AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Air Force aired it out.
Adding a deep passing threat to the nation's top-ranked running attack, Tim Jefferson threw for 160 yards on 5 of 9 passing and hooked up with Zach Kauth for two scores in the 25th-ranked Falcons' 49-27 rout of Colorado State on Saturday.
"They're known for running the ball, and when they come out passing, it throws you off guard," Rams linebacker Mychal Sisson said. "We really didn't work that much on their passing game and focused more on their run game, and they came out and beat us passing."
Jefferson set up the Falcons' first two touchdowns with completions of 51 and 39 yards as Air Force (5-1, 3-0 Mountain West) celebrated its first game as a ranked team in seven seasons with a big win at home.
"You like to thrash a Front Range rival," said Kauth, who had three catches for 85 yards while filling in for wide receiver Kevin Fogler, who's out with a knee injury.
Falcons tailback Asher Clark said the deep passing threat loosed up the running lanes, helping him gain 125 yards and a touchdown on the ground: "That's how we're able to spread them out laterally instead of vertically," he said.
"It's huge having both sides of the game," added fellow tailback Jared Tew, who also had a TD run.
Ben Cochran added a 25-yard TD toss for the Falcons on a fake field goal in the second half and Jonathan Warzeka tied an NCAA mark with a 100-yard kickoff return, the second of his career.
The Falcons dominated the Rams (1-5, 0-2) despite being outgained 285-248 on the ground, yielding almost 33 yards per kick return and maintaining possession for just 22:16.
The Falcons' first three TD drives averaged just over a minute thanks to Jefferson's big throws and two takeaways by defensive back Reggie Rembert that set up the short field against the Rams.
"Them being able to change it up a bit to throw us off to where we couldn't just play the run helped them out a lot," Rams strong safety Ivory Herd said.
Then, just before halftime, the Falcons went back to doing what they do best: chewing up yards and the clock with the triple-option.
Running the ball on every down of a 14-play, 80-yard march that ate up 5:19 and culminated in Jefferson's pitch to Kyle Halderman for a 4-yard TD, the Falcons took a 28-7 halftime lead.
"It helps out whole backfield when T.J. has that deep threat and he's able to open up that secondary like that," Tew said.
The Falcons turned to trickery in the third quarter when they scored a touchdown on a fake field goal. The holder, Cochran, a backup quarterback, threw to a wide-open Chaz Demerath for a 25-yard score. The senior tight end's first career TD made it 35-7.
The Falcons' game plan called for some deep throws early on and they worked to perfection.
Jefferson's 51-yard pass to Joshua Freeman set up Tew's 3-yard TD run just 1:37 into the game, and he hit Kauth for 39 yards, setting up Clark's 3-yard run that capped a five-play, 80-yard drive that took just 59 seconds.
Rembert's 30-yard interception return to the 3 failed to yield any points but not so his fumble recovery at the Rams 33 two series later.
This time, the Falcons capitalized on their star defender's takeaway when Jefferson threw a 27-yard pass to Kauth in stride at the goal line for the junior receiver's first career touchdown catch and a 21-0 lead.
Derek Good's 70-yard kickoff return set up Lou Greenwood's 13-yard score on a reverse to put the Rams on the board. That's when the Falcons ran the Rams ragged with their 80-yard TD response, all on the ground.
Jefferson hooked up again with Kauth for a 19-yard TD toss in the third quarter when he put the ball just above the fingertips of cornerback DeAngelo Wilkinson at the goal line to make it 49-13.
"The front seven got knocked around a little bit today," Air Force linebacker Jordan Waiwaiole said.
Mason's 4-yard TD run made it 35-13. The extra point was blocked, and Warzeka returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a 42-13 Air Force lead.
Warzeka also had a 100-yard kickoff return against Houston in the 2009 Armed Forces Bowl. Because the NCAA doesn't add the yards in the end zone like the NFL does when the returner fields the kick, nobody at the college level will ever be able to top that.
"Records are made to be broken," Warzeka said, "but I guess this record can't be broken."