Three straight weeks of beatdowns finally seem to have brought about some changes for the Air Force defense.
Work was spent in practice on jamming receivers, at least one newcomer will step into the lineup as Dexter Walker has moved to first team at strong safety and, perhaps most importantly, the scheme figures to get far less complicated.
“Honestly, I think it was an overthinking of things,” freshman defensive end Ryan Watson said. “We had a lot of stuff on our minds before every play, like, ‘If they do that, we’ve got to do this; or if they do that, we’ve got to do this.’ For every one action there were like 10 reactions we had to make. We’ve dialed it back and we’ll see a different Falcon defense this weekend.”
The Falcon defense of the past three weeks gave up 150 points in losses to Utah State, Boise State and Nevada, with opposing quarterbacks completing better than 80 percent of their attempts.
The specifics on the simplified approach won’t be entirely clear until this week’s game at Nevada, but clearly the thinking is to speed up everything defensively.
“We’ve just got to play,” coach Troy Calhoun said. “We’ve got to play much cleaner, must faster. It’s not that there are mistakes or assignment busts. There are some in there, don’t get me wrong. We just have to play a step faster and at least two steps more aggressively.”
Next: at Nevada, 6 p.m. MT Saturday (CBS Sports Network)
Notable: Fullback Broam Hart suffered a concussion against Wyoming and likely will miss at least one game. Calhoun said it is possible a tailback, likely Anthony LaCoste, would see time at fullback if Hart can’t play. … Receiver Ty MacArthur will not play for the second straight week because of a concussion. …. The Falcons are nearing a sellout for the Oct. 26 home game against Notre Dame, a contest for which tickets were priced between double and seven times higher than the amount for seats at a typical game.
— Brent Briggeman, The Gazette (Colorado Springs)
The Broncos have slipped into unusual territory this season.
They are 2-2 — the first time they have lost two games before November since 2005. That also was the last time they failed to receive a vote in the two major polls, as they did this week, and the last time they lost to Fresno State, which they did last week.
They still can take the division title but likely will need to win their remaining six conference games.
“I have no doubt (coach Chris Petersen) will get us back to work — he already touched on it,” senior quarterback Joe Southwick said. “This team will bounce back. I know they will. It’s far from over. It sucks to be 2-2 right now, but this is far from over.”
The Broncos’ offense has hit its stride with 40-plus points in three straight games but has committed four turnovers in opponents’ territory in the past six quarters. The defense ranks 98th in yards allowed (440.8 per game) and 78th in points allowed (28.3 per game) — a steep fall for a team usually ranked in the top 20 in those categories.
Fresno State’s four passing touchdowns last week matched the number Boise State allowed all of last season. The defense has used 11 newcomers in the rotation and starts just two seniors.
“It’s not any one thing — it’s just a lot of little things — and it kind of starts with personnel and experience,” Petersen said. “They’re good guys who fight hard. We’ll improve. But there’s no substitute for experience.”
Next game: vs. Southern Miss, 8:15 p.m. MT Saturday (ESPNU)
Notable: Southwick injured his throwing arm in the first half last week. He finished the game and is “fine,” Petersen said. … WR Aaron Burks, the Broncos’ top deep threat, missed the Fresno State game and is week to week with an injury. … Boise State has run the most plays in the Football Bowl Subdivision — 341 in four games — with its new up-tempo offense.
— Chadd Cripe, Idaho Statesman
Colorado State’s football team might be just 1-3 this season, but the Rams got a huge boost of confidence by holding their own for more than three quarters Saturday night at No. 1 Alabama.
The Rams trailed just 17-6 entering the fourth quarter and had yet to give up a third-down conversion. They held Alabama’s powerful offense to just 66 rushing yards, its lowest output in three years.
In short, they showed the improvement that coaches and players claim the program has made even if the record hasn’t yet reflected it. And they did it in front of a sellout crowd of 101,821 fans — the largest crowd ever to see a Colorado State team play — and national ESPN2 television audience.
“A loss is a loss, and that’s not something we’re happy about,” senior center Weston Richburg said. “But the positive thing you can take away from this is the confidence we’ve gained playing against the top team in the nation, being able to say we held our own, and that’s exciting going into the rest of the season.”
And it’s safe to say the Rams won’t face another team of Alabama’s caliber again this year. CSU wraps up nonconference play with a home game Saturday against UTEP (1-2), then has a weekend off before starting Mountain West Conference play at home Oct. 12 against San Jose State. The Rams don’t have to face the MW’s top team this season, Fresno State, in the league’s new two-division format, and they get Mountain Division favorite Boise State at home.
