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Air Force air raid (what?) sparks Falcons' rout of Utah State

Utah State Aggies and New Mexico Lobos compete in an NCAA football game with only family members allowed in the stadium at Maverik Stadium in Logan on Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020.

(Yukai Peng, Deseret News)

LOGAN β€” All you really need to see to know how Thursday went for Utah State is this stat:

Passing yards: Air Force, 127; Utah State, 123.

If you can't outgain Air Force (3-2) through the air, you don't have a chance. And the Aggies didn't stand much of one in their final home game of 2020. All those good feelings following the breakthrough win last week were quickly forgotten as Utah State (1-2) was routed by the Falcons, 35-7, at Maverik Stadium.

Air Force quarterback Haaziq Daniels was 7-of-9 passing for 127 yards and added 47 yards and another score on the ground to lead the Falcons to the easy victory.

On the Falcons' first two possessions, Daniels seemed to shock the Aggie defense by going 6-for-6 for 103 yards and a touchdown. Since when did Air Force take its name literally? But it turns out if you leave guys open, college quarterbacks will find them β€” even triple-option quarterbacks. Early in the second quarter, Ben Peterson got behind the USU secondary and Daniels hit him in stride for a 49-yard touchdown.

"That was for sure an unorthodox game plan for them to pass as much as they did," senior linebacker Nick Heninger said. "But when you see early success with something, you don't stop, right? So they just kept going back to it."

USU interim coach Frank Maile said that most of those early passes came because the Aggies forced Air Force into obvious passing situations (Daniels was 3-for-3 on third and fourth down in the first two drives) but the Aggies didn't get enough pressure into the backfield to force the stops.

"When you don't have a pass rush and you allow the quarterback to throw the ball, then it doesn't matter what offense it is and what quarterback it is, he's going to find somebody down the field," Maile said.

When the Falcons returned to their more conventional ground-and-pound game, the Aggies didn't offer up much resistance either.

Air Force finished with 334 yards rushing, led by Kadin Remsberg (107 yards and a touchdown) and Brad Roberts (98 yards and a score). Air Force punted just once in the game. USU, however, did stop the Falcons on two fourth-downs late in the game, but by that point Daniels was enjoying the game from the sideline.

USU QB Andrew Peasley finished with 17-of-32 passing for 123 yards a touchdown and two interceptions. He added 53 yards on the ground. Peasley led the Aggies on a long scoring drive (15 plays, 8:04) on the game's first possession that ended with the sophomore quarterback finding Jordan Nathan for a 4-yard touchdown. After that, it was all Air Force. The Falcons scored 35 unanswered points to finish the game.

"It was lack of execution," Maile said of the offensive struggles folllwong that opening drive. "There's a lot of pieces on that and everyone plays a part in that offensively. Bottom line is we didn't we didn't execute the way we needed to, we gave those guys opportunities to get back on the football field and we paid the price for it."

Utah State, which finished with 232 yards of offense, was hurt by the fact that starting running back Devonta'e Henry-Cole and all-conference returner Savon Scarver missed the game.

"I think it plays a little bit of a role (to the struggles) but at the end of the day we have other players on the team β€” we have good running backs and other returners that can return the ball," Maile said. "Again, execution was the key role."

The Aggies will finish off their season next Saturday against Colorado State.

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