For the first time in four home games this college football season, Air Force didn’t score 40 points.
Nevertheless, the Falcons were still able to dominate on both sides of the trenches en route to a 31-7 drubbing of Utah State last Saturday night. Air Force finished with an eye-popping 448-14 edge in rushing yards and an astounding 45:43 to 14:17 advantage in time of possession.
Indeed, it was one of the most humbling loses for USU in the past 10 years. If it wasn’t for a couple of Falcon turnovers pretty deep in Aggie territory, the final scoreline surely would have been even more one-sided.
“We got out-physicalled on both sides of the line of scrimmage, hands down,” USU head coach Gary Andersen said during Monday’s press conference. “That is not where we want to live. There are no excuses. We’ve done a good job in the other games, even early in the LSU game. I don’t think we got pushed around and just dominated in that game up front.”
The Falcons (6-2, 4-1 Mountain West) immediately set the tone by amassing 155 yards of total offense in the opening quarter, while limiting the Aggies (4-3, 3-1) to a measly nine. With the exception of a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive early in the third quarter, USU never established any momentum offensively. The visitors didn’t pick up a single first down on six of its nine possessions and only managed one first first down two of the other three times it had the ball. As a result, the Aggies gained 128 total yards, which was their worst single-game tally since the 2008 campaign against Utah.
The alarming thing is Utah State hasn’t put together a solid all-around performance offensively since its 23-17 road win at now-No. 25 San Diego State on Sept. 21. The Aggies were up and down against Colorado State and Nevada, and anemic against AFA and LSU (159 total yards).
“As far as the offense goes, it’s the same thing I tell the coaches and the same thing I communicate with the guys (is) there is no crutch and there is nowhere to run,” Andersen said. “We are who we are. It’s our job as coaches to work hard to get it where we need to allow the guys to have the opportunity to compete and be successful. That is on the coaches. Then, there’s the job of each individual and then there’s the job of each position group as players to take responsibility.”
Meanwhile, the Falcons amassed 30 first downs — the Aggies had seven — and racked up 41 or more yards on eight of their nine drives. Air Force only punted twice in the contest and both times were in the second half. The hosts ran 84 plays to USU’s season-low 36.
It was the second straight game the Falcons accumulated more than 400 yards on the ground. AFA also exceeded that barrier the last time it hosted USU — a 38-35 Falcon victory in the regular season finale for both teams in 2017.
“We tried our best to imitate their offense, and obviously Air Force is a really good team and they’re good at what they do,” USU defensive end Tipa Galeai said. “We just couldn’t do much when things weren’t going our way. We tried our best to fight. The D-line was doing our best, the backside was doing their best, as well. It just wasn’t in our favor at the end of the day.”
Two positive things USU’s defense did do is force turnovers and limit AFA’s explosive plays. Nick Heninger, Cameron Haney and Devon Anderson each forced one fumble — DJ Williams and Heninger had fumble recoveries for the Aggies — and the Falcons only had two plays of 20 or more yards (runs of 21 and 40).
However, Air Force did execute several runs between 5-15 yards and routinely gave USU fits on well-executed dives by Timothy Jackson, who gained 120 of his 148 yards in the opening half. Four Falcons rushed for more than 68 yards against a Aggie defense that only allowed 3.2 yards per carry heading into the game.
“It is a completely different animal with Air Force,” Andersen said. “I’m going to look at myself square in the face and say ‘how can I help them to get better?’ ... It’s a lot of different schools in our conference that have had a heck of a time trying to slow Air Force down, let alone stop them. ... They won the line of scrimmage through scheme, which is the coaches’ responsibilities, and they won the line of scrimmage through some situations where the physicality takes place and they don’t allow you to be as physical within the box.”
Defensive backs DJ Williams and Shaq Bond led the Aggie defense with career-best tallies of 14 and 12 tackles, respectively. Heninger had the lone sack for USU. The Falcons have only allowed four of them in eight games this season.
For the second time during the 2019 campaign — SDSU being the other — the Aggies didn’t turn the ball over. But, they gained a ghastly 70 yards outside of a well-executed 31-yard screen pass to Jaylen Warren and a beautiful 27-yard touchdown pass from Jordan Love to Siaosi Mariner on a fade route. USU only converted on 1 of 9 third downs, while AFA converted at a 10 for 13 clip.
Love, who completed 14 of 23 passes for 114 yards, was sacked twice and pressured on several other occasions. Six of those completions went to speedster Deven Thompkins, and the Falcons did a superb him of limiting him to 26 yards.
Air Force also did a very, very good job of not giving All-American kickoff returner Savon Scarver a single chance to make a potential game-changing play. USU’s lone kickoff return was a 6-yarder by reserve tight end Logan Lee.
Utah State doesn’t have any time to dwell on the painful loss as it hosts what is surely a very motivated BYU squad this Saturday night. The Aggies are looking for their first three-game winning streak against the Cougars since stringing together four consecutive victories in the series from 1971-74.
Galeai asserted Aggie fans can expect an equally motivated USU team this weekend.
“It’s very tough losing,” he said. “Nobody likes losing, but nothing’s better than coming back the next week having a chip on your shoulder and just getting ready to get back at it. It brings another sense of motivation for us to know that we can do better. Last week was something we never expected and never thought we would be in a position like that.”
• Redshirt freshman offensive lineman Jacob South made his first career start. He started at right tackle.
• Kicker Dominik Eberle matched former Aggie great Robert Turbin for the program record with 308 career points.
MW WEEKLY AWARDS
Wyoming running back Xazavian Valladay was selected as the Mountain West Offensive Player of the Week after rushing for a career-high 206 yards on 26 carries in his team’s 31-3 triumph at home over Nevada. The sophomore also hauled in a 53-yard TD pass on Wyoming’s first play from scrimmage. Valladay’s 280 all-purpose yards were the most by a MW player this season.
Colorado State safety Logan Stewart was named the league’s Defensive POTW after recording seven tackles and two interceptions in his squad’s 41-31 victory at Fresno State. The junior’s second INT sealed the win for the Rams.
San Jose State kicker Matt Mercurio was tabbed the conference’s Special Teams POTW after scoring 14 points in the Spartans’ big 34-29 win at Army. The freshman tied the single-game program record with four made field goals. Mercurio has been successful on his last 10 FG attempts.