AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AP) — A lack of execution on both sides of the ball by Air Force allowed a game that could have been close to develop into a rout Saturday.
Dropped passes turned two promising first-half drives into field goals, and the defense was gashed for 577 total yards as Utah State ran away with a 52-20 win at Falcon Stadium in both teams' conference opener. Air Force (1-1, 0-1 Mountain West) dug itself a 14-0 hole in the game's first 3:43 after sophomore quarterback Jaleel Awini fumbled on the team's first play from scrimmage, and Utah State (1-1, 1-0) scored touchdowns on four consecutive drives to begin the second half.
"We got thumped in every way you can diagnose it," Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. "They played like a strong, physically stout, athletic and highly skilled squad. We did an awful lot to contribute to that, too."
Chuckie Keeton matched his own school record by throwing for five touchdowns, including three in the third quarter, and Utah State gave Aggies coach Matt Wells his first win in the school's Mountain West Conference debut.
Keeton completed 32 of 40 for 360 yards passing, the fifth time in seven games he has thrown for at least 300 yards dating to last season. He also threw for five touchdowns as a freshman in a 63-19 win over Wyoming in 2011.
Keeton's performance earned the praise of the Falcons' head coach.
"He's as good as you're going to see at quarterback this year," Calhoun said. "He's quick, has great field awareness and is extremely skilled as a passer. I know the guy in College Station is pretty good, but this guy is pretty darn good."
Playing in place of injured Kale Pearson (knee), Awini fumbled on his first play in his first career start and finished 4 of 12 for 61 yards. Awini had a 3-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, but with Air Force down by 32 points late in the third quarter, was replaced by Karson Roberts.
"It was a good hit, but that first play was just jitters," Awini said of the fumble. "Dropped balls, I feel like it's my fault, too. We just didn't execute the way we should, but we'll come back from it."
Leading 24-13 at halftime, Keeton opened the third quarter by guiding the Aggies on an 89-yard touchdown drive, finishing it off with the scoring pass to a wide-open Ronald Butler.