In a heavy run-based offense that uses plenty of option, a wide receiver might be as useful as an underwater screen door.
But this season, Air Force may say that’s more of a Navy thing.
The Falcons’ top two wide receivers, senior Garrett Brown and junior Jalen Robinette, have combined for nearly 1,000 yards, adding a vertical dimension to the attack.
“You know what, you find different ways to win,” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said Saturday after beating Utah State behind 271 passing yards.
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Brown leads the team with 24 receptions for 508 yards (21.2 yards per catch), with Robinette right behind with 18 receptions for 483 yards (26.8 ypg). Brown’s average is No. 10 in the FBS, and Robinette would be second if he had two more catches to qualify.
With the option, teams often run and run, then spring a deep pass on an unsuspecting defense. Boise State knows that all too well. On Saturday against New Mexico, four of the Lobos’ nine completions went for 30 yards or more, including an 81-yard completion that set up the go-ahead, 1-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
“When you can throw and be explosive ... it makes you do your job,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “If they weren’t very good at throwing the ball, OK, maybe you get your eyes back there, sneak a peek every now and then to see if it’s a run, if they throw it, think ‘maybe I’ll catch up with it.’
“You can’t cheat. You’ve got to do your job, got to do what you’re asked to do.”
Robinette had more of an output in Saturday’s win over Utah State than any Falcons receiver in 37 years. He had seven receptions for 210 yards from senior quarterback Karson Roberts, the most since Air Force moved to the option in 1980.
“After the first few catches, you kind of start to get on a roll, and feel you can catch anything that comes your way,” said Robinette, who led the team with 806 yards last season. “... Considering who we beat and that I was able to do well, it had to be one of my top three games.”
“I played quarterback in high school (in Bexley, Ohio), so there were a few games I had a lot of fun winning, doing a lot,” he said.
Robinette and Brown have done more than just flank the offense and make big catches. Robinette is 2-for-2 passing for 76 yards, both going for touchdowns, while Boise State defensive coordinator Marcel Yates said “one thing I think he does well is he blocks well.” Brown has a punt return touchdown and 23 rushes for 180 yards (7.8 yards per carry).
Brown’s output this season already would be better than the top receiver at Air Force in 10 of the previous 15 seasons. Last year, the duo was the first to have at least 500 yards apiece since 2005, and both are in the top eight in school history in catches and yards.
“It feels really good when we know the defense respects us because if we have that, with all the guys we can get involved, it makes us that much more dangerous because they don’t know when that big pass might come,” Robinette said.
Air Force at Boise State
▪ When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
▪ Where: Albertsons Stadium (36,387, FieldTurf), Boise
▪ TV: ESPN2 (Jason Benetti, Mike Bellotti, Allison Williams)
▪ Radio: KBOI (670 AM), KTIK (93.1 FM); Bob Behler, Pete Cavender
▪ Records: Boise State is 7-3 overall, 4-2 Mountain West; Air Force is 7-3, 5-1
▪ Series: Boise State leads 2-1 (Falcons won 28-14 in 2014 in Colorado Springs)
▪ Vegas line: Boise State by 12