Florida Atlantic vs. Air Force: Keys to a Falcons Win, How to Watch, Odds, Prediction
Can the Falcons rebound from last week’s heartbreaking defeat?
What should we expect from the Falcons and Owls?
WEEK 4: Florida Atlantic University (2-1) vs. United States Air Force Academy (2-1, 0-1 Mountain West)
WHEN: Saturday, September 24th — 6:00 PM MT/5:00 PM PT
WHERE: Falcon Stadium; Colorado Springs, CO
STREAMING: Fans can sign up to receive a free one-week trial of Fubo, which includes FS2, by following this link.
RADIO: The Air Force broadcast can be found in Colorado Springs on 740 AM (KVOR) or streamed via Air Force All-Access. The Florida Atlantic radio broadcast can be found in South Florida on Fox Sports 640 AM.
SERIES RECORD: Florida Atlantic leads the all-time series, 1-0. In the lone previous meeting on September 8, 2018, the Owls beat the Falcons, 33-27, in Boca Raton.
LAST WEEK: Air Force lost to Utah State 49-45; Florida Atlantic defeated Fordham 45-14
ODDS (as of 9/22, via Caesars Sportsbook): Air Force -4.5
SP+ PROJECTION: FAU by 3.6
FEI PROJECTION: Air Force by 5.6
Week 4 brings us to the battle of the birds! Now in his second year at FAU, Owls coach Willie Taggart brings his high flying fowl to Colorado Springs. Awaiting Taggart’s crew is a Falcon team that is trying to find its way after letting one slip away from them last week against Utah State.
The Owls are only three games in, but with their only defeat coming from a then-top-10 ranked Florida Gators team, FAU looks more formidable than one may have thought prior to the start of the season. Contrary to last year’s team, which relied on a stout defense and a run-heavy offense, the 2021 Owls are exactly what Air Force should not want to see after last week: Another of the country’s top passing attacks.
Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun remarked how different Utah State’s roster looked, compliments of immediate transfer eligibility this year. FAU, too, is a team littered with transfers coming from Penn State, USF, Clemson, Miami and more. But the rejuvenated passing attack is being orchestrated by N’kosi Perry, formerly of “the U”. Now in Boca Raton, Perry is putting up excellent numbers so far this season, ranking 17th nationally in both passing yards (290.3 YPG) and passing touchdowns (seven).
If Air Force wants to avoid a second consecutive defeat, they are going to need a much better response from their defense, as the secondary is going to again be tested early and often. This is a capable Falcons team, but they will need an all around better effort this week, starting with these key areas.
Showing off the speed.
— FAU Football (@FAUFootball) September 19, 2021
Three Keys to an Air Force Victory
1. safeties and linebackers must avoid islands
One of the (many) things the Aggies did effectively in carving up the Air Force defense was to create highly favorable matchups. Utah State may be proving to have a very deep and talented receiver group, but it didn’t hurt that time and again they had isolated coverage matchups against the Falcons linebackers and safeties.
Air Force doesn’t routinely use what are now more conventional sub-packages on defense and that seemed to contribute to a lot of those mismatches for the defenders. That resulted in a lot of Falcon defenders looking at receivers name plates. Improved coverage would obviously help, but the root cause is really about the matchup. FAU runs a high tempo offense that spreads the field, it could be another long day if those same mismatches continue.
2. leave the turnovers to fau
Aside from rushing and defending the run, the Owls are ranked better in every conceivable statistic to date. That alone isn’t going to win a game against Air Force. However, the fact that FAU appears balanced, has been very effective on third down (8th nationally, 55.56%) and inflicts twice as many turnovers (23th nationally, six takeaways) as it relents, certainly could.
Of all the areas just mentioned, turnovers have to be the point of emphasis. Turnovers, one of which came in the end zone, absolutely killed the Falcons last week. While Haaziq Daniels has shown moments of brilliance since becoming a starting quarterback, he has also contributed a lot of turnovers, many of which happened at critical junctions. These have been particularly problematic in games of a more competitive nature, specifically the last two losses.
Protecting the ball on offense will be paramount, but the Falcons defense’s ability to kick in an extra possession or two will go a very long way in augmenting their chances of snatching a W.
3. PLAY KEEPAWAY
The one area that Air Force always has an advantage over their opponent, is in the running game. Against the Owls, this is an area they have to exploit without mercy for four quarters. FAU relents nearly 200 yards per game, yielding double that of the Falcons, and 5.58 yards per carry, an average which currently ranks 125th overall.
Punishing teams for 327 yards per game on the ground so far, Air Force can accomplish a lot by executing their game on Saturday. Long, clock grinding drives will keep the FAU offense off the field, can demoralize the defense and ultimately shrink the game down. This is the key ingredient to their recipe for success.
Putting in work on the ground 💪
— Air Force Football (@AF_Football) September 22, 2021
Just when you think the Falcons are hitting their stride on offense, turnovers and a full-on collapse of what had been a stifling defense snatched defeat from the jaws of victory last week. The Owls have been in the groove the last two weeks, albeit against far lesser competition (Georgia Southern and Fordham). It makes for a really interesting matchup, especially when you look at their contrasting styles on offense.
FAU shredded Air Force through the air in their lone matchup in 2018, even worse than the Aggies did last week. Considering Utah State piled up 448 passing yards on their way to 628 yards of total offense, that is saying something. The Owls will look to replicate that success on Saturday against what would have been unthinkable prior, a suspect Air Force defense.
Despite last weeks collapse, I don’t believe that what we saw from the Falcons defense last Saturday is a true depiction of who they are. That’s not to say there aren’t obvious concerns, but this is a unit with far too many talented and experienced players to let that be their narrative. This is a group that more closely resembles that which opposed Navy than who we saw against Utah State.
With that being said, I also believe that FAU won’t be able to corral the Falcons running attack. With the emergence of a four-headed monster in Haaziq Daniels, Brad Roberts, Emmanuel Michel and Micah Davis, the offense is getting dangerous. This is a confident group that looks like it is only going to get better, so long as they can avoid those costly turnovers. It will help that Justin Rice isn’t going to be playing for the other team on Saturday.
Efficient offense and an improved defensive showing get the Falcons back on track.
Air Force 35, Florida Atlantic 28