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Wyoming has to be 'conscious' of the forward pass within Air Force's option attack
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Wyoming has to be 'conscious' of the forward pass within Air Force's option attack

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LARAMIE -- Garrett Crall wants to set the record straight: Donald Hammond III isn’t just a runner.

Make no mistake, Air Force’s offense hasn’t strayed from its identity with Hammond at the controls. As Air Force usually does with its triple-option attack, the Falcons rank in the top 5 in the Football Bowl Subdivision in rushing (304.4 rushing yards per game), and Hammond has rushed for a team-high 10 touchdowns -- tied for the most among Mountain West quarterbacks.

“They’ll do certain schemes that hardly anybody else does," Wyoming coach Craig Bohl said.

But when the Cowboys travel to Falcon Stadium to close out the regular season Saturday, they’ll see an offense that’s evolved under Air Force coach Troy Calhoun over the years. Hammond doesn’t always line up under center with the Falcons implementing shotgun formations and occasionally spreading out their receivers.

And Hammond usually finds them when the Falcons decide to throw the ball. He’s completed more than half of his pass attempts this season with 12 touchdown passes against just five interceptions.

“I think it’s something to be conscious about because we’re playing a quarterback,” said Crall, Wyoming's junior defensive end. “People don’t give credit to triple-option quarterbacks. They just think they’re runners and they’re not quarterbacks. It’s like, no, the guy we’re playing is a quarterback. He can sling the ball with anybody. I think from what I’ve seen is he looks comfortable when he’s standing back there and he’ll deliver a nice ball. I think you’ve just got to respect it and understand, hey, they can throw the ball as well as run the ball.”

Air Force still doesn’t throw it a ton. Hammond has attempted just 93 passes, and the Falcons are one of four option teams that rank in the bottom 7 nationally in passing yards (129.9 per game). But Air Force has shown at times, particularly last week against New Mexico, that it’s not a one-trick pony.

Hammond threw for a career-high 327 yards on just 10 attempts in the Falcons’ 44-22 win. He completed nine of them with nearly half of them (4) going for touchdowns. The shortest of Hammond’s scoring tosses covered 27 yards.

It was the ultimate outlier for the Falcons’ offense -- Hammond’s passing yards were the fifth-most in program history and the most for an Air Force quarterback since 1976 -- but Hammond has completed 86 percent of his passes (13 of 15) with six touchdowns in his last five quarters, showing what the Falcons are capable of through the air when defenses pay too much attention to what they’re doing on the ground.

“They’ll maybe add some different wrinkles and stuff like that, but it’s the same triple option,” Crall said. “They just have a lot of good players around it, and that’s what makes it run like it is.”

Wyoming had trouble slowing down Air Force last season when the Cowboys gave up 362 rushing yards, but a timely three-and-out late helped in a 35-27 comeback victory at War Memorial Stadium. Wyoming brings the MW’s second-best run defense into this year’s matchup (93.7 yards allowed per game), but the Cowboys will have to be ready for more of the same -- and perhaps a little something different -- if they hope to end the Falcons’ six-game winning streak on their home field.

“It’s really going to come down to us executing, tackling, playing well, being responsible and being responsible for what we’re doing," Bohl said. "Is it a challenge? You’re doggone right it’s a challenge.”

Follow UW athletics beat writer Davis Potter on Twitter at @DavisEPotter.

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College Sports Reporter

Davis Potter is the University of Wyoming athletics reporter. An Alabama native and 2011 Auburn University graduate, Potter joined the Star-Tribune in 2018 after five years covering Ole Miss and the Southeastern Conference. He lives in Laramie.

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