Air Force, which has been without its entire starting defensive line, could get all three linemen back with in a couple weeks.
Nose guard Ryan Gardner could return next week from a knee injury, Falcons coach Troy Calhoun said. End Zach Payne surprisingly could be back in two weeks, despite an ACL injury. And end Ben Kopacka should also be back in a week or two from a shoulder injury. He’s unlikely to play this week – and will be limited if he does.
Getting all three of those players back would be a huge help to a defense that has allowed 100 points in the past two weeks.
“It would be a boost,” Calhoun said.
Payne injured his ACL, but he didn’t tear it. He didn’t need surgery, so he had a chance to return this season. His return will depend on how stable the ligament is.
Gardner injured his knee in Week 2. He is perhaps Air Force’s most underrated player, a nose guard who is very good at occupying blockers. He had two fantastic games to end last year, at UNLV and in the bowl game against Georgia Tech. Without him, Air Force’s run defense ranks second-to-last in the nation in yards allowed.
Air Force should be getting other injured players back. Cornerback Chris Miller could return next week, Calhoun said. Center Michael Hester might need two-to-three more weeks, as a small fracture was found in a follow-up X-ray. Backup tailback Darius Jones will not be back this season, Calhoun said, because of a foot injury.