“They had some really good players, and we were able to hang with them up front, and I think that’s huge for our confidence and huge for the remainder of the season,” Richburg said. “That’s a positive thing we can take away from the loss.”
It was, of course, a loss. And the Rams had some flaws exposed that they’ll need to work on, including a breakdown in punt protection that allowed Alabama to score a touchdown on a punt block.
Ultimately, though, the Rams got a lot more than a $1.5 million payday out of this one. As McElwain had hoped, they got a good gauge of how their program stacks up against the game’s best. And they learned they’re a lot closer than most people thought.
It was a valuable dose of confidence at a critical time.
“I think we grew up a lot today,” senior linebacker Shaquil Barrett said. “… I feel as though this will help our season out a lot and people will know that we are capable of playing good, playing good defensively and moving the ball offensively.
“We’ve just got to manage penalties and small mistakes out there, and we’ll be a great team.”
Next game: vs. UTEP, 1:30 p.m. MT Saturday (CBS Sports Network)
Notable: Kicker Jared Roberts extended his string of field goals without a miss to 14 with a 45-yarder and 31-yarder. Roberts, a junior, has just one miss in 18 career attempts — on a 51-yard try early last season against North Dakota State. … WR Jordon Vaden will sit out again Saturday to allow thigh and back injuries to heal during the team’s bye next week, McElwain said Monday. … WR Charles Lovett, last year’s leading receiver, is expected to play for the first time this season against UTEP. He’s been out with a knee injury suffered in fall camp. … CSU will wear orange jerseys for its annual Ag Day game to honor the school’s past. The school colors of Colorado A&M, as CSU was previously known, were pumpkin (orange) and alfalfa (green).
— Kelly Lyell, Fort Collins Coloradoan
No magic elixir was found during UNM’s bye week, head coach and coordinators say, to cure what ailed the Lobos (1-2) during their first three games: poor tackling, inconsistent running game, an underdeveloped passing game.
The only possible solution? More hard work.
“It all comes back to the same thing,” coach Bob Davie said. “We just have to get better. I think our players realize that. It’s just playing sudden, it’s playing faster, it’s making those tackles that we’ve missed, it’s being more consistent on offense with our execution.”
Through three games, opponents have rushed for an average of 6.4 yards per carry. The solution is not in schematics, defensive coordinator Jeff Mills said, but in fundamentals.
“Wrapping up and staying square,” Mills said. “That was an obvious thing that stood out (while watching film).”
Offensive coordinator Bob DeBesse said he’s not sure what to think about his offense — ineffective in the season-opening, 21-13 loss to UTSA, virtually unstoppable on the ground in a 42-35 overtime victory over UTEP and too little, too late in a 49-27 loss at Pittsburgh.
One unpleasant consistency: the passing game, which looked promising in fall camp with both sophomore quarterback Cole Gautsche and junior-college transfer QB Clayton Mitchem at the controls. Through three games, the Lobos have averaged just 76 yards in the air and 5.6 yards per attempt.
“Obviously I haven’t been happy with the passing game overall,” DeBesse said. “… There’s a lot of factors that go into that.”
Next game: vs. UNLV, 6 p.m. MT Saturday, ROOT Sports
Notable: Starting center Dillon Farrell, who missed the Lobos’ loss to Pittsburgh on Sept. 14 because of a knee injury sustained at UTEP, is expected to return for the UNLV game. The same goes for kickoff returner/backup wide receiver Chase Clayton, who has missed the past two games after injuring a knee against UTSA. … As they do every Monday, the Lobos practiced without a handful of fifth-year seniors who have late afternoon/early evening graduate-level classes: running back Kasey Carrier, inside linebacker Dallas Bollema, tight end Andrew Aho and others. “Everywhere I’ve ever been, it’s been that way,” Davie said. “It’s just something you work around.” … Because New Mexico does not play Pittsburgh again in the foreseeable future, the UNM coaching staff exchanged information with the Pitt staff about strengths and weaknesses identified in the Lobos-Panthers game. “We certainly did visit with Pittsburgh,” Davie said, “just on some schematic things back and forth, sharing information.”
— Rick Wright, Albuquerque Journal
The high-flying Utah State offense lost its mojo Saturday against USC.
Running into the Trojans’ vaunted defense, the Aggies came out of the game with a season-low 285 yards and 14 points. While it was a better showing than most teams have had against USC, it stung for the team to fall flat in the fourth quarter with more than enough time to score again.
Coach Matt Wells wouldn’t mind having another crack with the same conditions.
