Fresno State vs. Air Force: Three Keys To A Bulldogs Win
Fresno State opens Mountain West play on the road against the Falcons. What can the Bulldogs do to get a victory against Air Force?
The ‘Dogs have a lot to prove as potential contenders.
WEEK 7: Fresno State Bulldogs (2-2) vs. Air Force Falcons (3-2, 1-1 Mountain West)
WHEN: Saturday, October 12 — 4:00 PM PT/5:00 PM MT
WHERE: Falcon Stadium; Colorado Springs, Colorado (46,692)
TV: CBS Sports Network
RADIO: The Fresno State broadcast can be found around the Central Valley on ESPN 940 AM, while the Air Force broadcast can be found in and around Colorado Springs on 740 AM (KVOR), in Denver on 104.3 FM, and on the Armed Forces Radio Network. The game can also be found on satellite radio, as well, at XM channel 389.
SERIES RECORD: Air Force leads the overall series 6-3. In the last meeting on October 28, 2016, the Falcons defeated the Bulldogs, 31-21, in Fresno.
LAST WEEK: Fresno State was on a bye in Week 5 after defeating New Mexico State on the road. Air Force lost its first leg in the round-robin for the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy on the road at Navy, 34-25.
ODDS (via OddsShark): Air Force -4
SP+ PROJECTION: Air Force by 7.6 (67% win probability)
FEI PROJECTION: Air Force by 6.1
Both teams will have a lot to prove when the Fresno State Bulldogs and Air Force Falcons meet on Saturday afternoon.
After suffering gut-punch losses to USC and Minnesota, Jeff Tedford’s Bulldogs didn’t exactly inspire a lot of confidence with modest victories against Sacramento State and New Mexico State, a realization of which the team itself is fully aware. Troy Calhoun and the Falcons, meanwhile, let a road victory against rival Navy slip through their fingers, the second time in three weeks that they couldn’t capitalize on all of their opportunities.
Here’s how the Bulldogs can open its defense of the Mountain West crown with a victory over the Falcons.
Three Keys to a Fresno State Victory
1. Keep the fullback dive in check.
It’s no secret that the Falcons will run the football, but fullback Taven Birdow has done his best to make sure the offense hasn’t missed Cole Fagan. For the moment, he’s the team’s leading rusher with 378 yards on 79 carries, but the splits reveal there’s no doubt his efficiency matters a great deal to Air Force’s overall success.
In Air Force’s three wins, Birdow has averaged 5.89 yards per carry. In their two losses, that figure drops to 3.24 YPC. He’s also been deployed most often, and been most effective, on first downs with a 5.3 YPC average on 40 such carries, meaning that Keiti Iakopo, Kevin Atkins and company will have a crucial assignment on their hands. If they can force the Falcons off schedule and create more obvious passing situations, Fresno State should have the upper hand.
2. Get aggressive with the passing game.
For the most part, Air Force has been improved against the pass, allowing 7.3 yards per attempt after giving up 9.0 YPA last fall, but last week’s collapse against Navy proved that there are plays to be made for an offense capable enough to exploit it.
After a strong debut against NMSU, Emoryie Edwards could be primed for an even bigger performance. Or it could be Derrion Grim, who’s already averaging 16.9 yards per catch. Regardless, the ground game’s continued scuffling could put the game in Jorge Reyna’s hands early and leaning on the pass might be the way to get a jump on the Falcons.
3. Stay on the right side of Air Force’s 50/50 shot plays.
Air Force quarterback Donald Hammond III only has 57 attempts to date, but he has created a pass play of more than 20 yards on 17.5% of those throws (by comparison, Reyna has 15 such plays on 146 attempts, a 10.3% rate). Geraud Sanders, perhaps unsurprisingly, leads the Mountain West with 20.9 YPC on his 16 receptions, but Ben Waters owns a staggering 29.9 YPC on his eight catches, as well. They may not be names like Jalen Robinette, but they can make an outsized impact if the Bulldogs aren’t disciplined in coverage.
It is worth noting that, despite the negative highlights foisted upon them by USC and Minnesota, Fresno State has avoided giving up explosive pass plays with just ten 20-plus yards allowed, a rate of 6.5%.
In what looks destined to be one of the weekend’s closest games, Fresno State still feels like one of the Mountain West’s biggest unknowns for a number of reasons. A lot will depend on the defensive front containing Air Force’s ground game, which might be the best they’ve faced so far, but with a Defensive Opportunity Rate that ranks 106th nationally and a Power Success Rate that ranks 105th, counting on that seems like a dicey proposition.
Even if the Bulldogs offense can move the ball, limited opportunities and the Falcons’ strength should give them the slightest of edges.
Air Force 28, Fresno State 24