CFN Take: Air Force Late FG Beats Colorado St
Posted Nov 28, 2014

2014 Air Force Falcons ... Head Coach: Troy Calhoun

Air Force Falcons

2014 Schedule
Record: 9-3

Aug. 30 Nicholls State W 44-16
Sep. 6 at Wyoming L 17-13
Sep. 13 at Georgia St W 48-38
Sep. 27 Boise State W 28-14
Oct. 4 Navy W 30-21
Oct. 11 at Utah State L 24-16
Oct. 18 New Mexico W 35-31
Nov. 1 at Army W 23-6
Nov. 8 at UNLV W 48-21
Nov. 15 Nevada W 45-38 OT
Nov. 22 at San Diego St L 30-14
Nov. 28 Colorado State W 27-24
Nov. 28 at Air Force 27, Colorado State 24
And You Care Because … Air Force stunned Colorado State and ruined a possible dream season with a 39-yard Will Conant field goal as time expired. The Falcons had a 24-10 lead late in the third quarter after Nate Romine gave the team its third short scoring run of the game, but Colorado State roared back with Garrett Grayson finding Xavier Williams for a 76-yard touchdown and Rashard Higgins for a two-yard score. But after coming up with a fourth down stop, Air Force had one last chance with 38 seconds remaining with Romine finding Garrett Brown for a 26-yard pass to set up the game-winning field goal.
What Else? Air Force QB Nate Romine completed 6-of-15 passes for 135 yards, and ran 25 times for a team-high 61 yards
- Colorado State WR Rashard Higgins caught 12 passes for 193 yards and two scores
- Colorado State RB Dee Hart ran 23 times for 115 yards
- Colorado State QB Garrett Grayson completed 23-of-46 passes for 366 yards and three scores with a pick
Game Rating: B+

Nov. 21 at San Diego State 30, Air Force 14
And You Care Because … San Diego State got up fast with a 13-0 lead on a 14-yard Adam Roberts touchdown catch and two of Donny Hageman’s three field goals, but Air Force took the lead going into halftime with Garrett Griffin taking a Kale Pearson pass 74 yards for a score, and D.J. Johnson running one yard for a touchdown. The Aztecs scored 17 unanswered points with Donnel Pumphrey running for a 12-yard score and Calvin Munson taking an interception 56 yards to put the game away. Air Force turned it over four times.
What Else? San Diego State QB Quinn Kaehler completed 17-of-30 passes for 326 yards and a touchdown with a pick
- Air Force QB Kale Pearson completed 10-of-22 passes for 171 yards and a touchdown with an interception, and ran 14 times for a team-high 59 yards
- San Diego State RB Donnel Pumphrey ran 27 times for 131 yards and a score
- Time of possession: San Diego State 35:16 – Air Force 24:03
Game Rating: C-

Nov. 15 at Air Force 45, Nevada 38 OT
And You Care Because … Air Force got a three-yard Shayne Davern touchdown run in overtime, and Nevada couldn’t answer. In a fun and wild game the two teams traded punches back and forth, with neither one ever up by more than one score and neither one coming up with two scores in a row. Kale Pearson threw three touchdown passes and ran for a score, giving the Falcons a three point lead with just over four minutes to play, but Nevada answered with a 22-yard Brent Zuzo field goal with 12 seconds to play to force overtime. Don Jackson ran for three scores for Nevada, and Cody Fajardo threw for two scores and ran for 100 yards.
What Else? Air Force QB Kale Pearson completed 11-of-15 passes for 129 yards and three touchdowns, and ran 16 times for a team-high 109 yards and a score
- Nevada QB Cody Fajardo completed 24-of-36 passes for 275 yards and two touchdowns with a pick, and ran 11 times for 100 yards
- Nevada RB Don Jackson ran 28 times for 121 yards and three touchdowns
- The two teams combined to convert 18-of-32 third down chances
Game Rating: A

