Brad Roberts is on track to post the two seasons with the most carries in Air Force history.
Sandwiched between those seasons was knee surgery that knocked him out of spring ball and limited his ability to run until just before fall camp and then reduced his activity in the first few weeks of practice.
If there’s a particular item for Falcons fans to be thankful for this season, it’s that rapid, thorough recovery for one of the program’s all-time greats.
“To go through that, I don’t want to say it’s completely unreal, in terms of what’s happened. It’s possible, he’s proven that it’s possible,” coach Troy Calhoun said. “But no (I would not have anticipated this kind of work load).”
Roberts broke Air Force’s record with 298 carries last season. Brian Bream previously held the mark with 294. And with Saturday’s regular-season finale at San Diego State and a bowl game remaining, Roberts currently sits at 273 carries.
Considering he has averaged 25 carries per game, he stands a good shot at becoming the first Air Force player with 300 carries in a season.
He’s also closing in on the single-season rushing record. Roberts has 1,425 yards this season, putting him behind only Chad Hall (1,478 yards in 2007) and Beau Morgan (1,494 in 1996). Roberts already owns the third-best season (this year) and the fourth-best in program history, as he ran for 1,352 yards last season. Again, considering Roberts is averaging 130 yards per game, he is set to sail past them and is on pace for somewhere around 1,600 yards.
But that comes with a major caveat.
Roberts injured his hand last week against Colorado State. He briefly left the field for an X-ray but was cleared to return.
Calhoun’s policy is to not discuss injuries, but after saying “we’ll see where he is” in regard to Roberts hand on Tuesday, he offered one detail.
“If he doesn’t go this week he ought to be fine by the bowl,” Calhoun said.
With or without Roberts, producing offense against San Diego State (7-4, 5-2 Mountain West) figures to be difficult for Air Force (8-3, 4-3).
The Falcons were held to 192 rushing yards against the Aztecs last year in a 20-14 loss – including a career-low 27 yards on seven carries for Roberts. During San Diego State’s current nine-game winning streak in the series, Air Force has averaged 19.3 points per game.
The Aztecs enter the game ranked No. 32 nationally in scoring defense (20.82 points per game), No. 33 in total defense (340 yards per game) and No. 24 against the run (115.9 yards per game).
For the Falcons, particularly this season as they’ve averaged just seven pass attempts per game, the barometer for how the day will go is the running game. When the Falcons rush for 350 or more yards they are 6-0 and averaging 39.7 points. In the other five games they are 2-3 and averaging 207.2 rushing yards (316.4 total yards) and 16.2 points.
“We always enjoy playing the good defenses, it’s always a good challenge,” said offensive tackle Everett Smalley, whose team is riding a three-game winning streak. “I’m excited to play against a good team again.”
Overcoming the challenge presented on the road and keeping alive hopes for an unprecedented third consecutive 10-win season (not counting the six-game 2020 season shortened by COVID-19) will likely depend on unlocking the pieces of the offense on the edges and through the air that haven’t been consistently reliable.
It could also depend on Roberts bouncing back quickly from injury – something the record-setting fullback has shown he can do.
Air Force (8-3, 4-3 Mountain West) at San Diego State (7-4, 5-2), 7 pm Saturday (CBS Sports Network)