The Falcons are taking their place among the elite teams in the Mountain West as they enter a tough stretch of games against San Diego State, TCU and Utah. Air Force isn't happy with just winning, or winning big, but is intent on reaching a higher level this season.
"There are guys in there that felt that it could have been a lot bigger game, margin wise," receiver Jonathan Warzeka said of the Falcons' 49-27 victory over Colorado State. "But at the same time, a win is a win."
The truth is, Air Force probably should have won by much more. A lost fumble by Jared Tew inside the 5-yard line cost the Falcons a touchdown. Air Force also had an interception.
The Falcons' defense wasn't great. Colorado State came in with a plan to run the ball at Air Force, which is odd considering the Rams were dead last in FBS in rushing offense. But the Rams thought they could get a push against Air Force's front seven, and they did. Their 285 rushing yards was more than five times their season average.
"The front seven got knocked around a little bit today," linebacker Jordan Waiwaiole said. "We can't continue to play like this, as a front seven."
And Air Force's special teams were poor in covering kickoffs. The Falcons did many things well on special teams -- a blocked punt, a blocked extra point, a fake field goal for a touchdown and a kickoff return for a touchdown -- but coach Troy Calhoun wasn't pleased with the 32.9 yards per kickoff return the Falcons allowed.
With a very tough stretch ahead, Air Force wants to make sure it is improving. Even though the Falcons are 5-1 and ranked for the first time since 2003, there have been teaching points from every game, and the team has taken on the attitude that it will not be content with what it has done.
"We just have to play better as a team," Tew said. "We'll easily lose games if we don't."
--Fullback Jared Tew lost a fumble inside the 5-yard line, the third time he has lost a fumble this season and the second time in the last two weeks. That led to the coaching staff pulling Tew for a couple of series and going with backup Nathan Walker.
"Sometimes in your gut you feel like the guy that is most reliable is the one that's going to go out there," Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said.
Calhoun has little patience for fumbling. Tew said he was simply trying to do too much, stretching out to put the ball over the plane of the goal line, and was stripped.
"I took the ball away from my body, which was dumb," Tew said. "I've got to learn it's more important to take care of the ball than it is to stick your head out for an extra yard."
--Air Force went for a fake field goal when it led Colorado State 28-7 early in the third quarter, a curious move with the game seemingly in hand. The play worked, resulting in a 25-yard touchdown pass.
"For us, are we going to take anything for granted here? We can't," Calhoun said. "You better shoot every bullet you've got every time out."
GAME BALL GOES TO: RB Asher Clark -- Clark had 125 yards and a touchdown against Colorado State. He is a little bigger and a little stronger this year and has been able to get yards after initial contact. Against the Rams, Clark showed off all of his skills, taking advantage of some open lanes for big gains, but also running tough when he had to.
KEEP AN EYE ON: WR Zach Kauth -- With Kevin Fogler out, perhaps for the rest of the regular season, Kauth has to take on his role as the team's deep threat. He had a nice day against Colorado State, getting the first two touchdown catches of his career. That performance should give Kauth more confidence, and the coaching staff more confidence to keep going to him.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I never felt like that would happen, all week. That part they get, in terms of being ready to go and playing." -- Coach Troy Calhoun on Air Force not letting down against Colorado State.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: Air Force's secondary did a very good job against Colorado State freshman quarterback Pete Thomas. Thomas had just 88 yards through three quarters before adding some garbage-time yardage in the fourth quarter. Still, Thomas finished with 136 yards on 35 attempts, a pretty stout performance by a veteran Falcons secondary. Air Force has played well all season in the secondary, and has a tough test this week at San Diego State.
STILL NEEDS WORK: Air Force's run defense should be a cause for some concern. The Falcons twice have faced a team ranked last in the nation in rushing offense (Wyoming and Colorado State) entering the game and both times allowed that opponent to have a big game running the ball. This time, the Rams rushed for more than five times their season average. Air Force needs to get better, especially with SDSU star running back Ronnie Hillman up this week.
--Starting nose guard Ryan Gardner hurt his groin against Colorado State and was on crutches in the second half. He will likely miss some time.
--Starting SS Brian Lindsay hurt his clavicle. Although coach Troy Calhoun wouldn't specify how long Lindsay will miss, he said it was a serious injury and Lindsay would be shelved for a while.
--Starting LB Brady Amack started against Colorado State. Amack was questionable all week with a bone chip in his ankle.