“We did not turn the ball over on the road in the Coliseum one time and we had a chance to win in the fourth quarter,” he said. “Give that all to me again and I’ll take it again this week and we’ll find a way to win in the fourth quarter.”
The offense will have a chance to redeem itself this week in Mountain West play, taking on San Jose State. The Aggies smoked them last year, racking up both rushing yards (212) and sacks (a program-best 13) in a 49-27 blowout.
Chuckie Keeton, who struggled against USC’s pass rush last week, will have a primetime stage on ESPN on Friday night and hopes to recapture some of the magic that guided Utah State to wins at Air Force and against Weber State. He couldn’t find room to run last week against the Trojans but hopes to have better success against a struggling San Jose State run defense.
Keeton will go head-to-head with one of the best quarterbacks on Utah State’s slate this year, senior David Fales. The Spartans slinger still torched Utah State for 467 yards and three touchdowns last season despite getting slammed to the turf early on.
“He’s got a tight release, he has great footwork, he has great confidence,” Wells said of Fales. “He throws balls in tight windows when guys are covered and when they’re not.”
Utah State’s offensive line, which returned its starting five from last season, also has to make up ground. After getting shoved around for four sacks last week, Keeton’s top protectors are working to correct what they called “technique flaws” that USC exploited to stop them cold late in the game.
“It’s imperative that we’re spot on with our technique and assignments. Those little miscues in our techniques can really be exposed and hurt. It’s not all that much, but just that little bit is going to help.”
Next game: at San Jose State, 7 p.m. MT Friday (ESPN)
Notable: Utah State has two players injured who it hopes to have back this week: Joe Hill, the starting running back who exited the USC game in the fourth quarter, and Connor Williams, a defensive end who has sat out for three games. … Special teams mistakes cost the Aggies at USC, as a shanked punt that went 12 yards led to the Trojans’ game-winning score. A fake punt pass by tight end D.J. Tialavea went nowhere in the fourth quarter.
— Kyle Goon, The Salt Lake Tribune
Fresno State wideout Davante Adams extended his run of games with a touchdown reception to 11 in the victory over Boise State and is seven short of tying the NCAA record set by Pitt’s Larry Fitzgerald.
The redshirt sophomore may not break that record, but over the next few weeks he definitely will have opportunities to make plays against some poor pass defenses.
Fresno State this week plays at Hawaii, which is ranked 112th in the bowl subdivision in passing efficiency defense and is tied for 100th in passing touchdowns allowed with eight.
The Bulldogs follow that up with a game at Idaho, which is ranked 118th in passing efficiency defense and is 123rd and last in passing touchdowns allowed with 13.
They return home after that for a game against UNLV, which is fifth in passing efficiency defense. But the Rebels have played three teams ranked 90th or lower in passing efficiency (Arizona is 90th, Central Michigan is 95th and Minnesota is 99th) as well as an FCS team in Western Illinois that is ranked 86th. And the Rebels have not been particularly stout, giving up 34.3 points per game to rank in a tie for 104th.
If the streak is still alive, Adams and the Bulldogs will match up against San Diego State, which is 94th in the bowl subdivision in passing efficiency defense. Then, it will be Nevada, which is 66th. Then, it will be Wyoming, which is 58th. Then it will be New Mexico, which is 111th. And the Bulldogs close out the regular season with a game at San Jose State, which is the only one of those opponents ranked in the Top 50 in passing efficiency defense, this week at No. 32.
Next game: at Hawaii, 10 p.m. MT Saturday (MW Digital Network)
Notable: Fresno State guard Cody Wichmann was called for an illegal chop block late in the third quarter against Boise State, the first penalty by a Bulldogs’ offensive lineman in 149 plays going back to the overtime victory over Rutgers. In 254 snaps this season, there has not been a false start and only three penalties on the line – two illegal blocks and one personal foul. … A big topic going into the Boise State game was how the Bulldogs would compete — a year ago, they came up pretty small in their biggest games. Coach Tim DeRuyter: “I thought our guys did a great job. There was a totally different look on their faces than a year ago. Our guys went in expecting to compete and win. I thought we started the game off well, they counterpunched and tied the thing up, and there’s no panic. We kept playing and they kept playing, trading punches. I thought in the third quarter we had a chance to land a knockout blow and go up three scores, but didn’t get it done and you have to give them credit for making us kick a field goal. It was just one of those games where, very similar to Rutgers, no matter if we were up or down, the swings of emotion in the game didn’t affect our guys. We just kept to the task at hand and always had that confidence that we were going to find a way to get it done.’’
— Robert Kuwada, Fresno Bee
The Rainbow Warriors suffered key injuries in the first half of a 31-9 road loss to Nevada this past Saturday.