Nov. 8 Air Force 48, at UNLV 21
And You Care Because … After getting down 7-0 after a Blake Decker touchdown run, Air Force scored 24 straight points and never looked back. D. J. Johnson ran for an eight-yard touchdown and came up with a two-yard run late in the third to keep the team well ahead. Kale Pearson ran for a one-yard score and found Jalen Robinette for a 59-yard touchdown. UNLV came up with a few scores with Devante Davis catching a four-yard pass and Shaquille Murray-Lawrence running for a one-yard touchdown, but it wasn’t enough to keep up.
What Else? Rushing: Air Force 386 yards and five touchdowns – UNLV 33 yards and two touchdowns
- Air Force QB Kale Pearson completed 5-of-6 passes for 115 yards and a score, and ran 15 times for 67 yards and a score
- UNLV QB Blake Decker completed 18-of-32 passes for 263 yards and a touchdown, and ran for a score
- Air Force RB Jacobi Owens ran 18 times for 135 yards and a score
Game Rating: C-

Nov. 1 Air Force 23, at Army 6
And You Care Because … The Air Force defense bottled up the Army running game, allowing just two Daniel Grochowski field goals from 42 and 46 yards out, while the offense got three Will Conant field goals and two touchdown passes from Kale Pearson to Garrett Griffin from 54 and two yards away. Army struggled to move the ball, finishing with just 169 yards.
What Else? Air Force QB Kale Pearson completed 8-of-12 passes for 141 yards and two touchdown with an interception
- Army passing: 3-of-13 for 47 yards
- Air Force RB Jacobi Owens ran 27 times for 118 yards
- Third down conversions; Air Force 8-of-18 – Army 1-of-12
Game Rating: C-

Oct. 18 at Air Force 35, New Mexico 31
And You Care Because … Both teams ran the ball and ran some more, but Air Force got a 50-yard touchdown catch from Jalen Robinette late in the third quarter for a 35-28 Falcon lead. New Mexico could only manage a 28-yard Zack Rogers field goal the rest of the way, stalling in the fourth. D.J. Johnson ran for three short scores for the Falcons, and Kale Pearson added a 21-yard touchdown run to go along with his big scoring pass, but New Mexico got big plays from Jhurell Pressley on touchdown runs from 42 and 50 yards away along with a 43-yard David Guthrie fumble return for a score for a 21-14 lead, but Johnson and the Falcons took over for most of the rest of the way.
What Else? Rushing: New Mexico 52 for 367 yards and three touchdowns averaging 7.1 yards per carry – Air Force 74 times for 269 yards and four touchdowns averaging 3.6 yards per carry
- New Mexico RB Jhurell Pressley ran 11 times for 148 yards and two touchdowns
- Air Force QB Kale Pearson completed 5-of-9 passes for 159 yards and a score, and ran 20 times for 66 yards and a touchdown
- Third down conversions: Air Force 9-of-18 – New Mexico 4-of-15
Game Rating: B+

Oct. 11 at Utah State 34, Air Force 16
And You Care Because … Darrel Garretson threw two touchdown passes to Hunter Sharp from 75 yards out on the first play and three minutes later from 23 yards away, and the Utah State run defense held the Falcons in check on the way to a 31-6 halftime lead and an easy win. Air Force didn’t get into the end zone until late in the third quarter on an eight-yard Shayne Davern run, but it was way too late. Garretson also added a 17-yard touchdown run.
What Else? Turnovers: Air Force 4 – Utah State 1
- Utah State QB Darell Garretson completed 20-of-29 passes for 298 yards and two touchdowns, and he ran eight times for 24 yards and a score
- Air Force QB Kale Pearson completed 9-of-18 passes for 169 yards and a pick, and ran 20 times for 43 yards
- Utah State WR Hunter Sharp caught 12 passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns
Game Rating: C-

