FORT COLLINS — Colorado State is just getting started, while Air Force is trying not to get left behind so early in the Mountain West Conference race.
The two Front Range rivals meet tonight in a national televised game that represents the first conference games for the Rams (1-2 overall) and the fourth for the Falcons (2-2, 1-2 MWC).
Forget the fact the two play for a trophy (the Ram-Falcon), as most people do. And it may not mean much that
the Rams are 7-0 in home Thursday night games, including a 4-0 mark against Air Force.
All either team is concerned with is the conference ramifications.
“It’s a bigger game for us, the fact that we’re starting out conference,” CSU sophomore running back Kyle Bell said. “Every game from here on out is pretty much must-win; you want to win all of your conference games. So this is pretty big.”
So was the development of a running game for CSU last week, with Bell rushing for 183 yards in his first career start. A repeat might be a lot to ask, but coming close may play into the Rams’ outcome.
“The key to beating Air Force is keeping the ball,” CSU offensive coordinator Dan Hammerschmidt said. “You either have to do that, or you have to score a ton of points. You’ve got to score on six or eight possessions, or you’ve got to win time of possession by 10 minutes.”
The Rams have done that before, but definitely not in last year’s 47-17 thumping at the hands of the Falcons to end the season.
With Bell running wild last week, quarterback Justin Holland looked like a new man. His stats were about the worst they’ve ever been for a full game (15-of-27 passing for 223 yards), but it could have been his best game. He threw three touchdowns without an interception, being part of the offense instead of having to carry the offense.
“He could go two, three, four games without an interception,” Lubick said. “We still can’t harness him, though. He’s got the confidence in his arm to zip it between two guys. What he showed last week, that’s something I can see him doing the rest of the season.”
But he needs the running game to take off the pressure. Much the way Air Force’s passing game is complementing their vaunted option attack.
Shaun Carney has been more of a passer than a runner in his career guiding the Falcons, and that’s played out this year. Air Force has been more balanced, with 200 or more rushing and passing yards in three of its four games this year.
Carney was benched last week in favor of Adam Fitch, a move AFA coach Fisher DeBerry called a gut call.
Carney will start this week, but it doesn’t mean Fitch won’t play. Or that he will play.
Carney’s only concern is that the Falcons turn things around after two straight close, mistaken-laden losses in MWC play.
“You can’t be doing that. We’ve got to put those things behind us,” Carney said. “It can’t become a trend. We’ve got to put all those things behind us. We’ve got to stop turning the ball over; it’s not what Air Force football is about. We always win turnover margin, we always win time of possession — that’s part of our game. We always win penalties, and we’re not doing that this year, and I think that’s attributed to the two losses.”
Colorado State knows all about that, using the same formula to lose its first two games of the year.
Now, a new season begins with a streak of eight straight conference games.