Mel Tucker couldn’t have asked for a better start to his career as head coach of the Colorado Buffaloes. Tucker picked up win No. 1 with a 52-31 victory over Colorado State in the Rocky Mountain Showdown in Denver. Then, in his first game in Boulder, Tucker led the Buffs to a come-from-behind, 34-31 upset win over Nebraska. His team overcame a 17-0 halftime deficit and won in overtime.
Troy Calhoun, now in his 13th season as the head coach of the Air Force Falcons, has had a much quieter start to the season. Air Force pummeled Colgate 48-7 in the season opener. The Falcons actually led 48-0 until the Raiders scored a touchdown with nine seconds left on the clock. Then, thanks to an early off week, Air Force turned its attention to a rare meeting with the in-state Buffs.
Air Force at Colorado
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 14 at 1 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Spread: Colorado -3.5
When Air Force Has the Ball
Air Force attempted just one pass in its season opener, but it was a successful one as backup quarterback Isaiah Sanders connected with Geraud Sanders for 41 yards. Otherwise, the Falcons kept the ball on the ground with 17 different players earning at least on carry. Air Force finished with 423 rushing yards, which currently ranks second nationally behind Navy, and an average of 6.51 yards per attempt, which ranks 12th.
We can expect Air Force to rely heavily on a quartet of runners against Colorado. Taven Birdow led the team with 80 rushing yards in Week 1, and Kadin Remsberg finished with 62 yards and two touchdowns. Starting quarterback Donald Hammond III found the end zone three times on the ground and finished with 26 rushing yards, while fullback Timothy Jackson led the squad with 10 carries, earning 43 yards.
Colorado has allowed an average of 155 rushing yards and 4.03 yards per carry thus far, numbers that rank No. 82 and No. 83, respectively, on the FBS leaderboard. Mustafa Johnson, who leads the team and ranks among the top 10 nationally with 3.0 sacks, could be neutralized by the Falcons’ triple-option attack, though linebackers Nate Landman and Davion Taylor should provide solid run support.
When Colorado Has the Ball
Nebraska kept Colorado’s superstar receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. bottled up much of the game, holding him to 31 receiving yards and six rushing yards on eight touches offensively and forcing a fumble at the tail end of his 54-yard kick return. However, quarterback Steven Montez completed 28-of-41 passes for 375 yards and two touchdowns — including a 96-yarder to K.D. Nixon that sparked momentum in CU’s favor — and one interception while leading the Buffs to the comeback win.
Nixon, who leads the squad with 177 receiving yards this season, finished with six catches for 148 yards against the Cornhuskers. He is tied with Shenault and senior Tony Brown for the team lead with eight receptions. Alex Fontenot ran for 125 yards and three touchdowns against Colorado State, but true freshman Jaren Mangham (who also scored against the Rams) led the team with 11 carries, 44 yards, and two TDs on the ground last week.
Air Force was dominant defensively in Week 1. The Falcons held Colgate to just 161 total yards (77 of which came on Colgate’s fourth-quarter scoring drive) and an average of 3.22 yards per play. On the ground, Air Force stuffed the Raiders for just 2.34 yards per carry. Of course, Colorado should provide a much tougher test.
Colorado spent the early weeks of the season and most of fall camp preparing for the up-tempo spread offenses preferred by Colorado State and Nebraska, so the Air Force triple option is a new challenge. And though the Buffs haven’t faced an option opponent in many years, Tucker has some experience with it, having battled against former Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson during his days as Georgia’s defensive coordinator.
Calhoun and his team have had an extra week to prepare, and the trip from Colorado Springs to Boulder is a quick one, which should limit the Buffs’ home-field advantage. Also, there could be a hangover effect for Colorado following two emotional wins. Colorado has a huge talent advantage, but Air Force will be ready, and the Falcons should keep it close.