Oct. 4 at Air Force 30, Navy 21
And You Care Because … Garrett Brown caught touchdown passes from 54 and 13 yards out, with the last one coming with 35 seconds to play to put the game away for Air Force. Navy stayed alive with a 46-yard Chris Swain touchdown run and a ten-yard Keenan Reynolds run, and pulled within three late on a 40-yard DeBrandon Sanders touchdown catch, but the Falcons cranked out the scoring drive they needed to put it away.
What Else? Air Force QB Kale Pearson completed 11-of-16 passes for 112 yards and three touchdowns, and ran 13 times for 61 yards
- Navy QB Keenan Reynolds completed 6-of-14 passes for 126 yards and a touchdown with an interception
- Rushing yards: Navy 251 – Air Force 198
- Air Force RB Jacobi Owens ran 23 times for 78 yards, and Navy RB Chris Swain ran 14 times for 103 yards and a score
Game Rating: B

Sept. 27 at Air Force 28, Boise State 14
And You Care Because … In a huge win for the program, Air Force scored the first 28 points of the game with Garett Brown, Kale Pearson and Jacobi Owens all coming up with short scores and Will Conant hitting field goals from 25 and 21 yards out. The problem? Boise State turnovers, giving up seven of them with five interceptions. The Broncos tried to rally late with Ryan Finley throwing two touchdown passes, but it was way too late.
What Else? Air Force’s Weston Steelhammer picked off three passes
- Boise State QB Grant Hedrick completed 18-of-33 passes for 209 yards and four picks, and Ryan Finley completed 12-of-25 passes for 161 yards and two touchdowns with one interception
- Air Force QB Kale Pearson completed 5-of-11 passes for 48 yards and a touchdown and ran 20 times for 127 yards and a score.
- Rushing yards: Air Force 287 – Boise State 97
Game Rating: B

Sept. 13 Air Force 48, at Georgia State 38
And You Care Because … Jacobi Owens and Kale Pearson each ran for two touchdowns, but Air Force had to fight to put away Georgia State. The Panthers bombed away, with Nick Arbuckle throwing two touchdown passes and running for one, but they got down 31-10 going into halftime and couldn’t make it all the way back. Pearson salted the game away on a 22-yard touchdown pass to Garrett Brown, but GSU pulled within ten with just under five minutes to play to make it interesting.
What Else? Air Force QB Kale Pearson completed 12-of-15 passes for 224 yards and two scores, and he ran nine times for just five yards and two touchdowns.
- Air Force RB Jacobi Owens ran 25 times for 122 yards and two scores.
- GSU LB Joseph Peterson made 13 tackles, but the D only came up with five tackles for loss.
- GSU QB Nick Arbuckle completed 26-of-42 passes for 414 yards and two touchdowns with a pick.
Game Rating: B-

Sept. 6 at Wyoming 17, Air Force 13
And You Care Because … Colby Kirkegaard found J.D. Krill for a three-yard touchdown catch with 58 seconds to play in the comeback win. Air Force took the lead with 3:25 to play on a 32-yard Will Conant field goal, but the Cowboys went on their strongest drive of the day going 75 yards in nine plays to pull off the win. Air Force had a 10-0 first half lead, but Kirkegaard came back with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Jalen Claiborne and got a 33-yard Stuart Williams to tie it up in the fourth.
What Else? Wyoming QB Colby Kirkegaard completed 23-of-37 passes for 282 yards and two touchdowns. Dominic Rufran caught six passes for 119 yards.
- Air Force was held to 2.9 yards per carry, running 52 times for 151 yards. Jacobi Owens ran 18 times for 76 yards and a score.
- Wyoming LB Jordan Stanton came up with 13 tackles with a sack and a forced fumble, while Devin Harris came up with 13 stops with a tackle for loss and a forced fumble.
- Air Force converted 10-of-21 third down chances, Wyoming 4-of-14.
Game Rating: B+

Aug. 30 at Air Force 44, Nicholls State 16
And You Care Because … It took about 20 minutes, but Air Force started to pull away from a 9-9 tie with 35 straight points with Devin Rushing accounting for two of the five touchdown runs in the rally. Nicholl State kept pace early on with an 18-yard Tobias Lofton touchdown run, but the defense couldn’t slow down the Falcon ground game that rolled up 539 yards. Jacobi Owens ran for 233 yards on 23 carries for the Falcons.
Game Rating: D+

2014 Preview 

Every year it’s really, really easy to assume the worst about Air Force football. There’s no talent, there’s lots of turnover, the schemes don’t really fit considering the defensive personnel – there are plenty of easy excuses. And sure enough, every year, Air Force seems to find a way to get the job done with the flex-option offense cranking out big numbers and the D doing just enough to get by.

