Aggies and Falcons to put 2-0 records on the line this Saturday in Colorado Springs
We are not going to discuss last year’s trainwreck against AFA so don’t ask
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Utah State vs. Air Force: Keys to an Aggie Victory, How to Watch, Odds, Prediction
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: Utah State broadcast — KBLU-LP (92.3 FM Logan) or via 1280thezone.com. Air Force broadcast — 740 AM (KVOR) or streamed via Air Force All-Access.
SERIES RECORD: Air Force leads 5-3
LAST WEEK: Utah State topped North Dakota 48-24, Air Force defeated Navy in Annapolis 23-3.
WEBSITES: UtahStateAggies.com, the official Utah State athletics website | GoAirForceFalcons.com, the official Air Force athletics website
GAME NOTES (PDF): Utah State | Air Force
ODDS (as of 9/15, via Caesars Sportsbook): Air Force -8
SP+ PROJECTION: Air Force by 7.5
FEI PROJECTION: Air Force by 16
Finally, a real test of mettle between two teams eager to add a conference win to their 2-0 resumes. This game likely represents the toughest opponent both Utah State and Air Force have faced in a still-quite-young 2021 season, setting the stage for considerable drama Saturday night in Colorado Springs.
Most team statistics aren’t particularly instructive this early in the year, especially when evaluating an option-heavy service academy team with less than 100 passing yards and six total completions to its credit. Here are some figures that will probably matter if the Aggies want to pass the Air Force test and improve to 3-0.
Good Lord, Don’t Let the Time of Possession Battle Escape You
Blake Anderson’s squad has been sneakily intentional with its TOP this year, typified by a surgical game-winning drive straight through a visibly-gassed Washington State defense back in week 1. Coincidentally, the easiest way to fall behind an Air Force team perennially designed to gain precisely four yards per play is to leave your tired defense on the field for extended drives while the clock evaporates.
This has been the Falcons’ secret sauce for years — a death-by-a-thousand-cuts offense that limits opponents’ scoring opportunities and tests the mental discipline and communication of opposing D-lines and linebacking units for a full 60 minutes.
Fortunately for USU, the Falcons aren’t exactly the intimidating offensive machine they’ve been in years past. They struggled to get going early last week, as Navy (an almost-certainly terrible football team, by the way) forced five (5) consecutive Air Force punts to start the game — including a trio of 3-and-outs — before the Falcons finally ended the punt parade with a four-play, 5-yard drive that ended in a missed field goal. AFA entered the halftime break with a whopping 65 yards of total offense.
Now, there’s obviously a measure of familiarity among the service academies that might account for some of AFA’s difficulties, but with the superior talent USU boasts on its defensive line and a linebacking unit gelling more quickly than anyone anticipated, this could easily turn into a surprising statement game for the Aggies — IF they keep the time of possession battle balanced through all four quarters.
Bonner and Co. Can’t Afford Turnovers
While the Aggie defense’s ability to slow down a difficult option offense is easily the 1A storyline to this game, QB Logan Bonner and RB Calvin Tyler Jr. being tasked with solving a defense that’s allowed just 17 total points this season could prove an equally dicey challenge for a young USU squad.
Air Force has yet to turn the ball over this year, so winning the turnover battle is almost certainly a matter of the Aggies matching that level of discipline within their own offense. This is the most boring and perhaps obvious key to every game, but it’s especially true this weekend — Air Force appears incredibly beatable if Bonner and the Aggie backfield can simply take care of the football.
Bonner doesn’t have to be perfect, but avoiding costly interceptions (he’s already thrown two) and keeping the chains moving enough to make the most of this game’s limited possessions is a must. The Aggie offense can’t afford to put their defensive brethren in a position to fail with turnovers in their own territory.
The Aggie D-Line Needs to Put the MW on Notice
—And I don’t just mean they should make their presence felt in this game against a suspect AFA offensive line. This a critical juncture in the Aggies’ season, and a chance to earn back some of their early-2010s reputation as a defense that can rip straight through its opponent’s best-laid plans in the ground game.
The Falcons will attack with a whole stable of capable runners, including leading rusher Brad Roberts (team-high 54 attempts, 2TDs, 3.9 YPC) junior QB Haaziq Daniels (33 rushes, 4TDs, 3.7 YPC) and big-play WR threat Micah Davis (8 rushes, 2TDs, 14.3 YPC).
Utah State’s front seven has been the most impressive aspect of this fun 2-0 start, and if the party in other teams’ backfields continues they can look to build on the 15 tackles-for-loss they’ve already accrued this season. Add in all-conference caliber play from LB Justin Rice and the fact that Air Force is starting five brand new starters on its OL, and you’ve got the recipe for a potential Aggie upset.
Look, this time last month I didn’t think the Aggies had a shot at starting 3-0. But the CFB landscape shifts quickly, and I’m expecting a stingy defense to take on a Falcons squad that looks nothing like the team that squashed USU so convincingly last year (a game which we shall never speak of again). The odds are probably closer than you think, and when you have an opportunity to buy in on a fun team aiming to shock the conference, you gotta do it.
Here’s to Blake Anderson keeping his perfect start at USU alive, and to Bonner tossing a pair of TD passes in a 27-23 nailbiter over Air Force on the road.