Kyle Johnson.jpg
Caption +

Air Force Falcons linebacker Kyle Johnson (40), center, celebrates after a play against the Navy Midshipmen at Falcon Stadium at the U.S. Air Force Academy on Saturday October 6, 2018, in Colorado Springs. (Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette)

Show MoreShow Less

Air Force players euphorically left Falcon Stadium on Saturday knowing they faced a short week to prepare for San Diego State.

And they were thrilled by that.

“We’re all stoked,” tailback Kade Remsberg said of the upcoming Friday night game. “We’re ready. We’re ready for San Diego State.”

Why wouldn’t Air Force feel that way? This team suffered through three close losses before putting everything together in a 35-7 demolition of archrival Navy on Saturday. Donald Hammond III executed the offense at a high level in his first start – running for three touchdowns and throwing for another – and the defense held the Midshipmen to 178 yards of offense and one short-field touchdown.

When things come together, you want to get back out and keep it going.

“Turn it right back around. Going out to San Diego, we’re going to face a good team,” receiver Geraud Sanders said. “Hopefully we bring our ‘A’ game as well. It’ll be a fight and hopefully we’ll get the ‘W.’ ”

At quick glance, the matchup with the Aztecs (4-1, 1-0 Mountain West) is both intimidating and tantalizing.

San Diego State – receiving votes in the AP and Coaches’ polls – won 19-13 at Boise State on Saturday for its second victory over a ranked opponent this season.

The Aztecs have beaten the Falcons (2-3, 0-2) in seven straight meetings. For an Air Force team that is 2-6 on the road in the past two seasons, this is obviously a tall order.

But there are some reasons for hope.

San Diego State has played its best when it’s running the ball. In victories over Arizona State and Boise State, the team has rushed for 465 yards and passed for 142 yards.

Air Force’s most consistent strength this season has been its run defense, which ranks No. 12 nationally at 98.5 yards per game and just limited Navy’s vaunted rushing attack to 129 yards on 41 carries.

And it’s not like San Diego State is in position to simply shift game plans and attack through the air. With senior Christian Chapman out with a knee injury, the Aztecs have played behind junior backup Ryan Agnew. While Agnew hasn’t lost a game, he hasn’t exactly excelled as a passer, completing 32-of-61 passes (52 percent) with three touchdowns, three interceptions and an average of 137 yards per game.

In part because of a schedule that includes so many run-oriented teams, Air Force’s core philosophy on defense is to put the priority on stopping the rushing attack.

“Coach (Steve) Russ used to say, ‘Stone the run,’ ” linebacker Brody Bagnall said of the former defensive coordinator, now with the Carolina Panthers. “I know he’s not here, but we’ve really internalized it this year. That takes away an aspect of the offense.”

Air Force also has its offense running on all cylinders behind Hammond, who has looked comfortable running the option while possessing perhaps the most arm talent of any Air Force quarterback in years.

Coach Troy Calhoun adamantly refuted any suggestion that momentum from the Navy victory could help the Falcons in any upcoming games, but the players gained something beyond momentum by handling Navy.

They gained confidence.

And a confident team is often a dangerous one.

“We proved to not only everyone else but ourselves,” tailback Joseph Saucier said, “that we’re still here.”

Load comments