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Air Force offense thriving under the diverse skill set of sophomore QB Hammond

Air Force receiver Marcus Bennett blocks for quarterback Donald Hammond III during a game at Michie Stadium in West Point, N.Y., Nov. 3, 2018.

JOE GROMELSKI/STARS AND STRIPES

By BRENT BRIGGEMAN | The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.) | Published: November 16, 2018

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Tribune News Service) — The numbers show something that likely doesn’t surprise those who have followed Air Force this year — the offense is essentially the same with Donald Hammond III at quarterback, but much better.

The sophomore has played the equivalent of three full games this year, with Isaiah Sanders playing about 5½ games and Arion Worthman about 1½.

Under Hammond, the Falcons have averaged 36 points . Under the others, 29.

Under Hammond, the tailbacks/Z-receiver are averaging 17 carries for 124 yards . Under the others, 18 for 81.

Under Hammond, the fullbacks are averaging 21 carries for 109 yards. Under the others, 18 for 82.

Under Hammond, the quarterback has averaged 21 carries for 91 yards. Under the others, 21 for 79.

And under Hammond, the offense has attempted 16 passes per game for 163 yards and no interceptions. Under the others, 14 passes for 137 yards with three touchdowns.

As these numbers indicate, it’s not a matter of distribution — the fullbacks, tailbacks and quarterbacks have basically seen the same number of opportunities, and the passing numbers are fairly equal, with the team completing eight passes per game with Hammond or the others. It’s just that, for what can likely be attributed to myriad factors — play calling, competition, pre-snap decisions, in-play decisions and Hammond’s arm strength and accuracy — things run more smoothly with Hammond manning the most important position.

“His confidence sticks out to me,” center Christopher Mitchell said. “He’s a very confident guy. Just having him back there kind of directing the offense as we go, I know there’s going be times in games when there are mistakes, but to be able to lean back on a guy who has the confidence to say, ‘Yes, I did that. I made that mistake. Let’s move forward.’”

These shouldn’t come as a surprise because the disparity has been on display some games.

Air Force trailed Nevada 28-10 when Hammond replaced Worthman midway through the third quarter. The Falcons outscored the Wolf Pack 15-0 after the change in a 28-25 loss. At Army, Hammond took the second half after Isaiah Sanders had the first two quarters. The Falcons trailed 17-0 when he took over and closed on a 14-0 run, falling 17-14 as the Falcons lamented afterward that they didn’t so much lose as simply run out of time.

Perhaps the most consequential coaching decision of the season marred by six losses of 10 or fewer points has been not turning to Hammond earlier. Could games against Nevada and Army have gone differently with him playing the whole game? What about trips to Florida Atlantic and Utah State?

Coach Troy Calhoun rarely provides insight into personnel decisions, but there was likely a tug of loyalty to give Worthman the first crack at quarterback after the senior entered this season with a 9-6 record as a starter. Then there was Sanders, the junior who ran for 196 yards in a gutty victory over Utah State in last year’s finale.

With two proven winners, of course the sophomore would be expected to wait his turn early.

But that doesn’t explain the decision to sit Hammond for half the game at Army.

The Falcons fell three points short of the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy and that could well be the margin that keeps them out of a bowl game if they don’t close with wins over Wyoming and Colorado State. That’s a pretty big what-if.

But looking forward, the Falcons have to feel good about where things stand.

After a victory over New Mexico on Saturday, Hammond and fellow sophomore Jordan Jackson — a 6-foot-4, 285-pound specimen who leads the team in tackles for loss (9.5) and sacks (2.5) — bantered about Hammond’s speed and whether Jackson could catch him.

“Oh easily,” Jackson said (joked?). “He’s not that fast.”

Regardless of his speed, Hammond seems to be the one capable of making this offense best perform.

Hammond and Jackson, a pair of prized sophomores, should have two more full seasons to argue the particulars how that has happened.

©2018 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
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