Air Force Falcons: 6-3 (2-3 MW)
On Saturday, the Colorado State Rams will head to Colorado Springs to try and win on the road against Air Force, something the team has not done since the 2002 season. The last time the Rams faced the Falcons in the Springs, Air Force pulled off the upset, and ended CSU’s bid at a 10-game win streak to close out the 2014 season.
This year, coach Troy Calhoun has the Falcons bowl eligible for the ninth time in his 10 seasons at the school.
“It’s a tough place to play, they are tough football team that’s disciplined,” coach Mike Bobo said. “You have to go there and earn the victory and beat them. They aren’t gonna give you the game.”
For the first time this year, the Rams will face the triple-option offense that is central to Air Force’s game plan. With the triple-option, the Falcons rank second in the conference, and fifth in the country in rushing at 290.7 yards per game.
To defend Air Force’s ability to run the option, and present a number of different formations, the Rams have spent practice time preparing for the offensive attack over the last few months.
“Air Force, it’s something that you do all the time,” defensive coordinator Marty English said. “(The defense) did some walk through stuff of it in the summer, they did a little bit in fall camp, we did a little bit in the bye week.”
The CSU defense will go into the game unsure of who the starting quarterback is for the Falcons, as senior Nate Romine and sophomore Ario Worthman are listed as co-starters on the Air Force depth chart.
Romine has been the starter for the majority of the year, and ranks fifth on the team in rushing with 279 yards to go along with 1,206 through the air, but Worthman made the start last week against Army, and finished an efficient 7-10 passing for 212 yards.
Senior Jacobi Owens, one of the most prolific running backs in Air Force history, returns to lead the Falcon rushing attack. For the year, Owens has carried the ball 94 times for 611 yards, good for 6.2 yards per carry.
But with the option offense, it’s not all about Owens, as seven different Falcons have run for at least 100 yards over the course of this season.
The Air Force defense is a veteran unit, as all eleven starters on the Falcons defense are seniors, and it’s a group that’s very good at stopping the run.
“Number one, they have a lot of players back from a year ago which was a very good defensive team,” offensive coordinator Will Friend said. “They are aggressive.Their pressure packages are good. They are tough to run the ball on because of their pressure packages.”
The Falcons have given up 114.4 yards per game on the ground this year, good for 14th in the country, and the team ranks 19th in the country in total defense at 334.9 yards per game.
The defense is led by Jim Thorpe Award semifinalist in senior safety Weston Steelhammer. Steelhammer leads the team in tackles with 53, and his 15 career interceptions make him the active interception leader in all of the NCAA.
Bobo drew comparisons between Steelhammer and Andrew Wingard, Wyoming’s standout safety, who terrorized the Rams earlier this season.
“They are very comparable, they like to get both of those guys in the box,” Bobo said.
As with Wingard, Steelhammer is active near the line of scrimmage in the run game, but Bobo added that Steelhammer does a “little more coverage wise.”
Steelhammer’s partner in the defensive backfield, senior Safety Brodie Hicks, sits second on the team in tackles with 48, and is tied with Steelhammer for the team lead at four interceptions.
Upfront, defensive end Ryan Watson has menaced opponents in the backfield this season. The 6-foot 3-inch 230 pound senior leads the conference in sacks with nine, and is second in tackles for loss with 11 on the year.
Collegian sports reporter Eric Wolf can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @Eric_Wolf5