Air Force players wandered slowly out of the tunnel Saturday, heads shaking in disbelief.
There was simply no sugar coating a 52-20 shellacking at the hands of Utah State, particularly when it took place at the Falcons’ home stadium.
“I think we got thumped in every way you can diagnose it,” coach Troy Calhoun said.
The problems truly did come from all directions. The passing game was finally unleashed, but resulted in at least five dropped passes, three of which were in the end zone. The defense allowed 6.7 yards per play. The kicking game produced a shanked 23-yard punt that led to points before the half and a failed fake punt.
While Utah State watched its quarterback complete 32 of 40 passes for 360 yards and five touchdowns, adding 77 rushing yards; Air Force watched the carnage unfold into its worst home loss ever in the seven seasons under Calhoun.
“We got them to third downs a lot, we just couldn’t get them off the field.” said safety Jamal Byrd, who provided one of the lone highlights for Air Force with a first-quarter interception.
On the first drive, Aggies quarterback Chuckie Keeton broke a run for 30 yards and later tossed a 30-yard touchdown. Given the ball back after the first Air Force play resulted in a Jeleel Awini fumble, Keeton engineered another scoring drive for an early 14-0 lead.
Though the deficit never shrunk below eight points, the game did get interesting for a time. Awini, making his first start after replacing the injured Kale Pearson, put together a pair of drives that resulted in field goals. Both could have led to touchdowns were it not for dropped passes in the end zone.
“Some of those passes weren’t perfect,” Awini said. “I put some of the fault on me, too.”
The first quarter saw 264 yards of offense, two turnovers, 13 first downs and four scoring plays.
Awini’s touchdown on a 3-yard run in the second quarter cut the deficit to 21-13, but Utah State was able to rally for a field goal with 12 seconds remaining after a short David Baska punt gave Keeton a short field to navigate.
From there, Utah State dominated.
In their first Mountain West game, the Aggies scored four touchdowns over the first 20 minutes of the second half while holding Air Force to one first down over the same span.
“The way we came out in the second half, you just couldn’t have two teams that were further apart,” Calhoun said.
Utah State outgained Air Force 577 to 270 and had twice as many first downs (32 to 16).
Air Force was trying all it couldtried to keep pace, going for it four times on fourth down.
“The win hasn’t sunk in personally yet,” Utah State coach Matt Wells said. “What’s special is that this was Utah State’s first Mountain West Conference game. They not only played in their first MWC game but won their first MWC game, I told the team that is very special for them.”
Air Force, on the other hand, is now bracing for a trip to conference power Boise State riding a three-game skid — each lopsided — against opponents at the NCAA’s highest level.
“Coach Calhoun just addressed the team and said we’ve got to watch the film tomorrow, see what we can learn from it and forget it, move on to Boise State,” Byrd said. “That’s all we can do is worry about what’s next. We can’t change the outcome of this game now, it’s too late.”