Can the Falcons outflank the Spartans?
Air Force tries to carry momentum from their victory over Navy
Game Day Details
Series Record: Air Force 4 wins- San Jose State 1 win
When: Saturday, October 24th @ 8:30 p.m. MT
Where: CEFCU Stadium- San Jose, California
How to Watch on TV: Fox Sports1 (FS1)
After watching most of the college football landscape ease their way into the season, its finally time for the Mountain West Conference join the party. Like most other conferences the Mountain West will be predominantly intra-Conference scheduling, particularly in their ‘official’ kickoff weekend.
Air Force happens to be the outlier, as they were granted exception to play in the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy series, even when the rest of the Conference put a halt on the season. The Falcons now with an emphatic victory over Navy under their belt, set sights for San Jose.
While the Spartans didn’t enjoy the fruits of game experience in 2020 prior to playing Air Force, there is still plenty of intrigue on their corner of California. San Jose State landed former Arkansas quarterback, Nick Starkel via the transfer portal, just a calendar year after beating him and his Hogs last fall. And even if he splits time with Nick Nash, they have arguably the best receiver in the conference in Tre Walker to throw the ball to.
These two teams met last year, and saw Air Force dominate the Spartans by a final of 41-24. There will be a lot of players from San Jose State who played in that game, unfortunately for them, All-Conference quarterback Josh Love will not be one of them. On the other side, as its been well documented, the Falcons have a near complete overhaul with new personnel starting on defense.
— Air Force Football (@AF_Football) October 21, 2020
Three Keys to an Air Force Victory
1. Allow Your Offense to Dictate
Its no secret that Air Force wants to run the ball. With a stable of very talented running backs, their offensive line becomes a real point of emphasis. It is worth noting, they will be playing without one of the nations top lineman, Nolan Laufenberg, who is out due to regulations around COVID tracing.
The Falcons regularly platoon lineman throughout games, and the experience depth players get by virtue of that really pays off in cases like this. Whether Britton Beasley, Hawk Wimmer or McKenly O’Neal step in to start, they will try and impose their will on the ground.
In their game versus Navy, it was the inside run game that continually gashed the defense, especially as the game wore on. It will be interesting to see if they will be able to get the ball on the outside for some big plays, or will the Spartan D try and force the game inside. Either way, another 500+ yard performance by the Falcons would very likely ruin San Jose State’s weekend again.
2. Mitigate Air Damage
Even though the Spartans will be breaking in a new starting quarterback, both Nick Starkel and Nick Nash have plenty of experience. Starkel in particular has been a regular starter in the SEC. Albeit for a recent Mountain West whipping boy, Arkansas Razorbacks team.
Regardless of who is under center, their passing game should be respected. Beyond featuring one of the nations top pass catchers in Tre Walker, they have a great supporting cast that starts with Bailey Gaither. The Falcons kept them bottled up last season, but that was largely in part because of how dominant their ground game was, and they controlled the clock.
The recipe from last year should not be discarded. The Falcon offense will be a great aid to the defense if they can control the clock and limit possessions. Coach Rud’s defense will have to dial up the pressure and keep the kitchen warm for the San Jose quarterbacks. Its a risk-reward approach that has paid off, and could continue to pay dividends.
3. Get Ahead and Stay Ahead
For as much confidence as the Air Force offense should have in their run game, the pass game is very much a work in progress. While there are pass catchers who may be able to make an impact, a lot of the work that goes into getting the ball into their hands is yet to be perfected.
Haaziq Daniels operated the offense well in their opener versus Navy, but the pass game never did look to be a threat. Granted, it was Daniels first game action, and for the most part they really didn’t have to pass. But late in the first half, the offense was fortunate to avoid turnovers with multiple ill-advised throws. Daniels and the pass game are only going to get better, and more dangerous as the run game catches gear.
All of this to say, I would not recommend being forced to accelerate the development of that passing game by falling behind by multiple scores early.
A successful Falcon run game will cover a multitude of sins. As the other facets of their game come together, the run game is the foundation that their temple is built upon. While there are returning players on the Spartan defense, they also lost a lot of tackles from last season. And I am quickly reminded that it was a defense that got shredded by Air Force.
The Air Force defense performed so exceedingly versus Navy, and I am trying to temper my enthusiasm as they move into Conference play. Even if they do relent some big plays to the pass game in particular, I believe the front seven can be disruptive enough to make things difficult on the opposition.
The Cadets from Colorado Springs jumped right into game shape in spite of a late start to the season. That combined with the absence of a history that would suggest San Jose State is putting things together gives me confidence that Air Force will be taking care of business on Saturday night. Falcons win. Falcons cover. Falcons continue the nations longest win streak.
Air Force 31- San Jose State 21