The Ram-Falcon Trophy is on the Line
WEEK 13: Colorado State Rams (1-2) vs. Air Force Falcons 2-2 (1-2)
WHEN: Thursday, November 26 —12 P.M. MT
WHERE: Falcon Stadium, Colorado Springs
SERIES RECORD: Air Force leads the series 36-21-1.
I get as excited as anyone at the prospect of indulging myself in a Thanksgiving feast that brings me to the brink of consciousness. But I am slightly more excited for the afternoon matinee that will be played (fingers crossed) in Colorado Springs.
In a meeting of two teams that sit at 1-2 in the Conference, this game could really start to separate the wheat from the chaff. It doesn’t look like the Rams or the Falcons have a realistic shot at the Conference title (remember, no divisions this year), but with a trimmed down Bowl schedule, this game, and every game after become critical.
Air Force does have the benefit of their out of conference victory over Navy to improve their record. Both of these teams have seen games fall from the schedule due to COVID. The Rams though, have had extra time to prepare for Falcons Triple Option offense due to their cancelled game last week, and this is an offense that has been very problematic for CSU.
Can new CSU coach, Steve Addazio get his team to play the kind of assignment focused defense that’s simply not happened in recent years against Air Force? Or maybe the pressure will be on the Falcons to figure out a way to contain the Rams weapons. Either way, its a trophy game, and both squads are going to want to win. If Air Force wants to keep custody of the Ram-Falcon Trophy, which they have done a very good job of winning 13 of the last 16 meetings, there are a few things to focus on.
Three Keys to an Air Force Victory
1. Prepare to Defend a Multiple Offense
Coming into the season, I wasn’t alone on the Mountain West Wire staff in expecting Patrick O’Brien to be one of the top players in the conference. I’m not prepared to say that confidence was misplaced because he’s been part of a QB carousel so far.
I would expect that trend to continue this week as the Rams like the added running ability that Todd Centeio brings to the quarterback position. As well as Centeio has acquitted himself as a runner, O’Brien is by far the more apt thrower. As irony would have it though, O’Brien also has more rushing touchdowns, in spite of Centeio’s success toting the rock.
At the end of the day, when O’Brien is in, you can expect the conventional power run game that Addazio and staff want to implore at Colorado State, that gets complemented by the pass. They’ve not had a lot of success running in this fashion, which is why you’ve seen Centeio get as much time under center as he has. So when you see him in there, look for the read option to come into play with regularity.
Quarterbacks aren’t the only area you’ll see this team be multiple. They have a Conference standout in Dante Wright, who at receiver poses a threat to run the ball as well as being an excellent pass catcher. The Rams technically have two varieties of their very own version of Brandon Lewis, who does a bit of everything for the Falcons.
The other utility player who figures to play a role in the offense is A’Jon Vivens. Vivens was originally recruited as a receiver out of high school, but because of his athletic ability and necessity, he’s now the primary ball carrier in the offense.
Complemented by a more North-South runner in Marcus McElroy, you can expect the Rams to explore ways to grind out rush yards against the Falcon defense, which is surrendering just over 100 yards on the ground per game.
Air Force has a lot of freshman seeing time on the defensive side of the ball, they are going to have to be prepared to defend a very multiple offense this week, which has plenty of talent.
2. Beware the Tight End(s)
It seems like year after year, the Mountain West is churning really talented tight ends. This season is no different, as one of the best in the country at the position, Trey McBride resides in Fort Collins. The Rams were probably the only team in the Conference that were excited when McBride withdrew his name from the transfer portal earlier this year, to return to CSU.
For both his NFL stock as well as the Rams, his return has been mutually beneficial. Thus far, their stud tight end is averaging nearly 90 yards per game, with four touchdowns to complement his 15.8 yards per catch. All outstanding numbers.
The problem for Air Force won’t just come in the damage that McBride will likely do through the air, but he’s also an extension of their offensive line. The Rams will use multiple tight ends to aid the running game, but McBride is not just a present day pass catcher as a tight end, he’s an excellent blocker as well. He will have to be accounted for whether he is flexed out, or down on the line of scrimmage.
The real Fullback U. https://t.co/cnyqoNEpG8
— Air Force Football (@AF_Football) November 21, 2020
3. Carry On
Even though both teams have allowed 105 yards per game on the ground, the pressure is squarely on Colorado State to improve in this regard. Air Force has had their way running the ball versus the Rams in recent years, and will try to continue that trend again on Thanksgiving.
In their two wins, it’s no coincidence that the fullback run has been devastating for the Falcons. What may be surprising is that Brad Roberts, not Timothy Jackson has been responsible for said damage being inflicted. Jackson has battled injuries all season (and most of his career) which has created opportunities for Roberts, who is averaging seven yards per carry and 140 yards per game.
With an excellent offensive line still intact, the Falcons should be full of confidence in their expectation to run the ball. It looks like Roberts will continue to be the bell-cow, with the pieces around him all getting space with each chunk of yardage he chews up inside.
But for as successful as they were on the ground, in particular last week, they have been very careless with the football. The Falcons fumbled on four consecutive possessions, losing three of them. The most concerning part about this was, none were on a pressured option pitch- instead by conventional contact on poor ball security. These types of turnovers can, have and will lead to very bad things if they persist.
It feels an awful lot like Colorado State is trying to become Addazio era Boston College 2.0. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s necessarily going to be a good thing for Ram fans, as his offense was typically quite anemic.
He’s brought over quite a few players with him from his time on Chestnut Hill, but the transfer player that the Falcons will probably have the most trouble with came from ‘The U’. Scott Patchan has recorded 5.5 TFL’s and 3.5 Sacks. We talk at nausea how tackles for loss can really derail the Falcons offense. Patchan, along with Manny Jones and Dequan Jackson have accounted for 15 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
The ‘Diesels’ will just need to do their thing and keep those defenders at bay as they pave the way for the Air Force contingent of runners. It’s this position group that leads me to believe the Falcons are going to take care of business and deliver a Thanksgiving Day dub. History would suggest the offense is going to hum, even with a change in coaching staff at CSU.
I would also be remised if I didn’t note the big step forward that Haaziq Daniels took last week throwing the ball. Timing, placement and decision making were all markedly improved, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect his game to continue progressing.
These are all things that point to an offensive attack that the Rams just aren’t going to be able to reckon with. The CSU offense may get theirs, but I don’t think it will be matched point for point with Air Force.
These Falcons are the only birds winning on Thanksgiving. Air Force wins its fifth straight against the Rams and sing second.