Rick Baum the Air Force beat writer for @SSN_AirForce part of the Sideline Sports Network network, was kind enough to collaborate with me on a set of 5 questions about Utah State’s third opponent for the 2023 season. The Aggies face the Air Force Falcons on the road in the first Mountain West Conference matchup of the year for Utah State. Huge shout out to Rick for joining me this week!!

Welcome to Falcon Stadium (Under renovation) this Friday! This is the 12th meeting of these Mountain West rivals, the Falcons lead the all-time series 6 – 5. The Aggies have won the past two games, that’s significant considering those 2 losses represent 25 % of Air Force’s losses the past 3 + full seasons (33-8 overall).

Head Coach Troy Calhoun has been the lead man at Air Force for an astonishing 18 seasons. How important is it to the continuity of the program to know that Coach Calhoun is going to be there year in and year out?

Having Troy Calhoun running his alma mater has worked favorably for Air Force. The former AF quarterback is in his 17th season (123-78). Calhoun has surrounded himself with a staff composed of former players and teammates. TC has been the second most consistent part of the program, deferring of course to the Triple Option ground attack.

The Falcons lost a pair of stars last season in quarterback Haaziq Daniels and running back Brad Roberts. Daniels has been replaced by senior Zac Larrier (184 yards on 33 carries and 2 TDs) at quarterback and senior Owen Burk (113 yards on 24 carries and 2 TDs) has replaced Roberts. What do Larrier and Burk bring to the table and what changes may have been made now that Daniels and Roberts are no longer in the lineup?

Zach Larrier (9) is a much different quarterback than Haaziq Daniels. Larrier is the two-time Mountain West 200-meter champion. Zach continues to grow in the position, especially as a passer. In the past 15 years at Air Force, only one quarterback started every game (Daniels in 22). Jensen Jones (5), is next up and will be ready. Owen Burk (26), a former high school quarterback from Michigan has been a pleasant addition to the backfield. Burk, Dylan Carson (20), Jett Harris (33), and Emmanuel Michel (4) will thrive behind a veteran O Line. Unfortunately, another fullback like last year’s NCAA rushing leader Brad Roberts isn’t on campus. However, look for more carries from last year’s NCAA yards-per-carry leader John Lee Eldridge III (24).

After a 2 and 0 start, defense has been the name of the game with the Falcons giving up 5.0 points per game on average, while allowing just 118.0 yards of total offense and only giving up a single touchdown. After what seems like decades of the Falcons having tremendous offensive success, how has the tide turned and the Falcons have had to rely so heavily on the defense getting the job done in 2023?

This Air Force Defense is legit once again this season. Last year’s top D has been dominating so far in 23. A year ago this was a junior-heavy, talented, and fairly inexperienced group. A year later they are seasoned and successful. Recruiting is making a difference. Led by Trey Taylor, Alec Mock, and Payton Zdroik at each level, they fly to the ball. Look for USU to test this defense. AF has won 7 in a row while giving up 7 points a game during that time span. Air Force is dealing with a huge loss in hybrid safety Camby Goff (Achilles) and hopes to overcome the big loss.

Senior defensive end PJ Ramsey hasn’t been much of a factor during his career until the 2023 season. Through the first two games, he has 7 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks and a pass breakup. What do you think the factors are that have led to his sudden breakout season?

PJ Ramsey comes into this season healthy for the first time in his Falcon career. Ramsey brings quickness, tenacity, and ninja-like hand-fighting ability. PJ is a film student between games and his preparation is on another level.

Senior inside linebacker Alec Mock already has 131 career tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, and 3.0 sacks to his name. He is already off to a stellar start in 2023 with 14 tackles and 1.0 tackles for loss. What does the senior leader do for the Falcons defensive scheme that makes him so effective?

Alec Mock is a four-year starter and has thrived in this Brian Knorr defense. He, along with Trey Taylor will finish their Falcons career with around 200 tackles. What makes Mock good is he’s a finisher. Mountain West Conference preseason first teamers in front of him (Payton Zdroik) and behind him (Trey Taylor) set it up and Alec knocks it down.

Good Luck Friday and safe travels back to Logan.