Mountain Division Clash
Aggies look to stay Perfect in Conference
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WEEK 9: Air Force (5-2) vs. Utah State (5-2)
WHEN: Saturday, October 12 — 8:15 PM PT/7:15 PM MT
WHERE: Falcon Stadium; Colorado Springs, Colorado (46,692)
STREAMING: You can get a free seven-day trial of SlingTV by clicking here.
RADIO: Air Force | Utah State
SERIES RECORD: Air Force 4 wins- Utah State 3
GAME NOTES (PDF): Fresno State | Air Force
ODDS (via OddsShark): Air Force -3.5
SP+ PROJECTION: Air Force by 3.3 (58% win probability)
FEI PROJECTION: Air Force 20.8
The Mountain Division should really take shape after the dust settles from Week 9. Utah State enters the week with an unblemished conference record. They are the only team in the Mountain Division that can say that, aside from that team in Idaho.
While preseason Heisman candidate, Jordan Love has not been able to fulfill that expectation thus far, the Aggie team as a whole has quietly put together a very solid campaign. An ugly loss to LSU and underwhelming play from their star quarterback has seemingly overshadowed a team that is right in the hunt for the Mountain Conference title.
Unlike Utah State, the Falcons need help to get their claws into the Division title race. The Aggies can supply a lot of help to Air Force, and if a loss in Colorado Springs were to be followed by an upset victory over Boise State, that is the kind of help they would need. In the immortal words of Lloyd Christmas “so you’re saying there’s a chance”.
Three Keys to an Air Force Victory
1. Love 2.0 Experience
Jordan Love may not be having the season everyone expected, but there is no doubt he is capable of lighting up a defense. When a player of Love’s talent is having a season like this, there are two methods of thought; Not as good as advertised OR heaven help the team he is playing when it clicks again.
I am more of the latter thinking. Jordan Love’s sample size of success is significantly greater than that of his struggles. Keeping him off of the field and out of rhythm would go a long way to help keep from being “that team”.
I expect there to be some level of success throwing the ball in part due to the inevitable talent the Aggies possess, but also because the Air Force defense has stayed firm against the run. San Jose State’s Josh Love has played great this season, but against the Falcons took a hard loss home with pedestrian statistics. Falcons need Love 2.0.
The Falcons are at a stretch of their schedule which is frankly brutal. The road ahead is loaded with teams that have some serious playmakers on the defensive side of the ball- particularly at linebacker. Utah State will probably pose the most imposing of defensive corps, in particular at linebacker.
Whether it’s Magic Mike Schmidt or Donald Hammond under center, the Air Force offense has to pose a threat through the air to keep this defense honest. That’s not to ignore what is a talented secondary for the Aggies, but success passing for Air Force is usually through the scheme and (lack of) eye discipline.
When the chances are there, the offense has to hit. Otherwise, leaning solely on the run will prove to be a much taller task than they faced last week. The Falcons have the nation’s leader in yards per catch in Geraud Sanders. Don’t act surprised, its kind of an Air Force thing.
3. Make Special Teams not so Special
For all the weapons that the Aggies have on each side of the ball, perhaps the most dangerous is their kick returner, Savon Scarver. Scarver isn’t just an esteemed Mountain West return man, he is widely regarded as one of the countries most dangerous return men.
Scarver gets touches on offense too, but it’s in the return game that he has absolutely torched teams. Playing at altitude, long kicks may go a long way in helping keep the ball out of his hands. Even in the punt game, it would behoove the Falcons to probably lose a little field position to mitigate risk by kicking touchbacks.
Looking at the schedule in the preseason, this is a game on the schedule that gets circled for a lot of reasons. There was so much hype around Jordan Love and perhaps the Aggies as a New Years six team. But in evaluating the schedule, I honestly saw this as a very difficult ask for the Falcons.
I still feel like this is a sleeping giant of sorts. I also believe that the Falcons are hitting their stride. Even if the Aggies start to get their swagger back, if Air Force continues to play as they have, it shouldn’t matter.
Utah State is very capable, if not a favorite to represent the Mountain Division in the Conference Championship. For some reason (not just LSU) they haven’t looked like the juggernaut that I expected.
As a Penn State Alum, naturally I feel good anytime there is a white-out. What better place to participate in that theme than at altitude? Feel the Thunder.