The Colorado State Rams and Air Force Falcons are set to finish their respective seasons with a Mountain West showdown on Thanksgiving Day. Colorado State led in the fourth quarter and nearly pulled off a miracle upset last week against a ranked Utah State squad, but a penalty wiped off Collin Hill’s 34-yard Hail Mary pass to Preston Williams with zeroes on the clock and allowed the Aggies to escape with a 29-24 victory. With the loss, Mike Bobo’s Rams fell to a disappointing 3-8 overall and 2-5 in conference play.
Air Force also suffered a deflating defeat last week, falling to Wyoming 35-27 despite leading 27-14 with under eight minutes left. The loss dropped the Falcons to 4-7 overall and 2-5 in Mountain West action, sinking the team’s bowl hopes in the process. With only the Ram-Falcon Trophy and pride now at stake, Colorado State and Air Force hope to finish the 2018 college football season on a winning note.
The Falcons lead the series 23-15 nad have won each of the past two meetings.
Colorado State at Air Force
Kickoff: Thursday, Nov. 22 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS Sports Network
Spread: Air Force -14.5
Three Things to Watch
1. The quarterbacks
Colorado State senior K.J. Carta-Samuels posted decent passing numbers as a starter (he ranks sixth in the league with 2,172 yards and 18 touchdowns), but eight interceptions led to Collin Hill's move into the role shortly after the midway point. Hill was outstanding in relief against Boise State and in the next three games for the Rams. Over that four-game span, the sophomore has completed 93-of-145 passes (64.1 percent) for 950 yards and four touchdowns with six interceptions. Last week, Hill completed 24-of-37 passes for 296 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions.
Air Force has also played multiple quarterbacks this season, starting with Arion Worthman and moving to Isaiah Sanders and Donald Hammond III. Hammond, who threw for 53 yards with two interceptions and ran for 90 yards and two touchdowns as the starter against Wyoming, leads the Falcons with nine rushing touchdowns, and he ranks fourth on the team with 364 yards on the ground. Sanders has 466 rushing yards and six TDs, which is tied for second on the team, and he leads the team with 844 passing yards. Hammond has 542 yards through the air. Both Hammond and Sanders have thrown four touchdown passes, while Sanders has been intercepted three times and Hammond twice.
2. Stopping the run
As usual, Air Force leads the Mountain West and ranks among the nation’s best in rushing offense. The Falcons have averaged 273.6 rushing yards per game, which ranks No. 5 on the FBS leaderboard. The unit has been particularly potent in recent weeks: Air Force rolled up a season-high 478 yards on the ground and a 7.1 yards per carry average in a 42-34 win over New Mexico two weeks ago and followed with 362 rushing yards and a 5.57-yard average last week against Wyoming. In addition to the quarterbacks, Cole Fagan has done much of the heavy lifting out of the backfield and leads the squad with 737 yards on 151 carries. Big-play threat Kadin Remsberg has racked up 549 yards on just 88 attempts (an average of 6.24 yards per carry) with two TDs.
The Falcons are poised for more success on the ground given that the Colorado State run defense ranks No. 11 in the conference and No. 104 nationally, having surrendered 203.7 rushing yards per game. Even worse, the Rams have allowed 5.25 yards per carry on the ground — the worst average in the league and No. 119 in the country.
Furthermore, the Rams rank 11th in the league in rushing offense (109.4 yards per game) and yards per carry (3.27). Though senior running back Izzy Matthews is capable and posted his third 100-yard rushing performance of the season last week, Colorado State will face a very tough test. Air Force ranks second in the Mountain West and No. 20 in the country in rushing defense (121.7 yards per game).
3. Stopping the pass
The Falcons rank last in the Mountain West in passing offense (135.9 yards per game), although the team’s reliance on the ground game opens opportunities for big plays in the passing game. In fact, Air Force leads the league and ranks fourth nationally with an average of 9.8 yards per pass attempt. Meanwhile, the Colorado State defense has proven itself wildly susceptible to the pass. The Rams have allowed 246.2 passing yards per game overall, but they rank last in the conference and 126th among all FBS team in yards allowed per pass attempt (9.4). Five opponents, including three of the last four Colorado State has faced, have gained more than 11 yards per pass.
Though Air Force has produced better raw numbers against the pass, the Falcons have also struggled at times to stop opponents through the air. Air Force ranks fifth in the conference in pass defense (323.3 yards per game), but the Falcons have surrendered 8.7 yards per attempt, tied for ninth in the league and 117th nationally. With Preston Williams, who ranks second in the conference with 84 receptions, 1,097 yards and 11 touchdowns, and Olabisi Johnson, whose 708 receiving yards include three 100-yard games, the Colorado State passing attack is potent.
Air Force has won two straight over its in-state rival, and the Falcons have dominated the series over the last 12 seasons, winning 10 times during that stretch. Though both teams have multiple talented quarterbacks, Troy Calhoun’s squad holds a huge edge both running the football and stopping the run — and Air Force’s disadvantage in the passing game is smaller than one might expect given its propensity for big plays in addition to the struggling Colorado State secondary. Expect the Falcons to control the tempo of the game, and to finish 2018 with a victory.
Prediction: Air Force 31, Colorado State 17
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.
(Top photo by Nick Monaghan, courtesy of csurams.com)