is excellent considering the number of second and third stringers who played. Sam Houston on the other hand had three interceptions and 7 penalties for 47 yards, which is something you might expect from a patched together team playing their first games against heightened competition.

With a strong defense and an offense that doesn’t shoot itself in the foot, it should be a relatively easy win for the Falcons. I’ll say the Falcons cover the spread and win, 30-10.