Quarterback Taylor Graham injured his left (non-throwing) shoulder during a scramble in the second quarter. He remained for the next play, a fourth-down incompletion, then did not play thereafter. The Warriors used three other quarterbacks, all of whom combined for five of UH’s six turnovers.
Graham has not been ruled out for Saturday’s game against Fresno State. But if he is unavailable, UH will choose from Sean Schroeder, Jeremy Higgins and Ikaika Woolsey.
Running back Joey Iosefa, who missed the first two games while recovering from a fractured foot, aggravated his left foot during a pile-up. Iosefa was not wearing a medical boot in practices Monday and Tuesday.
Linebacker Julian Gener, the team’s third-leading tackler, has an elbow injury and will undergo “Tommy John surgery” on Friday. He is expected to be ready for spring training. Gener played on three special-team units. Special teams coordinator Chris Demarest said he has not finalized replacements.
Tight end Harold Moleni and defensive ends Beau Yap and Iuta Tepa must wait until Wednesday to be evaluated. The three suffered concussions against Nevada. Because of the health situation, the Warriors did not allow cameras in practice. Although practices are closed to the public, reporters are allowed to attend and television stations may video individual drills.
Next game: vs. Fresno State, 10 p.m. MT Saturday (MW Digital Network)
Notable: This will be the Warriors’ first home game since the Aug. 29 season opener against USC. … The Warriors rejected a $600,000 offer to play Colorado in Boulder on Oct. 19. The Buffaloes were seeking a home game to replace the Sept. 14 game against Fresno State that was canceled because of area floods. Colorado initially offered $400,00, then upped it to $600,000. The deal-breaker was Colorado’s reluctance to pay for a charter flight. If the game were scheduled, UH would play four road games in five weeks.
— Stephen Tsai, Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Junior defensive end Brock Hekking, who has been getting national attention for his Brian Bosworth-style mullet, had one of the most productive games by a defensive player in recent Wolf Pack memory in the 31-9 victory over Hawaii on Saturday at Mackay Stadium.
Hekking, from Vacaville (Calif.) High, had eight tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, two forced fumbles, two pass breakups and one interception as the Wolf Pack shut out the Rainbow Warriors in the second half. He was named the MW Defensive Player of the Week, the first such honor of his career.
“It’s well deserved,” coach Brian Polian said at his weekly Quarterbacks Club Luncheon on Monday. “And I, frankly, thought he should have been up for the Walter Camp national defensive player of the week. … To have the kind of production he had in one ballgame — I don’t have the numbers here in front of me, but it was ridiculous.”
Nevada also forced six turnovers (not including holding Hawaii on two fourth-down attempts), which has the Pack ranked first in the Mountain West in turnover margin (plus-1.75) and seventh nationally.
The six turnovers were the most forced by the Wolf Pack since 1996.
The defensive effort was imperative because redshirt freshman Tyler Stewart was making his first college start in place of starter Cody Fajardo, who has missed the last two games with a sprained right knee, and backup Devin Combs, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the 62-7 loss at Florida State on Sept. 14.
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Stewart responded well, going 14 for 20 for 202 yards and three TD passes against no interceptions.
Polian said Monday that Fajardo continues to be day-to-day. He could for the third straight week be a game-time decision.
Next game: vs. Air Force, 6:05 p.m. MT Saturday (CBS Sports Network)
Notable: Nevada allowed 461 rushing yards in a 48-31 loss at Air Force last season, but Polian is confident first-year defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton will have a good game plan against AFA’s triple option. As the linebackers coach at USC last year, DC Monte Kiffin had Hazelton draw up the defense for Georgia Tech, also a triple-option team, in the Sun Bowl. … Polian and his coaches are still moving defensive guys around to find the best fit. The most recent change: Outside linebacker Jonathan McNeal took some snaps at middle linebacker and outside linebacker Reggie Coates moved to defensive end. … Two offensive linemen who have missed the last two games, Connor Talbott (ankle) and Zach Brickell (pneumonia), are questionable. … Running back Don Jackson, the first-team RB coming out of training camp, was back at practice Sunday after missing three games with a high ankle sprain. … True freshman CB Tere Calloway is back at practice after missing three games with a knee injury.
— Dan Hinxman, Reno Gazette-Journal
SAN DIEGO STATE
The Aztecs are 0-3, but at least things appear to be moving in the right direction.
San Diego State finally managed to establish a run game in Saturday’s defeat to Oregon State, and that was due in large part to the return of running back Adam Muema.
