Utah State at Air Force: Game Preview
Aggies aim to shoot down Troy Calhoun’s Falcons
Week 8: Utah State (4-2) at Air Force (5-2)
When: Saturday, October 26th, 2019 – 8:15 pm MST
WHERE: Falcon Stadium; Colorado Springs, CO (46,692)
STREAMING: SlingTV – Get a 7-day free trial
RADIO: Utah State radio broadcast on 1280 the zone (1280 AM), 1280thezone.com / Tunein.com
ODDS (via ESPN): Air Force -3.5
Three Keys to an Aggie Victory
1. Stay ahead of the chains
It’s no secret USU’s offense has been inconsistent at completing solid drives this season. While the Aggies have plenty of talent and big bodies, they have gone three and out far more than they should. Against Air Force, that must change or the Falcons will get too many opportunities to practice their triple-option system on USU’s defense.
Thus far, Utah State ranks fourth in the conference in total offense. While this number seems good, there are troubling statistics underneath it. Utah State ranks a middling 58th in the country at 3rd down conversions, converting just over 40% on these tries. A good chunk of those third-down situations have had yardage of six or more yards to go. Against a stingy Falcons run defense, which has only given up 104 yards per game, USU’s offense will have trouble staying on the field unless they have success running on first and second down.
Jaylen Warren needs to shake off the rust from injury and assert himself early. If he doesn’t, USU is at risk of being one-dimensional.
2. Get Jordan Love confidence early
The truth hurts: Jordan Love hasn’t lived up to the hype this season. His touchdown-interception ratio is significantly worse than last season and throws he used to make with ease have been tougher to complete.
Lucky for him, Air Force’s pass defense is a notch below much of the conference. The Falcons check-in at 8th in the conference, allowing 231.6 yards per game and about 7.4 yards per pass. Even better for Love, Air Force hasn’t intercepted many balls, coming in at 9th in the conference.
With the academy’s traditionally smaller secondary, this could be the breakout game we’ve been waiting for from the junior signal-caller. Siaosi Mariner appears to be healthy and Savon Scarver is probably itching for a chance to redeem himself from his disastrous performance against the Falcons last season. Both are quick players that can easily gash the Falcon secondary. Unlike against Nevada last week, they need to catch the balls thrown their way!
3. Continue superior defense and special teams play
Though USU’s offense has been spotty, defense and special teams have gotten better week over week this season. Against hyper-disciplined Air Force, the little details matter tremendously and may open the door for big plays as the game wears on. If the Aggies can keep their defense fresh, so much the better.
On kick returns, USU is flat out making teams pay if they kick to Savon Scarver. Aggies currently rank 2nd in the country behind only Virginia with 34.73 yards per return. Getting solid starting field position will be key to keeping the cadets on their heels defensively. Good returns will help bolster the first two-game keys and perhaps even allow the Aggies to gain real offensive rhythm, something they’ve generally lacked this season.
Christopher Bartolic must continue making great punts, too. Taking over for Pierce Callister against Nevada last week, Bartolic excelled at pinning the Wolf Pack inside the 20-yard line. With five absolute beauties including two punts over 50 yards, flipping the field will at least level the playing field if the Aggie defense needs to spend extra time on the field against a Falcons team that is great at converting on third downs and extending drives.
This very well could be the toughest remaining game of the season for Utah State. The Falcons are undefeated in Colorado Springs and they gave themselves chances against Boise State and Navy on the road. As much of an ass Troy Calhoun is, his teams are traditionally well-coached and tough as nails, and this year is no exception.
I’m expecting a dog fight in Colorado Springs. USU has a marked size advantage over the cadets. However, that can be neutralized by the Falcons with disciplined play and lulling the Aggie defense to sleep with simple running plays. If the Aggies aren’t careful, emerging QB Mike Schmidt could easily gash USU’s suspect secondary the way he did to Hawaii.
Jordan Love is finally going to break out of his funk and the Aggie offense will click just enough to keep the Falcons in a hole. Air Force hasn’t faced a strong defense in their own stadium this year and they’ll feel it come the 26th.
USU 38, Air Force 27