Air Force vs. San Jose State: Three Keys to a Spartans Win
The Spartans will begin their 2020 football season by hosting Air Force. Here’s our preview of how SJSU can beat the Falcons.
The Spartans get a test right away.
WEEK 8: Air Force Falcons (1-0) vs. San Jose State Spartans (0-0)
WHEN: Saturday, October 24 — 7:30 PM PT/8:30 PM MT
WHERE: CEFCU Stadium; San Jose, California
STREAMING: Fans can sign up to receive a free one-week trial of Fubo, which includes FS1, by following this link.
You can also find the audio broadcast on TuneIn.
RADIO: The San Jose State broadcast can be found on 90.5 FM (KSJS) in and around San Jose and on the flagship KDOW (1220 AM and 96.3 FM) out of Palo Alto. The Air Force broadcast can be found in and around Colorado Springs on 740 AM (KVOR) and in Denver on 104.3 FM.
For satellite radio consumers, the game can also be found on XM channel 384.
SERIES RECORD: Air Force leads the series 4-1. In the last meeting on September 27, 2019, the Falcons defeated the Spartans, 41-24, in Colorado Springs.
ODDS (as of 10/22, via Vegas Insider): Air Force -7
SP+ PROJECTION: Air Force by 8.1 (68% win probability)
FEI PROJECTION: Air Force by 17.6
San Jose State had to wait a little longer than they wanted for their chance to take another step forward in the 2020 season, but the Spartans are now set to get things underway by hosting the Air Force Falcons.
On the one hand, perhaps it’s a blessing that the Spartans will get first crack at an opponent for which film already exists. Air Force turned in a strong performance at home against Navy a few weeks ago and looks like they’ll be a strong competitor for one of the two spots in the Mountain West title game.
On the other, San Jose State has had to go to great lengths to prepare for the season and will still have its hands as full as ever with the Falcons’ potent ground attack. Here’s how the Spartans can start with a win over Air Force.
Three Keys to a San Jose State Victory
1. Stop the fullback dive.
Spartans fans who watched the Falcons romp over Navy a few weeks ago are aware that the Air Force running game is as potent as ever, especially when it comes to going right after their opponent up the gut. Taven Birdow had a field day doing just that in last year’s defeat, going off for 124 rushing yards and two scores on 25 carries, all of which were career highs.
There’s going to be a lot of pressure on the trio manning the interior — Jay Kakiva, Lando Gray and Cameron Alexander — to keep the Falcons’ guards and center from walling them off and enabling Timothy Jackson and Brad Roberts to run free. Clogging the running lanes will enable inside linebackers Kyle Harmon and Tyson Parker to clean up more easily, even if the Spartans front can’t always push the Falcons backwards. Giving up three yards is much better than giving up six or seven.
One wrinkle that could have an outsized impact is that Air Force’s Nolan Laufenberg will not play in this game, as COVID-19 contact tracing protocols will have him sit as a precautionary measure.
2. Don’t be afraid to let Nick Starkel cook.
Starkel’s time at Arkansas may have colored the consensus opinion about him, but head coach Brent Brennan has given him better weapons to work with than Chad Morris ever did. Offensive coordinator Kevin McGiven is also in a much better position to attack the reloading Air Force secondary than Navy was, so leading with the pass is still the likely best option.
For one, his interception rate in 2019 (5.8%) is probably going to regress to the mean. By comparison, his 2.9% INT rate at Texas A&M in 2017 is fairly comparable to what former Hawaii quarterback Cole McDonald did last fall, so smart decision making and a willingness to get aggressive could help put the Falcons on their heels.
3. Make the Falcons work for their points.
A lot of things went right for the Spartans in 2019, but one thing that was a disappointment was punter Alex Galland, who averaged just 39.7 yards per punt and saw his lone kick against the Falcons last fall travel only 24 yards. Granted, Air Force didn’t have much trouble moving the ball no matter where they started, but it’s worth noting that they managed just one scoring drive in the four instances where they started inside their own 25-yard line.
Enter Elijah Fischer, the freshman specialist who will replace Galland this fall. In the event that the Spartans offense stalls, whatever ability he has to pin the Falcons deep would be a huge favor for the San Jose State defense. He may not be a big name in a conference flush with top-notch kickers, but he could be crucial to a strong start.
There’s no doubt that the Spartans will still rely on its offensive skill players to make noise in the Mountain West this fall, but there’s just enough uncertainty about the quarterback position that you can pretty easily talk yourself into seeing them stall or, worse, take a step back from last year’s progress. And until the defensive front proves it can stop the run more consistently, it’s a tough sell to assume they will against a Falcons offense that already looked pretty strong in its own opener.
San Jose State should still look competitive, but I expect they’ll fall just short.
Air Force 35, San Jose State 24