Utah State vs. Air Force: Keys to a Falcons Win, How to Watch, Odds, Prediction
The Falcons and Aggies both kickoff conference play at 2-0. How can Air Force claim the inside track in the Mountain division?
What should we expect from Air Force vs. Utah State?
WEEK 3: Utah State Aggies (2-0) vs. United States Air Force Academy (2-0)
WHEN: Saturday, September 18th — 5:30 PM MT/4:30 PM PT
WHERE: Falcon Stadium; Colorado Springs, CO
RADIO: The Air Force broadcast can be found in Colorado Springs on 740 AM (KVOR) or streamed via Air Force All-Access. The Utah State broadcast can be found on KBLU-LP (92.3 FM Logan) or streamed via 1280thezone.com / Tunein.com.
SERIES RECORD: Air Force 5 Wins – Utah State 3 Wins
LAST WEEK: Air Force defeated Navy in Annapolis, 23-3, while Utah State beat North Dakota at home, 48-24.
ODDS (as of 9/15, via Caesars Sportsbook): Air Force -8
SP+ PROJECTION: Air Force by 7.5
FEI PROJECTION: Air Force by 16
We’re already at that point of the season where Mountain West football contenders start to sort things out on the field. While the Utah State Aggies and Air Force Falcons enter Saturday’s contest with unblemished records, both teams are still sorting things out.
Utah State is coming off of a forgettable 2020 campaign, but with a nice Power 5 victory over Washington State to start the year, the Aggies look poised to rebound well under new head coach Blake Anderson. Even their victory last week over North Dakota from the FCS is encouraging when you consider how bad the Aggies were last year.
Air Force, on the other hand, is fresh off of an emotional and convincing win over Navy that was played on the 20th anniversary of 9/11 in Annapolis. Normally, a win over Navy is a big deal, but this may be a historically bad Midshipmen team we are seeing in 2021. So while the Falcons handled Navy, there are still a lot of questions looming as they prepare to open conference play.
It’s too soon to declare Utah State as a contender, but this is not a team that will resemble the squad that Air Force embarrassed a year ago. If the Falcons want to keep hopes of a Mountain division title alive, they can’t look past the Aggies at the starting line.
Saturdays at Falcon Stadium >>> pic.twitter.com/RtdaJ4PlLd
— Air Force Falcons (@AF_Falcons) September 16, 2021
Three Keys to an Air Force Victory
1. GET THE OFFENSE ON TRACK
With the dominant effort that the Falcons defense delivered against Navy, it’s unrealistic to expect the offense to match that output. However, the offense enjoyed a lot of opportunities with very little pressure from the scoreboard, but struggled to put the Mids away until later in the game.
There is something to be said for familiarity between military schools when they play one another, but the Falcons still should have found more success offensively than we saw. Dropped passes didn’t help their cause, but the real concern came in the struggles that a completely overhauled offensive line had creating holes for the run game, particularly in the first half.
Taking time to gel is a given for an offensive line featuring all five new starters, and the good news is that we started to see it as the game wore on. It will be important for the Diesels to get moving early against an Aggie defense which hosts another elite player at linebacker in Justin Rice, as well as a revamped front seven which already has 15 tackles for loss in two games.
2. LIMIT THE BIG PLAYS
When Blake Anderson arrived in Logan, he didn’t inherit a loaded team. He also didn’t assume a team that was completely void of offensive talent. What Anderson did to help the cause was import talent by way of the transfer portal. Most notable are two players who were responsible for an offense that recorded the most 20+ yard completions in 2020 at Arkansas State in Logan Bonner and Brandon Bowling. While Bonner split time with Layne Hatcher last year at Arkansas State, they were both responsible for this aerial assault.
The Aggies have already shown their offense is improved in all aspects from last season, and with a solid corps of receivers in particular, Air Force needs to be on high alert. The Falcons have a defense that will rival any in the conference, but they aren’t playing Navy this week.
— Gazette Sports (@CSGazetteSports) September 15, 2021
3. NO SCARVER, NO SCARS
The Falcons also have plenty to figure out on special teams in this young season. It would be ill-advised to try and remedy anything that affords a ball departed by foot into the hands of Savon Scarver. The Aggies have possibly the most electric return man in the country, and truly one of the best to ever do it in Scarver. He’s a single return for a touchdown away from the All-time NCAA record.
The Falcons usually do a great job of allowing the analytics to dictate their approach on special teams, meaning they ensure field position in their own return game and have a healthy respect for that of the opposition. Simply put, do not kick to Scarver; let him set records at someone else’s stadium.
In back-to-back weeks, Air Force is going to be facing two of the better linebackers in the country. Last week, it was Diego Fagot and on Saturday it will be Justin Rice. This won’t be Rice’s first game against the Falcons, either: Back in 2019, he played for a Fresno State team that took an L against Air Force but collected a season-high 13 tackles. If they can limit his damage to tackles across the line of scrimmage without collecting turnovers, it will go a very long way for the offense.
One of the things that can’t be ignored is the progress that Haaziq Daniels has made under center. While the Aggies feature a quarterback who’s been a decorated all-conference player in the past, Daniels is just starting to come into his own. From improvisational runs to a matured approach to the pass game, there is a lot to like in his game. Hopefully, his receivers got the “drops” out of their system last week, because it was a very apparent issue that reared on multiple perfectly placed throws from the Air Force quarterback.
Between the offensive output from Daniels, Brad Roberts and crew along with a dominant defense, there are a few more indicators pointing to a Falcon win as I look at this matchup. Recent history would also suggest Air Force will be up to task in this matchup.
The Aggies are an improved team, and I believe they’ll be bowl eligible come December. But one of those six (or more) victories shouldn’t come in Colorado Springs. Expect a good one Saturday.
Air Force 27, Utah State 21