At least that’s how it was in the Troy Calhoun era until last year.

The program hit a lean stretch in the mid-2000s with three straight winning seasons before coming back roaring, but 2013 was something different. The Falcons didn’t just struggle in a bad year, they couldn’t get anything to work.

The running game was fine, as always, but it wasn’t devastating and it wasn’t the difference-maker it normally was when everything was humming under Calhoun. The real problem, though, was a miserable defense that wasn’t even close.

The program will always have a problem when it comes to size and bulk on the front six or seven – depending on the alignment – but usually, the running game is able to milk the clock, the defense is able to stay just fresh enough to survive, and guts and feistiness tend to be just enough to get the job done. But the parts of the puzzle didn’t seem to mesh.

There weren’t enough long, sustained drives, and it didn’t help when starting quarterback Jaleel Awini was given the boot four games into the season. The defense couldn’t get off the field, giving up third down play after third down play, and the result was a world of ugly in the worst season since going 2-9-1 in 1980. Since then, there wasn’t even a season with fewer than four wins.

So was last year a blip, or was it an indication that there needs to be a big change? Is this a time to adapt or die, or does the team just need to do what Air Force does, but better?

Step one will be to get more out of the ground game to help out the D, but that could be a slight issue early on with a rebuilding offensive front. The backfield should be solid with QB Nate Romine appearing to be ready to do more, and with the usual stable of quick backs who can come up with a big burst. Are the pieces there to go on long, time-crunching drives? They had better be.

The defense that was carved up several different ways should be better – it can’t be any worse – and has the linebacking corps in place to be stronger and more aggressive. As always, though, size matters, and there isn’t any meaning a steady rotation has to come together quickly, and most importantly, the defense has to spend most of the game watching from the sidelines.

Give it one more year of the status quo. The offense is going to run the ball, the defense isn’t going to get to the quarterback, and if everything is back to normal, Air Force will win six games and go bowling. If not, there could be a philosophical change to one of the country’s steadiest mid-level programs.

What to watch for on offense: Running game, running game, running game. When that’s what you do, you have to do it at the highest of levels on a consistent basis, and that didn’t happen last year. Surprise of surprises, two of the best days last year on the ground – 409 yards against Colgate and 343 against Army – resulted in wins, and the 375 yards and five scores against the Nevada defense were almost enough to pull it out in a 45-42 shootout. It wasn’t just the lack of yards overall, it was the inability to get into good positions to keep the chains moving and convert on easy third down chances. In the working synergy of Air Force football, the offense HAS to give itself a shot with manageable plays, and it didn’t do that. Over the last three seasons, Air Force is 4-15 when it runs for fewer than 300 yards, and 0-8 last year.

What to watch for on defense: Can the defense get behind the line at all? Generating a pass rush has never been part of the plan, and last year was no exception with just 14 sacks, but the lack of plays in the backfield turned out to be a major problem with just 42 tackles for loss compared to 64 in 2012 and 55 in 2011. The whole idea is to try to get everyone to swarm around the ball and not leave too many of the smallish defenders in one-on-one positions to try to make stops or get past blocks, but that also means that there aren’t any big chances taken behind the line, and that turned out to be an absolute killer at times. No pressure means no help for the secondary, and it showed with just four interceptions on the year and none in the final five games. The Falcons had the second-worst pass efficiency defense last year for a reason.