Muema missed parts of the first two games with a low ankle sprain, but he played a full 60 minutes against Oregon State and scored a 2-yard rushing touchdown while also totaling a career-high 28 carries.
“I think we were better running the ball,” Aztecs coach Rocky Long said. “Having Adam back helped, and the offensive line blocked better than they have till this point.”
The Aztecs still have a ways to go to truly get the run game on track, though.
Long said Muema looked a little rusty.
“He hit some holes well, and some holes he missed,” Long said. “But he missed so much full-speed work. He should be a whole lot better this week.”
After a rough start to the season in the passing game, the Aztecs are also finally settling down in that regard.
In his first career start, walk-on QB Quinn Kaehler completed 61 percent of his passes for 251 yards. He threw two costly interceptions at the end – one of which resulted in a pick-six that lost the game for SDSU – but did enough to keep the starting job this week against New Mexico State.
Next game: at New Mexico State, 6 p.m. MT (ESPN3)
Notable: SDSU got Muema back but lost backup RB Chase Price for 2-3 weeks to a separated shoulder. OLB Derek Largent re-injured his sprained knee against the Beavers and is currently day-to-day.
— Stefanie Loh, U-T San Diego
SAN JOSE STATE
David Fales and the San Jose State offense found their groove, but the Spartans defense has major issues brewing entering the Mountain West opener against Utah State.
Defensive coordinator Kenwick Thompson was blunt with his assessment of what’s troubling SJSU.
“Tackling,” Thompson said. “Too many yards after contact.”
In a loss to Minnesota, the Spartans several times contacted a ballcarrier only to be driven 3 to 4 yards downfield. On a couple of occasions, the extra yardage delivered a first down.
SJSU also struggled against read-option looks and didn’t do a good job setting the edge on run plays, issues that could create a major headache against Chuckie Keeton and Utah State. Keeton frustrated the Spartans last year with his ability to escape pressure and make plays.
The hope has been that the Spartans’ new 3-4 defense, which hasn’t played well the past two games, would be better suited for spread-type offenses in the Mountain West, so this week will be the first true test of that.
“The last two weeks were not like that. They were power running teams,” coach Ron Caragher said of Stanford and Minnesota. “We’re going to play teams that are spread out and open. We’re a little more set up to do that.”
SJSU is trying to prepare for the fast pace at which Utah State plays. At Monday’s practice, the defense was running sprints to the sidelines in between each play to try to condition itself for the pace of the game.
Next game: vs. Utah State, 7 p.m. MT Friday (ESPN)
Notable: Wide receiver Noel Grigsby is out indefinitely with a knee injury. It’s believed to be season-ending, which would end the collegiate career of the school’s all-time leading receiver. He’s not eligible to receive a sixth season of play. … Kicker Austin Lopez made his 21st consecutive field goal in the loss to Minnesota. That’s now the longest active streak in the FBS. The sophomore hasn’t missed a field goal in his career and is two shy of tying Notre Dame’s David Ruffer’s 23 consecutive field goals to begin a career, which is believed to be the record.
— Jimmy Durkin, San Jose Mercury News
UNLV has lost 23 consecutive road games, but the Rebels probably have their most confidence in coach Bobby Hauck’s four seasons.
They are coming off consecutive victories for the first time under Hauck, and oddsmakers have made the Rebels 2-point favorites at New Mexico.
Hauck and his players have downplayed the road skid, which is second in school history to the 26 consecutive games lost between 1994 and 1998. Twenty-one of the games in the current streak have been with Hauck at the helm.
But Hauck acknowledged the confidence should be up for a team that is coming off a 31-21 victory over Central Michigan and a 38-7 win over Western Illinois.
“Winning is a good tonic for everything,” Hauck said. “Losing’s hard to deal with, especially in our game. A baseball team plays 80 games. You lose, and you go play tomorrow. Football, it’s a grinding sensation when you don’t win, and it’s very uplifting when you do. It’s an emotional game. It’s supposed to be played that way. So when you lose, it takes some mental toughness to come back. It’s certainly a lot easier to go to work for these guys (players) on Monday when they’re coming off a win.”
This is a big game for UNLV, which probably will be an underdog in the remainder of its away games. So if the Rebels are to break the skid, it most likely needs to happen this weekend.
Next game: at New Mexico, 6 p.m. MT Saturday (ROOT Sports)
Notable: UNLV has not won three games in a row since September 2003 when it beat Wisconsin, Hawaii and Nevada. … The Rebels’ last road victory occurred at New Mexico, a 34-17 win on Oct. 24, 2009.
— Mark Anderson, Las Vegas Review-Journal