Two of the hottest teams in the Mountain West are set to meet on a cold evening in Fort Collins Saturday. The Air Force Falcons will take a 7-2 overall record, including a 4-1 mark in conference play, on the road to face the in-state rival Colorado State Rams. Colorado State (4-5 overall and 3-2 in the league) hopes to stop Air Force’s four-game winning streak while pushing its own streak to four straight wins.
Air Force at Colorado State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 16 at 7 p.m. ET
Spread: Air Force -10
When Air Force Has the Ball
As is often the case, Air Force ranks among the national leaders in rushing offense. The Falcons have averaged 323.1 rushing yards per game, which is second only to Navy (357.9) nationally. Air Force has relied heavily on three running backs, with Kadin Remsberg, Timothy Jackson and Taven Birdow all carrying the ball more than 100 times. Remsberg leads the team with 677 rushing yards and he has scored seven touchdowns, which ranks second to quarterback Donald Hammond III, who has eight scores on the ground. Jackson is close behind with 661 rushing yards and six touchdowns. Birdow has gained 563 rushing yards and has five TDs thus far.
Hammond, who ranks fourth on the team with 373 rushing yards, has completed 45.8 percent of his passes for 712 yards and five touchdowns with four interceptions. Interestingly, Hammond has completed only one pass in each of the last three games, going 3-for-12 for 57 yards, zero touchdowns, and an interception over that span. However, it’s worth noting that Hammond has been hampered by an ankle injury, and backups Isaiah Sanders and Mike Schmidt have each filled in at times this year.
On the rare occasion Air Force chooses to pass, there is an overwhelming likelihood that either Geraud Sanders or Benjamin Waters will be on the receiving end. Sanders leads the team with 21 receptions, 498 receiving yards, and four touchdowns, and Waters ranks second in each category, having caught 11 passes for 316 yards and two scores.
When Colorado State Has the Ball
Conversely, Colorado State is heavily reliant on the pass. The Rams rank third in the Mountain West in passing offense (312.2), which ranks No. 12 in the country. Only Air Force (11.3) with its element of surprise has averaged more yards per pass attempt in the conference than Colorado State (8.4). And despite the Rams losing starting quarterback Collin Hill to a season-ending injury (again!) in the third game of the season, the unit hasn’t seen a significant drop-off.
Patrick O’Brien has completed 61.1 percent of his passes for 1,950 yards and eight touchdowns with three interceptions. The Rams are averaging more yards per pass with O’Brien (8.6) than Hill (8.2), in part because the receiving corps is now at full strength. Top target Warren Jackson — a size mismatch at 6-foot-6 and 219 pounds — is healthy after missing two games earlier in the season. Jackson leads the team with 55 receptions, 852 yards, and six touchdowns and has racked up four consecutive 100-yard performances. Wideout Dante Wright (47 catches, 644 yards, 3 TDs), tight end Trey McBride (24, 315, 2) and Auburn transfer Nate Craig-Myers (16, 291, TD), who sat out the first three games of the year, round out the group.
Unfortunately, the Rams have been without leading rusher Marvin Kinsey Jr. (703 rushing yards, 6 TDs) in each of the last two games after he was dismissed from the program. Marcus McElroy took over the top spot on the depth chart and ran for 117 yards and two touchdowns in his first significant action against Fresno State. McElroy has 271 rushing yards and three scores this year. Freshman Christian Hunter led the team with 79 rushing yards and scored his first career touchdown in the last game against UNLV. Wright ranks third on the team with 201 rushing yards on just 15 carries and has scored two rushing touchdowns.
Both Air Force and Colorado State have played well in recent weeks, and both are rested after being idle in Week 11 (sadly, the Falcons’ regularly scheduled game against New Mexico last Saturday was postponed following the sudden death of New Mexico player Nahje Flowers). However, it’s easier to trust Air Force’s solid run of play given the Falcons’ consistency on both sides of the football.
Air Force has also posted significantly better defensive numbers, ranking second in the Mountain West in total defense (313.3), compared to No. 5 Colorado State (395.4), and has also surrendered fewer yards per play (5.5) than the Rams (5.8), giving the Falcons an all-around edge, and a likely victory.
Prediction: Air Force 30, Colorado State 21
(Top photo courtesy of @AF_Football)