Can USU keep the momentum rolling against the Cadets?
WEEK 14: Air Force Falcons (2-2) vs. Utah State Aggies (1-4)
WHEN: Thursday, December 3rd —7:30 P.M. MT
WHERE: Maverik Stadium (25,100) – Logan, Utah
RADIO: Utah State radio broadcast on 1280 the zone (1280 AM), 1280thezone.com / Tunein.com
SERIES RECORD: USU trails 3-5
ODDS (via BetMGM): Air Force -11.5
Three Keys to an Aggie Victory
1. Succeed on Third Down Defense
Utah State has struggled mightily on defense this season, but this has been more apparent on third down than anywhere else. When combined with USU’s subpar run defense, the 98th NCAA ranking looks even more hideous. The Aggies’ opponents have converted on 46% of their third down attempts, which is absolutely not going to cut it against a run heavy team like the Falcons.
We’ve seen this defense get gashed time and again this season and they’ll need to man up in a hurry to have a shot at stopping the triple option. With DT Marcus Moore likely out for the game, a suspect D-line will have to work even harder than before to stay in their gaps and push back a solid Falcon rushing attack. The Aggies can ill afford to give up large conversions on the ground if they want to stay in this game.
2. Force the Falcons to air it out
Last year in Colorado Springs, the Aggies got embarrassed by Donald Hammond III. Not only was the stud QB able to run all over the Aggies, he made it look easy in leading his team to a 31-7 romp on a cold, windy night.
Though Hammond was dismissed from the team earlier this season, this doesn’t make the Falcons any less of a threat on the ground. They will pound at you all night long and force you to commit extra bodies in the box to slow their ground game down, regardless of who is captaining the offense. Haaziq Daniels has answered the call at QB valiantly this season, passing for 199 yards and one TD on just 31 pass attempts. It’s not his preferred mode of attack in the triple-option offense, but the Aggies need to make a point of making it his lifeblood in this game.
If the Aggies can get the Falcons into third-down situations, they need to ensure they are passing downs and not rushing downs. The Aggie secondary has struggled with giving up big plays and making sturdy tackles. They need to stay disciplined and maintain eye control on receivers that can burn them with just one extra step.
We’ve seen Daniels go off on the ground plenty, and he becomes even more dangerous when he’s effectively relieved for running spells by Brad Roberts. Though he’s only played in two games, he’s more than made up for lost time with stellar production. Roberts has garnered four TDs on the ground spread across 280 rushing yards, good for more than seven yards per carry. USU’s defenders need to tackle much better than before and minimize the damage he’s going to do on the ground or it will be a repeat of last year’s debacle.
3. Stay creative on offense
Andrew Peasley surprised Aggie fans last week with a strong performance against New Mexico. He not only effectively ran the ball, but he also threw some dimes and scored touchdowns on big pass plays as well. Because of his dynamic playmaking, he was able to spread out the Lobos’ defense and take whatever they gave him. That needs to continue against a solid pass defense from the Falcons, who are giving up a respectable 219.5 yards per game through the air.
USU’s running game has clicked lately, so it’s important to keep giving touches to Devontae Henry-Cole. Against a strong Falcon run defense, he needs to help make that all-important third down as manageable as possible for Peasley. With the Aggie receiving corps getting more looks as of late, shorter passes and an occasional gadget play is critical to keeping the Falcons honest. The Aggies have some speedsters in their midsts like Savon Scarver and Jordan Nathan and it’s high time the offense finds a way to get them involved as much as possible.
Even an occasional jet sweep or QB draw could yield success if only because hardly any teams expect the Aggies to do that. Being vanilla is not an option when you have an inferior team but still want to win.
The Aggies have been bad at stopping the run this season. This already puts them at a big disadvantage against the Falcons. USU has little hope or reason to believe they can stop the Falcons, but they do have good reason to believe they can at least keep up and maintain the pace.
Peasley showed against the Lobos that he will play better as the game goes on as long as he has confidence. He got it in steady doses against a terrible New Mexico defense. Against the Falcons, it’s a completely different story and he needs to manufacture offensive yards (and points) anyway he can. He’ll need to strike the balance between being a hero and sharing the load with his teammates.
I expect the Aggies to compete better than they did last year in Colorado Springs, even with substantially less talent than last year’s team. USU will give up a lot of yards, but they have a great chance of picking up a lot of yards as well with a rejuvenated offensive style. Unfortunately, every possession matters against a clock controlling team like Air Force. The Aggies haven’t generated many turnovers this season and it seems unlikely that trend will improve against the Falcons.
It won’t be a disaster, but this game will not be a win for the Aggies.
USU 24, Air Force 42