There's no denying that's exactly what Air Force was able to accomplish in its pivotal Mountain West showdown with Utah State on a cold, windy Saturday night at Falcon Stadium. The Falcons thoroughly outclassed the Aggies in every phase of the game en route to a 31-7 victory.
"We got beat by the better team, no question about it," USU head coach Gary Andersen said in a radio interview with 1280 The Zone. "Air Force pretty much dominated both sides of the football game, and that's how it took place. We knew they were a good team coming in and they showed they're a good team, and any time it goes that way in a football game, I look at myself and put in on me. And the kids will come back battling and fighting, and they've got a lot to fight for, but we we've got a lot to get better at too. We've got to find a way to get some things going in our favor."
There was a glimmer of hope for USU (4-3, 3-1 MW) after it struggled mightily in the first half. The Aggies received the opening kickoff of the third quarter and marched 75 yards in 10 plays. Jordan Love threw a sublime 27-yard fade for a touchdown to Siaosi Mariner on a third-and-eight play — the visitors' first third-down conversion of the game — paring the Aggies' deficit to 17-7 with 11:49 remaining in the quarter.
Utah State then proceeded to get a defensive stop, thanks to big plays by Andre Grayson and Nick Heninger, who blew up a third-down passing play for an eight-yard loss. However, the Falcons (6-2, 4-1) quickly regained momentum on a 53-yard Charlie Scott punt to the USU 1-yard line.
Pinned back and facing a bad headwind, the Aggies elected to go conservative, and they ultimately had to punt from their own end zone. The Falcons quickly took advantage of a short field, advancing the pigskin 41 yards on eight plays, culminating with a 9-yard scoring pitch to an untouched Kadin Remsberg, who got an outstanding edge-sealing block from Lesley Dalger.
Air Force scored one more touchdown — a 1-yard run by Taven Birdow — and ended up finishing with a gigantic 472-128 edge in total offense. The Falcons rushed for 448 yards on 78 attempts, averaging 5.7 yards per carry against a USU defense that had only allowed 3.2 ypc heading into the game.
The Aggies managed to outpoint the Falcons, 42-32, a year ago in Logan, despite being on the wrong end of a 43:40 to 16:20 time of possession battle. It was even more pronounced this season as AFA held onto the ball nearly 46 minutes (45:43 to 14:17). The Falcons limited the Aggies to seven first downs and amassed 30 of their own, plus ran a whopping 48 more plays than the visitors (84-36).
"It goes back to the same thing, it's the recipe of success I talked about to beat these guys when they're a good football team, (and that's) you have to have all three phases (contributing) in a very positive way," Andersen said. "That didn't take place. And you've got to be there in the possession battle and the possession battle was, I don't really have a word for it that I could talk to you guys about today."
If it wasn't for a couple of Air Force fumbles, USU's halftime deficit likely would have been more pronounced than 17-0. That's because the Falcons completely owned the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball as they outgained the Aggies by an astounding 309-44 margin and secured an eye-popping 24:30 to 5:17 edge in time of possession. AFA racked up 285 yards on 43 carries, and inflicted a lot of that damage on dive plays by Timothy Jackson, who gashed the visitors to the tune of 120 yards on 16 attempts.
The first two Air Force drives were halted in USU territory. Cam Haney dislodged the ball from AFA quarterback Isaiah Sanders, and fellow cornerback DJ Williams pounced on the loose pigskin at the Aggie 22-yard line.
A couple minutes later, the Falcons marched inside the USU 30, but defensive tackle Devon Anderson blew up a reverse and forced a fumble that Heninger recovered.
Unfortunately for the Aggies, they were unable to make the Falcons pay for those turnovers. Instead, USU didn't pick up a first down on its first three possessions and only managed 13 total yards.
The Falcons didn't cough the ball up in the second quarter, and ended up scoring on all three of their possessions. AFA's first touchdown was a 1-yard plunge by Jackson, who scampered for 40 yards on a third-and-8 play earlier in the drive. The hosts converted on their first six third downs of the contest.
Air Force found paydirt again midway through the second quarter on a 1-yard run by Remsberg, who was untouched on the play. The Falcons dented the scoreboard for the third time on the final play of the opening half when kicker Jake Koehnke boomed a 57-yard field goal that would have been good from at least 64 yards out.
All but 13 of USU's yards in the first half were gained by Jaylen Warren, who picked up 31 on a well-executed screen pass. That play put the Aggies in Falcon territory for the only time in the half, but the drive quickly fizzled out. Deven Thompkins was open inside the AFA 15-yard line, but Love underthrew him in the wake of heavy pressure.
Thompkins had a game-best six receptions, but they only resulted in 26 yards. Love completed 14 of 23 passes for 114 yards for the Aggies, who were limited to 14 yards on 13 rushes. Love was sacked twice and under duress several more times.
Four Falcons contributed with at least 69 yards on the ground. Jackson led the way with 148, followed by Remsberg with 92, Birdow with 88 and athletic quarterback Donald Hammond III with 69.
Williams led the Aggie defense with a career-high 14 tackles. The senior was joined in double figure tackles by Bond with a career-best 12 and linebacker David Woodward with 11.
And while the Aggies had their moments defensively, they ultimately couldn't get off the field on third down. AFA went 10 of 13 of third down, while USU converted at an anemic 1 of 9 clip.
"The other part of the message (I told the team after the game) is this is not acceptable," Andersen said. "Anybody on the staff, anybody ... that plays on this team, it's not who we are. It's not somewhere where we haven't been before. ... As a player and a coach, you'll get in these tough struggles and these games where all of a sudden it doesn't go your way, but you have to react. But the bottom line is you have to fight back, and we've got to find a way to be able to get some things going offensively, and that's just not tonight, it's the last month. ... And until we do that, it's going to be awful tough to win football games.
"And defensively, we did not play well tonight. The defense has had its nights. Tonight was not their night, obviously, and my hat goes off to Air Force. They're a terrific team."
• With his extra point in the third quarter, Dominik Eberle pulled even with former Aggie great running back for the most points in program history at 308.
• USU had won 14 straight conference games under Andersen heading into Saturday's showdown.