The team will be far better if … the defense can come up with a third down stop and the offense can score early. It might sound like a broken record, but the Falcon defense has to get off the field. With a front line that averages around 260 pounds per man, and a linebacking corps built line defensive backs, this group just can’t hold up against tough lines that pound away and control the clock. But it wasn’t just that the D was wearing down late; it wasn’t doing anything early, either. Air Force was dead last in the nation in third down defense allowing teams to convert a whopping 59% of the time, and that was a problem throughout games. The offense didn’t help the cause, either, getting outscored 123-47 in the first quarters of games. For a team that doesn’t throw the ball, bad first quarters are a death sentence.

The schedule: It’s not that bad as long as Air Force goes back to being Air Force. When your toughest non-conference game is Navy, and it’s at home, it’s an easy slate, with Nicholls State to open up the season and Georgia State in Atlanta after kicking off Mountain West play at Wyoming on September 6th. There’s no Fresno State to deal with, and Boise State, Nevada and Colorado State have to come to Colorado Springs. There’s a run of three road games in four weeks over the first 21 days of November facing Army, UNLV and San Diego State on the road, wrapped around a home game against Nevada. Even so, if the team gets back on track and does the things it’s supposed to, there isn’t a game on the slate it can’t win, or at least be far more competitive in.

Best offensive player: Senior C Michael Husar, Jr. – Out for most of his junior season with a knee injury, he came back to be the best and most consistent player on an offense that was rarely consistent and didn’t do nearly enough at a high level. He’s not that big, but he’s strong, can move, and smart. He has to be more than just a leader and anchor up front; he has to help carry a line that needs four new starters and is really, REALLY light, trying out a 225-pound Sevrin Remmo at left tackle and a 240-pound Andrew Ruechel at right guard. 

Best defensive player: Senior FS Christian Spears. You can’t blame him too much for the defense’s problems last season. He only came up with two picks, but that’s as many as the rest of the team generated combined. The last line of defense, he spent all of his time trying to clean up messes, leading the team with 92 stops and needing to be used as an extra linebacker, even if though he’s built like a kicker. Very savvy and extremely quick, he knows what he’s doing, but he needs help around him.

Key player to a successful season: Sophomore DE Samual Byers, senior NG Troy Timmerman, and junior DE Alex Hansen. Hansen is the only returning starter to a front three that was ripped apart throughout last season, and while he’s only 6-2 and 260 pounds, he’s one of the team’s biggest linemen, and he has to play like it. There won’t be any pressure on the quarterback, and this group will get shoved around by anyone who wants to provide a push, but it has to be more than just a speed bump. Quickness is the key, and this front three has to use it get off the ball in a hurry and do something, anything, to improve the production after last year.

The season will be a success if … the Falcons get back to a bowl game. It’s vital to show that last year was simply a perfect storm of bad play and poor production, and with this schedule, there’s absolutely no excuse not to come up with at least six wins. Nicholls State and Georgia State are free spaces, and getting New Mexico at home can’t be a problem. Win those three, and automatically the season is an improvement on 2013. Beat Army come up with at least one home win over Navy, Nevada or Colorado State, and come up with a road victory against a UNLV or Wyoming, and it’s back to the post-season and all will be right with the world.

Key game: Sept. 6 at Wyoming. There was a time when the game against the Cowboys was the annual layup, going 6-1 in the series before getting pasted last season in a brutal 56-23 loss that showed that 2013 wasn’t going to be the strongest of campaigns. It’s the Mountain West opener this season, and sandwiched between the two gimmes against Nicholls State and Georgia State, Air Force could come up with more wins by September 13th than it generated all of last year. It would also prove that it’s truly a different season and a different team, and with Boise State, Navy and Utah State coming up, it might be a key game to keep the record and the season from sliding before mid-October.

2013 Fun Stats:
- First Quarter Scoring: Opponents 123 – Air Force 47
- Time of Possession: Opponents 32:26 – Air Force 27:34
- Third Down Conversions: Opponents 96-of-163 (59%) – Air Force 76-of-172 (44%)

- 2014 Air Force Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players

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