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Scenes during the Air Force Falcons home football game against the University of Wyoming Cowboys at Falcon Stadium at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021. The Falcons won the game against the Cowboys by a score of 24 to 14. Fullback Brad Roberts takes a handoff from quarterback Haaziq Daniels. (Chancey Bush/ The Gazette)

OFFENSIVE MVP

Brad Roberts, FB

The steady, bruising fullback has rushed for a Mountain West-best 680 yards through six games with six touchdowns. He has gone for 110 or more yards in four of the six games. In his career he has picked up 100 yards in six of 10 appearances. In those when he missed 100 yards he still put up efforts of 98, 97, 83 and 77 yards. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of his consistency is that virtually all of his yards have come up the middle, and each week teams approach Air Force by saying the top priority is to stop the fullback.

Honorable mention: Haaziq Daniels, QB – Check out this comparison. Daniels as a junior: 158.4 passer rating, 11.5 yards per passing attempt, 5.5 rushing yards per attempt, on pace for 16 touchdowns. Tim Jefferson’s single-season career highs for Air Force: 153.4 passer rating, 9.2 yards per attempt, 5.2 rushing yards per attempt, 15 rushing touchdowns.


DEFENSIVE MVP

Vince Sanford, OLB

There hasn’t been a more disruptive force for Air Force or in the conference than Sanford, who has all of his Mountain West-leading 6.5 sacks and three forced fumbles in conference games. Sanford opened the season as the “spur” linebacker, the team’s hybrid outside linebacker/defensive back spot, but moved to the pass-rushing “bandit” linebacker after the Week 1 injury to Lakota Wills. Sanford’s emergence has helped the Falcons generate a consistent pass rush, which is an essential component to their pass defense that leans on one-on-one situations that favor the receivers more the longer a play runs.

Honorable mention: Corvan Taylor, FS – Taylor has had a hand in five turnovers in six games. He has three interceptions (tied for the Mountain West lead) and two fumble recoveries (also tied for the conference lead). The senior also ranks third on the team in tackles with


MOST EXPLOSIVE PLAYER

Micah Davis, WR

Davis scored the first touchdown of the season for Air Force and he hasn’t slowed since. The sophomore slot receiver leads the team with 10 catches for 221 yards and he’s rushed 36 times for 282 yards. His six touchdowns are tied for second on the team. But what numbers don't illustrate are Davis' ability to turn upfield in a flash and haul in passes that look uncatchable.


HIDDEN IMPACT PLAYER

Jordan Jackson, DL

The numbers for the massive – 6-foot-5, 285 – senior have been understated (17 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks), but there’s a reason for that. Jackson is playing more on the interior defensive line this year, where numbers tend to go down, and he’s frequently demanding a double team. This, of course, benefits the defense as a whole, as that is one fewer blocker assigned to someone else.


BIGGEST OBSTACLE OVERCOME

Offensive line shuffling

It was challenging enough that the Falcons had no starters returning on the line – particularly in this year when, because of COVID-19 eligibility extensions, most other teams have returning starters everywhere – but that has been exasperated by injuries. The team has used four offensive line combinations in the five games, starting eight linemen. Yet, despite the challenges, the Falcons lead the nation in rushing (341.3 ypg), penalties (31.3 ypg) and are second in time of possession (37:44).


BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT (team edition)

Loss to Utah State

Air Force led by 11 points in the fourth quarter before Utah State came back and won 49-45 on Sept. 18 at Falcon Stadium. It’s not that the Aggies weren’t a quality opponent, as they feature the No. 2 total offense in the conference, but it was the inability for the Falcons to close out a lead that might lead them to be asking what-if as the season progresses. It was the same case in 2019, when Navy drove for a winning score in the final minute. The Falcons still finished that season 11-2 and ranked No. 21 in the final Associated Press poll, and an even loftier perch is still a possibility this year.


BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT (individual)

Injury to Lakota Wills

Wills broke into the starting lineup almost immediately as a freshman but has continually battled injuries that ended his sophomore and junior seasons early. He took a turnback in 2020, healed and put an emphasis on remaining healthy. That didn’t last even a full game, as he left the opener against Lafayette and hasn’t returned. Air Force doesn’t comment on injuries, so the extent of Wills’ latest injury isn’t known, but at this point it would be a surprise if he returned in 2021.


KEEP AN EYE ON

Brandon Lewis, WR

Air Force leaned on Lewis against Wyoming, throwing to the receiver five times for 77 yards. He’s a senior with elite speed, good hands and an ability to line up at multiple positions. Defenses know all about the need to stop the fullback and quarterback and Micah Davis isn’t going to sneak up on anybody after his strong first half. But as defenses can’t always account for everyone, look for Lewis’ speed and versatility to be the perfect tool for offensive coordinator Mike Thiessen to use to exploit those weak spots. Lewis thus far has gained 205 yards on 11 touches as a runner and receiver.


COACH ON THE RISE

John Rudzinski, defensive coordinator

Air Force’s defense, under Rudzinki’s leadership, has given up 14 points or fewer in five of six games this year, and in 12 of 18 dating back to midway through the 2019 season. Rudzinski put together the nation’s third-ranked scoring defense in 2020 when operating with a unit depleted by turnbacks. His defense this year is ranked 11th in total yards and 13th in points. After it’s one letdown this season, a 49-45 loss to Utah State where the Aggies scored 36 second-half points, the defense has responded 31 points to the past three opponents.

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