The Star-Tribune is taking an early look at each of Wyoming’s opponents in the order they appear on the Cowboys’ 2019 schedule. The final opponent is Air Force.
LARAMIE — There are never any shortage of options for Air Force’s rushing attack.
But the Falcons’ option offense is in line to be without the one that was far more productive than the rest a season ago. Fullback Cole Fagan finished his junior season just shy of 1,000 rushing yards, but Fagan has reportedly been removed from the team amid an ongoing investigation.
Details regarding the exact nature of the probe haven’t been reported, and it’s unclear whether Fagan would be able to eventually rejoin the team. But whether it’s the season opener against Colgate or their regular-season finale at home against Wyoming on Nov. 30, the Falcons may have to move forward without the player that nearly doubled the rushing total of any other Air Force ball carrier last season.
Yet if there’s a team that can withstand that kind of blow, it’s Air Force. The Falcons have finished in the top 5 nationally in rushing yards each of the past five seasons and will turn to their other backfield options to try to keep things rolling on the ground.
Start with DJ Hammond III, who’s back to operate the controls of the Falcons’ triple option. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound quarterback accounted for 994 total yards and rushed for a team-high nine touchdowns in nine games last season. He started the last three, leading Air Force to a 2-1 mark in those games.
The Falcons have another experienced quarterback returning in Isaiah Sanders, who ran for 466 yards and six scores in eight games while completing nearly 62 percent of his passes last season. But Sanders only threw one more touchdown (4) than interceptions (3), and Hammond enters fall camp at the top of the depth chart.
As for who will be their running mates in Fagan’s absence, Kadin Remsberg is in line to take over as the No. 1 running back. The junior started nine games last season and finished as the Falcons’ second-leading rusher with 583 yards. He also proved to be the most explosive among the returning ball carriers at 5.8 yards per carry.
Senior Taven Birdow is also back at fullback after averaging 5.1 yards on 50 carries a season ago. Senior Nolan Eriksen is another experienced option at running back.
While Air Force is much more comfortable keeping the ball on the ground in an attempt to control the tempo and shorten the game against its more talented, athletic opponents, the Falcons do try to use defenses’ aggression against them by occasionally putting it in the air. Senior Geraud Sanders (14 catches last season) figures to become the top target for both quarterbacks with the Falcons’ top two receivers last season, Marcus Bennett and Rona Cleveland, having exhausted their eligibility.
As much attention as the Falcons’ running game gets, the defense finished in the upper half of the Mountain West in several defensive categories and has the potential to be even better with six of its top seven tacklers back from last season. Considering how much practice it gets against the run, it’s no surprise the unit allowed the second-fewest rushing yards in the league a season ago.
Leading the way is defensive back Jeremy Fejedelem, who returns after racking up team-highs in tackles (104) and interceptions (3) last season. The Falcons also have a disruptor up front in defensive tackle Jordan Jackson, who led the team with 12.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks a season ago.
Senior Kyle Johnson (70 tackles) is also back as the undisputed leader of a linebacking corps that lost four of its eight contributors from last season. But there are plenty of pieces for veteran coach Troy Calhoun to work with on both sides of the ball, which should once again make Air Force a headache for everyone in the league to deal with.