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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Until Saturday, Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun had tried a pair of upperclassmen as the Falcons starting quarterback this season.
Calhoun’s third signal caller got his shot Saturday and passed the test with flying colors. Say hello to 6-foot-2 sophomore D.J. Hammond III.
Making his first-career start on Saturday while seeing his first collegiate action just a weekend before, Hammond was a dominant and steady hand directing Air Force’s spread option offense in the Falcons’ 35-7 rout over service academy rival Navy.
Hammond accounted for four of Air Force’s five touchdowns in the game, carrying the football 19 times for 60 yards and three touchdowns. The Hammond, Ga. native also completed six of 10 passes, including a a 61-yard TD pass to Ronald Cleveland in the second quarter. However, the biggest and most important “statistic” as far as Calhoun is concerned was that Hammond made smart decisions and took care of the football without committing a turnover.
“Especially early with the field position, two of the first-three drives we were (starting) inside the 10-yard line,” Calhoun said. “So he did do a heck of a job taking care of the football which will be a necessity as we move forward, too.”
After meeting with the media following the win, Hammond then ran back onto the Falcon Stadium turf to celebrate with family and friends.
“Our goal was to embarrass Navy today,” Hammond said. “That was our goal coming in. They embarrassed us last year because we lost. That was embarrassing. When we lose to them that’s embarrassing.”
Mission accomplished for Hammond and the Falcons, who now preparing for a weekend road trip to face Mountain West juggernaut San Diego State.
On the flip side, Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo’s team turned in a lifeless performance in the loss to Air Force (2-3). Having a bye week and two weeks to prepare made Saturday even tougher to stomach for the Mids.
“I’m very concerned. We’re not playing very well right now,” Niumatalolo said. “We have a lot to improve on as a team. We have to go back to work and get better. I have to coach better and we have to get better as a team.”
At the root of Niumatalolo’s concern is an offensive unit that’s abandoned the triple option for whatever unknown reason and traded it in for the most predictable, vanilla offense in college football.
Navy (2-3) opted to keep converted slotback Malcolm Perry at quarterback again this season after head-turning performances under center late last year. However, the Mids’ offense is sputtering and on Saturday it was once again reduced to nothing more than Perry running it off tackle or up the middle looking for holes, little of which existed.
The junior averaged 2.8 yards per carry and toted the rock 19 times compared to just 22 carries for eight other players. As a team, Navy rushed for a total of 129 yards, one of the lowest outputs during Niumatalolo’s 11-year run as the head coach in Annapolis.
“(Air Force) lined up like Army did but they were ready to play,” Niumatalolo said. “We just didn’t do a very good job executing.”
The Mids’ offensive woes are more than simple execution problems.
Navy offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper shouldered the blame Saturday telling the Annapolis Capital Gazette newspaper, “This was entirely on me. We spent two weeks working on one defense and (Air Force) came out in something totally different.”
Whether it’s game planning or identity problems, Niumatalolo and company have little time to figure it out with a season now teetering on the brink with road games remaining against No. 5 Notre Dame, No. 25 Cincinnati and No. 10 Central Florida plus the regular-season finale against rival Army.