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Know Thy Opponent 2020: Air Force Falcons

Contrary to the name, the Air Force operates on the ground.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 27 Cheez-It Bowl - Air Force v Washington State Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I got a bit of a late start on these because I like to have them finished by August 1 and the start of training camp, so I am moving forward. I am also very bored at work.

When it comes to service academy football they are almost a brand at this point. Because of the recruiting restrictions they face they are not going to be getting four- and five-star recruits beating down the door to play there. To even the playing field a bit they all try the same way:

The Triple-Option

It is one of the great equalizers in football. Just ask Nick Saban:

Y’all don’t remember the Georgia Southern game, do you? I don’t think we had a guy on that field that didn’t play in the NFL and about four or five of them were first-round draft picks, and I think that team won a national championship but I’m not sure.

And they ran through our ass like shit through a tin horn, man, and we could not stop them. We could not stop them. Could not stop them.

Alabama still won 45-21 because they are Alabama, but they gave up more than 300 yards rushing. Playing the triple option is going to be a unique challenge. They are definitely better at moving on the ground than this:

2019 Record: 11-2, 7-1 Mountain West

Bowl Result: Won Cheez-It Bowl 31-21 over Washington State

Blog Representation: Against All Enemies

Series with Purdue: First Meeting

Last Purdue win: None

Last Air Force win: None

Head Coach: Troy Calhoun (98-69 in 14th season at Air Force

Last Season for the Falcons

Last year was one of the best in decades for Air Force. They went 11-2 with a bowl win, but came up just short of some bigger honors. Their 34-25 loss at Navy prevented them from winning the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy among the service academies. A 30-19 loss at Boise State prevented them from making the Mountain West title game. They did get a big in-state and major conference win at Colorado 30-23. They also beat a 10-win Hawaii team and Washington State in their bowl game.

Air Force has been up and down under Calhoun. Their 11-win season last year came after a 5-win 2018 season. They won 10 games in 2016 and 2014, but won just two games in 2013 and had consecutive 5-7 seasons in 2017 and 2018. They seem to ebb and flow with an experienced senior class that puts in a 2-3 year build.

This is only Purdue’s third game ever against a service academy. It lost to Navy 32-0 in 1944 and 17-13 in 1926.

Air Force Offense

They will run the ball.

That is the simplest thing I can say about that. Navy, Air Force, and Army were 1-2-3 last season in rushing offense. Navy ran for 360 yards per game, Air Force for 298, and Army for 297. The Falcons had 42 touchdowns on the ground and averaged more than 5 yards per carry.

By comparison, they were 125th in passing at just 123.2 yards per game. Purdue did, technically, face a worse passing offense last year in Northwestern, but Air Force was at the bottom of the country in passing along with usual suspects Army, Navy, and Georgia Southern (another team committed to the option). They just don’t pass that much.

The top rusher returns in Kadin Remsberg (1,050 yards, 8 TDs), but lead fullback Taven Birdow (839 yards, 7 TDs) is gone. Quarterback Donald Hammond III is a senior that had 553 yards and 12 touchdowns as the orchestrator of the option. He also was a decent threat to pass with 1,316 yards passing and 13 TDs against 6 INTs. He is a smart decision-maker, which is needed in this style of offense.

Air Force only listed eight receivers on the entire 2019 roster, and the only two real targets were seniors Geraud Suanders, who caught 30 passes for 746 yards and 7 touchdowns, and Benjamin Waters who caught 22 passes for 658 yards and 7 TDs. They accounted for 52 of Air Force’s 68 completed passes last season, but are now gone. Both were big play threats because the offense is tailored around deception and misdirection, so the occasional pass is designed to catch teams off guard because they are looking run. Daniel Morris Jr. and Ben Peterson are projected as the next two up, but they had a combined four catches last season.

On the offensive line Parker Ferguson from Center Grove here in Indiana is an anchor. Nolan Laufenberg also has experience at left guard, but this is an undersized line by Big Ten standards. They make up for it with a cut blocking technique to gain space.

Air Force Defense

Defensively, Air Force lost its top pass rusher in Mosese Fifita, but they will look to create pressure with a 3-4 defense. Demonte Meeks had an excellent season at linebacker with 98 tackles, four sacks, and 4 quarterback hits.

Against the pass Milton Bugg III had three interceptions and 7 pass breakups to go with 49 tackles. Several other top performers such as Kyle Johnson and Jeremy Fejedelem have graduated and moved on, however. Overall there were 31 seniors on the Air Force roster last season and 12 were on defense.

It was still a pretty stout defense, giving up less than 20 points. That rates as the best defense we’ll face in the first three games and even 20th nationally. They were very good against the run at 100.5 yards per game given up and solid against the pass at 219 yards given up.

Air Force Special Teams

The Faclons must replace their punter and kicker, which is a big blow after Jake Koehnke was 13 of 13 on field goals with a long of 57. They had virtually no punt return game with a dismal 1.2 yards per return. Josh Stoner barely averaged 20 yards per kickoff return.

Game Outlook

The difference between week 2 and wee 3 will be jarring. Memphis has a dynamic and diverse offense with a wealth of experience that can hurt us in a variety of ways. Air Force is going to line up and run the ball. Purdue should have a physical advantage, but the option is tricky and when you rarely see it, it is tough to defend.

On the other side of the ball I don’t see Air Force having anyone that can match up with Rondale Moore and David Bell. Purdue should have the advantage in speed and skill, but Air Force will not think twice about going on an 18 play, 82 yard march that bleeds the clock dry because it is all runs. This clash of styles will be interesting.

Way-too-Early Prediction

Purdue has to win this one. Air Force was really good last year, but they have some losses and the Boilers have some definite advantages. They are going to be a very disciplined football team. That is their trademark. To win Purdue needs to be disciplined and keep its assignments on the option. Do that and I think Purdue wins. Purdue 34, Air Force 24