Air Force vs. UNLV: Three Keys to a Falcons Win
The Falcons hit the road to face the reeling Rebels in Mountain West football action. Here’s our preview of how Air Force can beat UNLV.
Can Air Force get a much-needed win?
WEEK 8: Air Force Falcons (2-4, 0-3 Mountain West) vs. UNLV Rebels (2-4, 0-2 MW)
WHEN: Friday, October 19 — 8:00 PM MT/7:00 PM PT
WHERE: Sam Boyd Stadium; Las Vegas, Nevada (36,800)
TV: CBS Sports Network
STREAM: Get a one-week trial of FuboTV.
RADIO: The Air Force broadcast can be found in and around Colorado Springs on KVOR 740 AM. It can also be found in Denver on 104.3 FM and on satellite radio: Sirius channel 137 and XM channel 201.
SERIES RECORD: Air Force leads the series 15-6. In the last meeting on October 14, 2017, the Falcons defeated UNLV, 34-30, in Colorado Springs.
STAT PROFILES: link
The Air Force Falcons let a big opportunity slip away last week against San Diego State, but it seems likely that the weirdness factor will get dialed down in the desert against UNLV.
Quite simply, the Rebels have not looked like themselves since losing quarterback Armani Rogers to injury. The powerful running game has failed to clear 3.5 yards per carry against New Mexico and Utah State while the defense allowed at least 50 points to both opponents. Whether the Falcons can take advantage of the disarray remains an open question, but they can thrust themselves back into contention for a bowl bid by winning their first road game in nearly a year.
Here’s how Air Force can keep UNLV down and come away with a victory.
Three Keys to an Air Force Win
Exploit UNLV’s weakness in pass protection.
With Max Gilliam under center, things haven’t improved for the Rebels when it comes to protecting the quarterback. Utah State racked up seven sacks last Saturday, pushing Gilliam’s sack rate to 14.3%. Even if Air Force’s own pass rush has been lackluster, there’s a chance to create some big plays, especially if the defense can win on early downs.
One thing to watch: On average, UNLV has averaged 8.9 yards to go on third down, 126th nationally, and their third-down Success Rate is 127th (29%). Air Force might consider bringing lots of pressure if they get even a mildly favorable third down, on what Bill Connelly refers to as Blitz Downs (1st-and-18 or more, 2nd-and-14 or more, 3rd-and-3 or more) and daring Gilliam to beat them since their own Success Rate in those situations, 22.6%, ranks in the top 25.
Let Cole Fagan work.
The junior fullback had one of his best performances of the year last Saturday against the tough Aztecs defense, and UNLV is certainly no SDSU up front. The Rebels defensive line ranks in the triple digits by Havoc Rate and just allowed 5.6 yards per carry to the duo of Gerold Bright and Darwin Thompson, suggesting another big game for Fagan could be in the works.
Air Force could win this game comfortably if the offensive line can get Fagan to the second level of the defense more often than they have in 2018. His individual Opportunity Rate (how often a line “does its job” and gets five yards) is only 34.5%, but both Bright and Thompson managed to crack 55% a week ago, so the chance is there.
Win the battle of strengths up front.
Air Force’s front seven continued to play well despite the loss last Friday, racking up eight tackles for loss for the second week in a row. The front seven has been surprisingly stout in defending the run, as they currently rank 6th in defensive Opportunity Rate and 13th in Stuff Rate (percentage of plays stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage).
It comes down to getting more of the same against a UNLV run game that has faltered as of late, and this is particularly true of Lexington Thomas, who has seen his overall Opportunity Rate slip over the last three games. Stop him, as Utah State and New Mexico did, and everything follows from there.