Published: October 4, 2013
A crushing 45-42 loss at Nevada, given all that had come in the days and weeks before it, could have represented a new rock bottom for Air Force.
But that's now how it felt.
"We have hope," new quarterback Karson Roberts said. "We'll win some games, for sure."
Roberts was a - if not the - reason for the hope. He ran for 161 yards, the most by an Air Force quarterback since 2001, and had a hand in 216 yards and three touchdowns as he carried an option attack that looked like the Falcons of old.
"It was a great experience for him," coach Troy Calhoun said.
There was a hop to the offense's step, to be sure, as it ran for 389 yards and gave the team a 12-point fourth quarter lead that it ultimately couldn't hold.
This came after Roberts was the third-string quarterback just four weeks earlier, before a knee injury took out Kale Pearson and the ineligibility of Jaleel Awini.
"Coach (Blaine) Morgan had always told us that all three quarterbacks that are traveling with us need to prepare to be the starter," Roberts said. "The whole season I've been going with that mindset if I get out there."
The remaining question is what all of this means. The assumption would be that Air Force will stick to an option look on offense for the foreseeable future after having success. But then again, it could also have been a product of a favorable matchup as the Falcons ran for 488 yards against Nevada a year ago.
Receiver Sam Gagliano said he and the receivers would be fine if the offense, that for weeks looked like it was tilting toward being pass-heavy, would again revert to its ground-based roots.
"We've got to be selfless," Gagliano said. "We've got to be team oriented. It's got to be about winning."
At 1-4, the Falcons could still be in bowl contention, even with a trip to Navy awaiting and a visit from Notre Dame looming Oct. 26. Even with losses in both of those, a six-win season would be good enough for a seventh-straight bowl.
Navy's star quarterback, Keenan Reynolds, left the game with concussion-like symptoms on Saturday as the Midshipmen's offense went lifeless in a 19-7 loss to Bobby Petrino's Western Kentucky.
If Reynolds doesn't play - and even if he does - who knows?
Despite the newfound optimism, there are still issues that need to be fixed. Gagliano's drop on a potential first down led to a Nevada possession with 3:50 remaining. The Wolf Pack then drove for the winning touchdown.
Drops have plagued the Falcons for weeks, as has a porous defense that has allowed at least 42 points in each of its conference games.
Then again, the defense won't face another quarterback in the league with the skill set of the past four.
There's plenty to digest, but for once the taste in Air Force's mouth is something other than foul.