Air Force gets to host a ranked opponent on Saturday as No. 22 San Diego State comes to town. The Aztecs are on a high after beating Pac-12 powerhouse Stanford last weekend, while the Falcons gave Michigan way more than they wanted in the Big House. The 13-29 defeat turned on a couple of plays and Air Force will be hopeful of spoiling the Aztec’s party.
Here are the three keys to this one:
Win the rushing battle
The two attacks here are built very differently, but they both look to run the football first. The Falcons are – as always – highly ranked in the rushing statistics and they currently sit seventh in the FBS in rushing at 320.5 yards per game. The Aztecs have played two good Pac-12 squads, with Stanford in particular known for their physical play. They have not, however, faced a triple-option attack in 2017 and that is something that the Falcons must be able to use to their advantage.
When SDSU has the ball their first option will always be running back Rashaad Perry. Perry leads the FBS in rushing (196 ypg) and all-purpose yardage (258 ypg). He has put up those numbers against Power 5 opposition and if the Falcons are to have any chance on Saturday then they have to find a way to take Perry out of the game and make the Aztecs do something else on offense.
Win the turnover battle
These teams are both good. Both rushing attacks will get their yardage and both passing games will do just enough to keep the opposing defense off balance. In a game like this turnovers are going to be key, because both sides want to dictate tempo with their ground games and limit the number of possessions in the contest.
If Air Force is able to win the turnover battle – and for the sake of this a fourth down stop counts as a turnover – then they have the offensive firepower to beat SDSU. If, however, the option is not working and a key fumble occurs, then it is going to be hard for the Falcons to make up for that loss of possession in what figure to be a tight contest.
Bend but don’t break on defense
Air Force is never going to have a defense loaded with five-star talent and elite athletes. That is why the team does an outstanding job of working with what it has and designing a scheme to suit the characteristics of the players. The Falcons cannot just show up and expect to spend the day in the opposition backfield like a high-powered SEC team. Instead, they are willing to give ground between the 20-yard lines, eliminating the big play, then tightening up and forcing a field goal at worst in the red zone.
This was the strategy the defense used against Michigan and it was effective. The Wolverines offense was – per player – much bigger than the Falcons, but they only allowed 27 points. Currently, the Falcons rank eighth in the country and only allow 227 yards per game. That is a figure that would see them win this contest.