Air Force Falcons quarterback Jaleel Awini (12) hands off to running back Anthony LaCoste (37) against the Wyoming Cowboys on Sept. 21. (Ron Chenoy / USA Today)
AIR FORCE ACADEMY, COLO. — Maybe more than the three straight lopsided losses or another quarterback picking apart their defense, this will rile up the Air Force Falcons: Their head coach called them out.
Well, a little bit anyway.
“We were overwhelmed,” coach Troy Calhoun said after a 56-23 loss to Wyoming on Saturday night.
Although, running back Jon Lee didn’t quite see it the same way as his coach.
“I don’t think we were overwhelmed,” Lee said. “We just weren’t executing to the way we should and how we should.”
For the third straight week, Air Force (1-3, 0-3 Mountain West) was tormented by a torrid quarterback. Brett Smith had a field day against the Falcons’ secondary, throwing for 373 yards and four TDs, while adding another 138 yards and another score on the ground in leading the Cowboys (3-1, 1-0) to their highest scoring output ever against Air Force in a heated series that dates to 1957.
Smith completed 35 of 41 passes and his first TD throw was his 57th of his career, breaking Casey Bramlet’s record of 56 set a decade ago.
Still, the Falcons felt Smith’s big night was more on them for blowing coverages and less about what he was doing.
“He wasn’t like Peyton Manning out there,” cornerback Steffon Batts said.
At times, Smith certainly did resemble Manning, finding the holes in Air Force’s defense.
“He played beyond well,” Calhoun said. “I think it would be an understatement to say we need to do more to deter it.”
Changes could be forthcoming for Air Force — lots of them. Everything will be re-evaluated, Calhoun explained, because the Falcons have lost three straight by a combined total of 87 points.
Air Force’s streak of going to a school-record six straight bowl games under Calhoun could be in jeopardy. Not that they’re even thinking about that right now.
“You have to reevaluate every aspect of the way we operate,” Calhoun said. “There’s an immense amount of improvement that has to be made. It’s got to happen.”
Quite simply, the Falcons had no answer for Smith and a Cowboys offense that spread the ball out and accumulated 622 total yards. Smith set the tone early, too, by taking the Cowboys’ first snap and sweeping around the left sideline for a career-long 74-yard scamper before defensive back Jamal Byrd spun him down him at the 1.
It didn’t really matter.
Soon after, Smith found Dominic Rufran all alone in the end zone for his 57th career TD pass. That’s the way the night went for the Air Force secondary.
“I feel like we’re not communicating enough on the field, as a defense,” safety Christian Spears said. “All those things are getting us exposed right now. They definitely exposed us. Anytime we made a mistake it was seen with six points on the board. They didn’t come out and do anything we didn’t expect. We just didn’t execute.”
Jaleel Awini and the Falcons took the opening kick and methodically marched down the field, scoring on Awini’s 33-yard TD run. A good start.
Only, it wouldn’t last. Wyoming quickly poured it on and led 42-17 at halftime. From there, the Cowboys cruised to the easy win.
“We’re not playing with enough intensity, enough anger,” Awini said. “I think if we come out and play with a little more anger, then we should be a better team.”
This time, there was nothing but a cordial handshake between Wyoming coach Dave Christensen and Calhoun when they met at midfield after the game.
That’s a departure from last year when Christensen confronted Calhoun soon after a 28-27 loss, accusing the Air Force coach of faking an injury to its starting quarterback late in the game in order to save a time out.
Christensen later apologized, but was suspended for a game by Wyoming officials and fined $50,000.
“I talked to him before the game, we had a nice conversation and I talked to him after the game, wished him the best of luck the rest of the way,” Christensen said.