Dropped passes hurt Air Force's chances early in blowout loss

September 7, 2013 Updated: September 7, 2013 at 8:03 pm
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Air Force tight end Garrett Griffin (80) comes up short on a pass during a NCAA college football game between the Air Force Falcons and the Utah State Aggies at Falcon Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013 in Air Force Academy, Colo. (Kent Nishimura, The Gazette)

Air Force lost by 32 points, so it might seem odd to suggest this one slipped between the Falcons' fingers.

But that was at least partially the case.

Five first-half passes touched Air Force receivers in the hands and didn't result in completions. The plays had a wide disparity in degree of difficulty, but ultimately the Falcons were settling for field goals while Utah State was scoring touchdowns and the primary culprit was slippery fingers.

"It's not really frustrating," said new quarterback Jaleel Awini, who looked dynamic at times in his first career start. "I've got to place the ball better. Dropped balls, I feel like that's kind of my fault, too. But it's not that frustrating because I have confidence in them. I'm going to keep throwing it to them."

The opening up of Air Force's offense - hinted at for months - didn't slow down with the change to Awini from Kale Pearson, who was injured last week. Awini attempted 10 first-half passes, as many attempts as the Falcons had in eight games last year.

The problem was, he only completed two of those and finished 4 of 12 for 61 yards. Karson Roberts, who entered in the third quarter, went 2 of 3 with a 37-yard touchdown to freshman Jalen Robinette.

"We caught some breaks there," Utah State linebacker Zach Vigil said. "They dropped some balls that could've been touchdowns, and if they had caught some of those it would've been a lot tighter game, I think."

Air Force coach Troy Calhoun concurred.

"I do think it could have been a tighter and a closer game in the first half, absolutely that's the case," Calhoun said. "But still, the first 20 minutes of the second half there was a clear difference, and that might be putting it mildly."

Air Force abandoned its passing game for stretches, but found little success in the running game. Tailbacks Jon Lee and Anthony LaCoste combined for just 29 yards on 14 carries and the Falcons' longest run from scrimmage was an 11-yard burst from fullback Broam Hart, who ran for just 24 yards after going for 101 in last week's opener.

Dropped passes were just part of the equation, and certainly a few more catches wouldn't have meant the Falcons were going to score 52 points like Utah State, but it spotlighted the long-held truth that Air Force doesn't have the margin for error that some programs do.

"We have talent at quarterback, we just have to figure out how to use it," Hart said. "In order to open up his opportunities to pass the ball and make big plays, we have to capitalize on the opportunities to run the ball. We have to be perfect on everything we do."

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