Will Air Force Make it Three in a Row vs. the Lobos?
Can the Falcons Find Points Against Rocky Long’s Defense?
Game Day Details
Series Record: Air Force 23 wins- New Mexico 14 wins
When: Friday, November 20th @ 7:30 p.m. MT
Where: Falcon Stadium- Colorado Springs, Colorado
How to Watch on TV: FS1
As games continue to fall off of the calendar at an alarming rate, it looks like Air Force will not be stricken by that fate for a third week in a row. Having not played since their loss at the hands of Boise State on the last day of October, everyone is hungry for Friday’s tilt against the New Mexico Lobos.
While both teams enter the matchup winless in Conference play, the Falcons have tasted victory in their opener against Navy. The Lobos on the other hand are still hunting for what has been an elusive first win. Another common factor between the two schools is a loss to San Jose State earlier in the year.
For New Mexico, they have seemed to continue to get better and more competitive each week since losing to the Spartans. And while first year coach, Danny Gonzales isn’t seeking nor celebrating any moral victories, this isn’t a historically successful program.
Coming off of very competitive losses to Hawai’i and Nevada, New Mexico seems to be trending in the right direction, which is cause for optimism among the Albuquerque faithful. By contrast, their win against Navy seems a very distant memory, and Air Force has been backsliding.
Historically, if you were a Mountain West Conference team in need of a win, a game versus the New Mexico Lobos is just what the doctor ordered. Are these those same Lobos, or is their new head coach Danny Gonzales and defensive coordinator and Mountain West legend, Rocky Long going to be able to chart a new path?
It's everyone's favorite tv programming 📺 𝘿𝙞𝙚𝙨𝙚𝙡 𝙉𝙚𝙬𝙨 pic.twitter.com/eeRwi6V8Dz
— Air Force Football (@AF_Football) November 18, 2020
THREE KEYS TO AN AIR FORCE VICTORY
1. Remember – It’s the Lobos not the Aztecs
This may seem broad, but just humor me for a moment. No team has dominated Air Force in recent history like San Diego State did under Rocky Long. That includes Boise State.
San Diego State has taken eight straight versus the Falcons, and 12 of the last 16. Then Aztec coach, Rocky Long deploys a 3-3-5 defensive alignment that proved very problematic for Air Force. So much so that in the last 10 matchups, the Falcons were grounded below 30 points in nine of those games, and under 25 in seven.
I bring this up because New Mexico runs that very same defense under their new defensive coordinator, wait for it….. Rocky Long. The Lobos want their identity to mirror that of those trademark defenses under coach Long.
No, this isn’t San Diego State nor does New Mexico possess the same talent in personnel (thankfully). But that hallmark defense under coach Long has long since been a thorn in the side of Air Force, and if they want to win this game against the Lobos, they are going to need to exercise some demons.
2. Win the TFL Battle
When you run the triple option offense as Air Force does, nothing is more damaging than tackles behind the line of scrimmage. This is not an offense that is designed to throw with regularity, and that is amplified this season with what has thus far proven to be a challenged passing game to say the least.
For the Falcons to ‘do what they do’, the offense has to be in front of the chains and securing positive yardage play after play. Even in modest earnings, those grinding yards will slowly manifest into gashing chunk plays.
So far this season, Air Force has been tackled behind their own line of scrimmage 11 times. That’s about 12 more times than they’d like. And New Mexico by comparison has recorded 14 TFL’s of their own on the season. Coach Lobotzke’s ‘Diesels’ are going to need to pave the way, and keep the Lobos at bay for the offense to find its rhythm.
Conversely, the Falcon defense has made plays in the opposing backfield 10 times on the season. If ever there was a game for the front seven of Air Force to be disruptive in the backfield, its this game. The Lobos have surrendered 22 tackles behind their own line, seven of which were sacks. Air Force needs to find ways to add to those 22 and counting.
3. Limit the Big Play(s)
It’s no secret that Air Force plays a risk-reward style of defense. Coach Rudzinski likes to bring pressure, and this means your defensive backs are often times left out on islands. Some seasons see more success with this scheme than in others. Thus far, this season would fall in the “other” category.
With today’s offenses, you can’t blame a pressure based defense. Rather than allowing these elaborate and largely spread based passing attacks get comfortable distributing the ball, the Falcon’s prefer to hurry the process. So far this has resulted in big pass plays of more than 50 yards in every game this season. This would include multiple 70+ yard bombs as well.
You could blame the blitz for failing to get to the quarterback faster, or maybe you’d hope for better coverage. Either way, the level of efficiency which teams are able to throw the ball versus the Falcons is alarming. Their pass defense is currently 123rd (out of 126 teams), allowing the opposition to rack up a cumulative pass efficiency above 170. For perspective, Trevor Lawrence has a career pass efficiency of 165.
Pressure needs to get home this week and not allow Jordan Kress and Co. to continue ripping off big plays. In fact, you’d love to see Air Force find some sort of passing threat of its own this week, considering New Mexico’s defense ranks only one spot ahead of them in efficiency.
The UNM football team is preparing for Air Force in Las Vegas. https://t.co/SrNRc4Dn48
— KOB 4 (@KOB4) November 19, 2020
A long layoff didn’t seem to impact Air Force much in their game against Navy to start the season. However, the team has not seemed of that version of itself since then. There have been some good things, and glimpses of what could be. But they’ve not been able to really put it all together since.
Last year saw Air Force light up New Mexico with the passing game ironically. Donald Hammond III had a game for the ages, and his receiver tandem of Ben Waters and Geraud Sanders absolutely tormented the defense. Unfortunately, none of those players are on this years roster.
That’s not to say that players like Brandon Lewis and Kyle Patterson couldn’t have big games against the Lobos. The problem is, there has yet to be any throwing emergence from the quarterback position. The running game will always be the straw that stirs their drink, but when this offense has a complementing pass threat, it becomes next level. They are still looking to achieve that level. Perhaps this could be the week?
If the offense wants to create some breathing room for their run game, there has got to be some sort of threat through the air, even if only occasional. Otherwise, expect to see a lot of Lobos around the line of scrimmage, in particular their safeties who will be looking to be disruptive.
I don’t know whether it will be Tevaka Tuioti (injury) or Trae Hall under center for New Mexico, and who knows who will play for Air Force at this point. The depth chart indicated Haaziq Daniels will start, but I’m not sure that Warren Bryan doesn’t see plenty of playing time. Either way, these are the guys who will be largely responsible for the success (or lack of) of their respective teams.
Frankly, there have not been a lot of highly competitive games in the Mountain West so far this season, as results go. But I do think this could be one.
Regardless of whether its Bryan or Daniels under center, I expect the Falcon offense to take another step forward. The offensive line will always be the cornerstone for this team, and with the momentum they gained from their 400 yard rushing output versus Boise, they should carry that through Friday. That along with a little extra time to get healthy (whatever constitutes healthy in this COVID era) and gameplan (ask Navy) for New Mexico, and I think Air Force gets back in the win column.
Air Force 30- New Mexico 28