Brent Briggeman, who covers Air Force for the Colorado Springs Gazette, weighs in on what Wyoming can expect this weekend against the Falcons.
The Falcons have rebounded from their first setback of the season with back-to-back blowout wins. What has driven this dominance over the past two weeks?
A number of factors have contributed. The past two opponents didn’t feature the high-octane attack that Utah State brought. The offensive line, which was entirely new entering the season, has had time to gel and has helped pave the way for three consecutive 400-yard rushing performances. That kind of rushing attack eats clock, limits time of possession and allows an already-good defense to look even better because it can stay rested.
While Air Force is known for its triple-option attack, Wyoming coach Craig Bohl praised Troy Calhoun earlier this week for his ability to adapt offensively.
What are some other areas the Cowboys’ defense will need to prepare for?
Offensive coordinator Mike Thiessen has been doing this for a long time (he was a decorated Air Force quarterback, a minor league baseball player and a college math teacher), and Troy Calhoun was an NFL offensive coordinator. So there’s a lot of brain power that has gone into building this offense. They have always utilized different formations and personnel groups to keep defenses guessing, and while the passing numbers are generally low, they tend to hit big when they do go to the air. Jalen Robinette in 2016 and Geraud Sanders in 2019 led the nation in yards per catch from Air Force’s offense, which is the product of talent and an offense that creates one-on-one opportunities for receivers because the ground game is so consistently potent.
Haaziq Daniels has been a force on the ground through five games, ranking atop the Mountain West with eight rushing touchdowns to go along with 83.8 yards per game.
But in the event of a shootout, how worried should UW be about his passing ability?
Daniels has started 11 career games, and in them Air Force has scored 30-plus points seven times. One of the others was a 28-0 victory and two others were physical, grind-em-out road games against service academies. So while Daniels hasn’t consistently shown he can run a high-volume passing game, that’s not what he’s asked to do. What he is asked to do he’s executed at a high level. His only completion last week was a perfectly placed out pattern to Brandon Lewis for 33 yards. Injuries have cut into Air Force’s receiving corps, so that will be a variable, but as evidenced by a 45-point showing against Utah State (albeit in a loss), this is a team that can hang in a shootout even without breaking character as a run-first offense.
Obviously their run-heavy approach plays a factor in this, but the Falcons lead the MW with 16.6 points allowed per game and have only given up more than 14 points once.
What’s impressed you most about the Air Force defense this year?
This is perhaps the most talented Air Force defense I’ve seen, as I expected it to be. Defensive lineman Jordan Jackson frequently commands a double-team, linebacker Demonte Meeks is among the best the Falcons have had at that spot, cornerback Tre Bugg is a three-year starter, Vince Sanford has seized his first opportunity to start and has been a disruptive force (as evidenced by 3.5 sacks last week), safety Corvan Taylor has 3 INTs and a fumble recovery and sophomore Trey Taylor has been as advertised in his first two games. The defense is built to stop the run, and it has done that. When that is taken care of, there aren’t too many offenses like Utah State’s that can exploit it through the passing game.
What’s your prediction for Saturday?
I don’t generally go there. I think Air Force’s multiple injuries on offense could limit the explosive plays, so the importance of the offensive line play and the ability of the fullbacks to keep the chains moving will be heightened. Should be a good one.