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Flight Debrief: Air Force starts 2019 with win over Colgate

Air Force looks primed to deliver on promises and projections, but it’s only week one

NCAA Football: Colgate at Air Force Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Falcon football team earned their week 2 bye this afternoon at Falcon Stadium. Troy Calhoun and his team left absolutely no doubt that they have improved in every way he said they have in the 48-7 win over Colgate.

What Happened

Air Force got off to a lightning fast start against the 2018 Patriot League champion Raiders with an interception by the incredibly improved Tre Bugg on the third play of the game and the First Team All-Patriot League quarterback Grant Brenneman’s first pass.

Donald Hammond III commanded the offense on a six play drive with runs from Taven Birdow and Kade Remsberg that ended with Hammond running in a two yard touchdown.

From there, Air Force rolled on to score 28 points in the second quarter with another touchdown run from Hammond, two consecutive touchdowns from Remsberg, and another short touchdown carry from Hammond.

The Falcons went into the locker room at the half up 35 points and wouldn’t return until a lightning delay concluded, which seemed odd unless you’re familiar with Colorado weather, on an otherwise perfect day for football.

Air Force flexed its depth in the second half and rested the starters, putting Isaiah Sanders in at quarterback and the running back/ fullback duos of Joshua Stoner with Timothy Jackson and Nolan Erikson with Christian Mallard taking carries. Each running duo combined their push down the field on respective drives and Timothy Jackson and Nolan Erikson both came away with touchdowns. Isaiah Sanders threw the only Air Force pass with a long one to the wide open Geraud Sanders for 41 yards.

Satisfied with 48 points, Troy Calhoun and company reached even deeper down the depth chart in the fourth quarter with the third quarterback Michael Schmidt taking snaps, followed by a carousel of younger players who saw action during the Academy’s parents’ weekend opener.

The lone Colgate touchdown came on a 77 yard drive in the third quarter and was capped off with a 13 yard pass from Brenneman to Nick Gill.

The Awesome

After watching the Army game last night, I had some reservations about today’s game. Army was supposed to blow out Rice, but escaped with a win by a touchdown. Colgate came in riding high on the back of a successful 2018 season in the FCS, so I wondered if it was possible to have a close battle.

Being that Air Force is coming off of two losing seasons that were wrought with unkept promises, I really had a hard time believing in the reported improvements until I saw it in action. What really stuck out initially is that the defense is undeniable. Tre Bugg was supposedly one of the most improved DB’s and he left absolutely no doubt that this was the case. Form tackling looked very good over all and the pass rush left Brenneman scrambling on what seemed like every play. It was a better test than the score would indicate with Colgate running a fairly efficient run-pass-option in their own conference, but my suspicions were confirmed that the Raiders didn’t highlight many weaknesses in Air Force’s play that may become a problem against more challenging teams.

Aside from my awe with Bugg’s showing, the usual suspects had a fantastic game and all came back even more improved from their rock solid play last year, including: Mo Fifita, Garrett Kauppila, Kyle Johnson, and Jeremy Fejedelem. Sophomore Vince Sanford, and juniors Alec Hamilton and John Lyons also made an impact.

On offense, Donald Hammond III has not only embraced his starting role as quarterback, but has become a clear, confident leader that the team has also embraced. While he only totaled 26 yards rushing on 5 carries, Hammond simply has the “it” factor in getting yards when it counts. He saw the end zone three times and has outstanding chemistry with his backs in the option.

In the pre-season, I was confident in the Air Force run game, but I never would have called it stellar. Air Force has graduated and dismissed a few key parts, but Kade Remberg and Taven Birdow completely put my mind at ease. Birdow runs like a bull and while he did not score any touchdowns, his 80 yards on 9 carries set up several goal line plays. Remsberg complements the offense beautifully with patient, explosive running. Stoner, Mallard, Jackson, and Erikson also saw their time on the field and the substitutions were seamless. Absolutely no momentum was lost in switching units and it appears that Air Force will have unprecedented depth in their running game.

What We Wish We Saw

There was an ominously low number of passes, or pass, I should say, with only one, and it didn’t come until the third quarter when the backup Isaiah Sanders was on the field. It was a 41 yard pass to the sure-handed Geraud Sanders and it led to a touchdown. It’s no secret that Air Force’s receivers are largely inexperienced aside from the veteran Geraud Sanders. That’s not to say they will be a weak spot, but in an FCS opponent game which is prime for trying things out, it would have been nice to see. There’s no way around it, in the upcoming matchups and beyond, the Falcons will have to pass the ball.

On the topic of passing, I would have liked to see the direct entry freshman Kyle Patterson get some meaningful playing time. This wish is a bit of a stretch considering that he was added to the extended joiner roster, but he’s a very interesting player. I’ll admit that I’m a bit obsessed with the fact that he turned down offers from Alabama, Georgia, Oregon State, and Washington, but I think developing a 6’5”, 220 pound tight end through game reps as early as this could prove to be beneficial for years to come. Air Force generally doesn’t get the benefit of players who show up ready on day one. It’s usually a development process through the Prep School or JV program. While I cannot say for sure that those other schools would’t have liked to have had Patterson for a redshirt season, I think now is as good of a time as ever to give him a shot.

Finally, this isn’t what I wish I saw per se. It’s more like what we didn’t see that I still don’t know about. Air Force was never in any precarious situations. They never needed to show clock management ability. There were some fairly quick touchdown drives, but Air Force never seemed to get over that comeback hump last season and we just won’t know know if they have the ability to be clutch until the situation arises organically.

Overall, this game strangely made me even more anxious for the rest of the season and upcoming games against Colorado and Boise State in particular. Everything went exactly according to plan, but the margin of talent between Colgate and every other opponent on the schedule is massive. I feel confident, but vindication doesn’t come with a week one win against an FCS opponent. I’ve preached cautious optimism in the past, but now, I say to be as optimistic as you want, we have nothing to lose and a whole lot to gain.