AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. – With the nation’s leading rushing attack starting to stall, the Air Force football team turned to an unlikely source of offense and burned the University of Wyoming on Saturday night at Falcon Stadium.
The Falcons rushed for 211 yards on an average of 3.3 per carry, marking just the second time this season they’ve been held under 370 yards rushing. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, Air Force had another wrinkle up its sleeve.
After not attempting a pass in the first two quarters, junior quarterback Haaziq Daniels completed 7 of 10 attempts in the second half for 110 yards and a touchdown – leading a pair of scoring drives that proved to be the difference in a 24-14 loss for UW.
UW coach Craig Bohl admitted the Falcons’ passing production caught him by surprise.
“In my wildest dreams I never thought Air Force would be able to throw the ball as well as they did,” Bohl said. “That was a change up for them, and it caught us off guard a little bit. I'll look at the tape, and I'm going to be really guarded as far as making some broad-based things, but obviously they were very effective throwing the football.”
With only 33 pass attempts from Air Force during its first five games, the Cowboys didn’t anticipate a formidable Falcons aerial attack. However, that doesn’t mean they neglected the passing game during the past two weeks.
Senior linebacker Chad Muma, who led all players with 11 total tackles and six solo stops, says the Pokes’ struggles boil down to a lack of communication.
“Going through practice and looking at their previous games, it was evident to us that they don't pass very much,” Muma said. “I think it was just five passes per game. We didn't really prepare (for) too many passes, but we did throw them in practice. I think there was just miscommunication out on the field when those pass plays showed up.”
Junior cornerback C.J. Coldon acknowledged the Falcons’ ability to get their passing attack going was a turning point in the game.
“It changed things a lot,” he said. “We expected them to come out and try something new, we just didn't expect it as many times on that drive. They had us with their passing, and we just have to play better.”
UW, meanwhile, was haunted by a lack of production in its passing game.
Junior quarterback Sean Chambers completed just 11 of 28 passes for 143 yards, with seven consecutive incompletions to start the game. He did have one touchdown each on the ground and through the air, but Bohl and his quarterback were far from satisfied with the performance.
“We're concerned about it,” Bohl said. “I thought he played very competitive and made some great plays tonight, but some of the things we have to clean up. (Saturday), we were going to need to play well, and he was going to need to play well. I thought there were things he did that were outstanding, and other things he did that were subpar.”
Added Chambers: “It was just one of those days. I wasn't at my best, that's the best I can put it.”
Third down woes
The Cowboys’ lack of offensive production – they finished with 257 total yards and an average of 4.7 yards per play, with all of their scoring coming during a three-minute span late in the first half – can be partly attributed to their third-down struggles. They converted on only three of the 12 third downs they faced, including none in the first half.
Oftentimes the Pokes found themselves in third-and-long situations after negative plays or penalties, something senior running back Xazavian Valladay pointed to as a difference-maker.
“It's really hard,” Valladay said. “We practice all these situations daily, week-in and week-out. To get the results we did today, I know everybody including myself isn't satisfied. We just have to go into practice next week and dial some stuff up, tweak some things and get ready.”
While Valladay didn’t get the end result he and his teammates wanted, he did continue his run into the UW record books Saturday.
The veteran back passed Marques Brigham to move into fifth on the Cowboys’ all-time rushing list during the third quarter, finishing the game at 2,647 career rushing yards. He currently sits 25 yards back of Wynel Seldon for fourth among Wyoming rushers.
“I'm very thankful for this opportunity, but at the same time I'm not happy,” Valladay said. “There's still more work to do.”