The long wait is over and it is time for the Falcons to finally get their college football season underway. The opponent on opening day 2017 is the VMI Keydets. This is a game that makes a lot of sense within the scheduling parameters that Air Force has set as VMI is an FCS team that the Falcons would expect to have enough quality to beat.
Air Force plays this game at Falcon Stadium and while not the flashiest contest on opening weekend it is still great to have football back. Here are the three keys to this one:
Stop the VMI running game
After going 5-17 the last two seasons in the FCS, VMI is not exactly Alabama. This is the third season for head coach Scott Wachenheim and the third season turnaround in college football is an actual thing that happens more often than you would think. To stop the Keydets pulling off one of the more unthinkable upsets in Week 1, the Falcons have to shut down their running game.
It is not that the running game is particularly explosive – Daz Palmer and Tyain Smith combined for just seven touchdowns in 2016 – but they are at least experienced players compared to quarterback Austin Coulling (413 yards passing in six games) and his receiving corps. Stopping the running game is priority number one on defense.
Put a body on Allan Cratsenberg
The key player on the VMI squad is probably linebacker Allan Cratsenberg. He is an All-Conference pick who had 126 tackles (60 unassisted) in 2016. Cratsenberg also shows up when the games are their biggest, putting up an incredible 20 tackles in the Keydets 30-20 loss to key rival The Citadel last November. The result went the wrong way, but Cratsenberg and his defensive unit help the top rushing offense in the FCS to just 133 yards.
Cratsenberg will not be able to stop the Air Force triple-option singlehandedly, but he will do his best to slow it down. This smash mouth style of football is right up his alley and the Falcons need to get a lineman to the second level on every play to tackle care of the tackling machine before he becomes a nuisance.
Don’t let it be close
This is a game that Air Force should win by some margin. Even if the VMI defense is up to scratch – and that point is up for debate – there is no way that the VMI offense should be able to move the ball on the Falcons. It is a game that you only lose if you let the opposition think they are in it. If Air Force stretches out to a two touchdown lead at any point, especially early, then this game is over. Key backups should get plenty of time against VMI if the Falcons are to be a force in the Mountain West this fall.