AIR FORCE ACADEMY â€“ For the third straight year one of the best rushing teams in the nation beat Colorado State (1-5, 0-2 MWC) not on the ground, but through the air.
Air Force (5-1, 3-0 MWC) used the pass to beat the Rams 49-27 despite entering Saturday as the top running team in the country.
In fact, CSU actually out rushed Air Force 285 yards to 248 yards.
Both of the Falconsâ€™ two first-quarter touchdowns were set up by big plays through the air by junior quarterback Tim Jefferson, the first being a 51 yard pass to tight end Joshua Freeman, Jeffersonâ€™s longest pass of the year.
â€œWe thought perhaps (we could be successful throwing downfield),â€ said Air Force coach Troy Calhoun. â€œWe thought we could get one-on-one coverage out there.â€
It is not as if Air Force came out determined to pass the ball, Jefferson only completed five out of nine attempts, but he threw for 160 yards and two of the completions were for touchdowns.
Last yearâ€™s game in Fort Collins was nearly identical for Jefferson, who completed seven passes that day for 111 yards and a then career best two touchdowns.
Looking back at the previous two match ups between the these teams, Saturday was the third straight game that Jefferson threw for more than 100 yards and two touchdowns against CSU.
Jefferson has flourished in his career against the Rams competing 18 passes out of 29 attempts for 442 yards, six touchdowns and only one interception.
CSU defensive coordinator Larry Kerr said Air Forcesâ€™ success passing the ball was a result of focusing the defense on stopping the Falconsâ€™ triple option attack.
â€œWe were trying to challenge them to throw the football and hoping that our corners could match up,â€ Kerr said. â€œ(Jefferson) made a couple nice throws.â€
Kerr explained that the first pass of the game that led to Air Forcesâ€™ opening touchdown was a result of a blown coverage by his defense and the others were good plays by the quarterback and receivers.
Senior captain Ricky Brewer has seen Jefferson utilize the passing game before and had a feeling they would try to beat the Rams deep again.
â€œWe knew they were going to pass, theyâ€™ve exploited us on the pass every year,â€ Brewer said. â€œSo thatâ€™s just one of those cases where we fell apart as a unit.â€
Outside of games against CSU â€“ where Jefferson averages nearly 150 yards per game â€“ Air Force averages just over 100 yards passing this year, lulling defenses into thinking Jefferson will not throw.
â€œYeah (itâ€™s easy to discredit Jeffersonâ€™s passing ability),â€ safety Ivory Herd said. â€œSome of the balls he throws are kind of easier for us to play verses when we play TCU or someone like that. I think it helped knowing he was more of a runner than a passer.â€
Herd did get his first career interception on Saturday, however, Jeffersonâ€™s efficiency through the air was too much to overcome for the Rams on Saturday â€“ and now for the past three years.
â€œYouâ€™ve got to give him credit,â€ Kerr said. â€œHe made the throws.â€
Football beat reporter Cris Tiller can be reached at email@example.com.