Air Force vs. San Diego State: Keys to a Falcons Win, How to Watch, Odds, Prediction
The Aztecs and Falcons Meet for a Mountain West Prizefight
What should we expect from the Falcons vs. the Aztecs
WEEK 8: United States Air Force Academy (6-1, 3-1 Mountain West) vs. San Diego State University (6-0, 2-0 Mountain West)
WHEN: Saturday, October 23rd — 5:00 PM MT/4:00 PM PT
WHERE: Falcon Stadium — Colorado Springs, CO
STREAMING: Fans can sign up to receive a free one-week trial of Fubo, 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 San Diego State broadcast will air locally on 101.5 KGB / XTRA 1360.
SERIES RECORD: Air Force leads the all-time series 19-17. San Diego State has won the last eight meetings, the most recent matchup was played in 2018.
LAST WEEK: Air Force defeated Boise State 24-17, while San Diego State beat San Jose State 19-13 in OT.
ODDS (as of 10/20, via Caesars Sportsbook): Air Force -3.5
SP+ PROJECTION: Air Force by 1.1
FEI PROJECTION: Air Force by 9.9
Week eight brings three very significant matchups in Conference Play for the Mountain West, as the top six teams in the standings will be facing off. While Nevada and Fresno State will create separation in the West Division, Colorado State and Utah State will be sorting things out for the Mountain side of the Conference.
While those two intra-division games are being played, San Diego State will be in Colorado Springs, taking on Air Force in a cross divisional matchup with a lot at stake. Neither team can afford to lose ground with very tight divisional races, though the Aztecs have an unblemished record as they sit atop the West division, so they do have a little more margin for error.
Brady Hoke leads a San Diego State team that is the best in the country at stopping the run into ‘The Springs’ on Saturday. They, also surrender just 16 points per game, which is good enough for 10th nationally. And if you have been keeping up with the Mountain West Wire’s own Jeremy Mauss, which you surely should be, it looks like coach Hoke has heard Jeremy’s plight, as they announced Lucas Johnson will get the start at quarterback this week.
The Aztecs are very similar to the Falcons in that, their offense wants to control the game on the ground, and then it is complimented by an absolutely stifling defense. Where they have a distinct advantage over Air Force, is complementary special teams to really balance the team out. San Diego State features one of the nations best special teams units, and they have done a great job in particular at capitalizing on a field position advantage that Matt Araiza and the punting unit have been able to gain.
It’s not as if the Falcons haven’t been battle tested by stiff competition this year, but the Aztecs will likely pose the most formidable to date. This is especially true for the defensive resistance in tandem with the special teams they will encounter. If Air Force wants to end the eight game skid versus San Diego State, it will require successful execution on multiple fronts.
Congrats to @matt_araiza for being named to the @AP_Top25 Midseason All-America team. Araiza and @CameronThomas44 also on @TheAthletic's midseason All-America second-team. #Win22 https://t.co/jBdswgHEpe
— San Diego State Football (@AztecFB) October 19, 2021
Three Keys to an Air Force Victory
1. STAY 3rd and managable
Air Force currently has the top offense at converting third downs in the Conference, clicking at 46%. San Diego State on the other hand is allowing just 26% of conversions. Something will have to give in this area, and for the Falcons to keep on schedule and converting at that high rate, they must keep 3rd downs at a manageable distance.
This recipe is no secret, it is at the core of what Air Force wants to do. In a game that should see limited possessions for both teams, the Falcons will need to keep ahead of the chains against a stingy defense, that will likely be working with 80 yards of field, or better behind them. Otherwise, we could be looking at a field position game that would greatly favor the Aztecs.
2. keep the pig off the grass
There can be a certain element of luck attributed to fumble recoveries. Air Force has had good fortune considering their 11 fumbles this year have only resulted in turnovers three times. Taking it a step further, this doesn’t include Haaziq Daniels two mulligans this year, which errant option pitches wound up in the hands of the opposing defense. As luck would have it, replay suggested the pitches were forward and deemed incomplete passes.
Daniels and the offense would do very well to covet ball security against the Aztecs. While they have only recovered two fumbles on the year, this would not be a good time to see that number go up, against a very opportunistic defense. San Diego State has lost four fumbles on the year, which is half of the time they put it on the ground.
Getting on those 50/50 fumble odds and stealing a possession for their offense could be a decided difference in the outcome of the game for the Falcons.
3. red zone needs to equal end zone
Air Force is 10th in the Conference and 77th nationally when it comes to converting in the red zone. This is a statistic that is impacted by poor execution from the kicking game all year long, including many “chip shots”. Those three point opportunities will be critical in a game that points and possessions will be at a premium.
While improvements from the kicking game would be great, not only are there more reasons to lack confidence in that providence, but this is a game which the Falcons really need to find the endzone. Not necessarily because the Aztecs are going to light up the scoreboard, though they do average more points per game; but because there simply will be a finite amount of opportunities to red zone, much less the end zone. Those opportunities must be realized with touchdowns, and successful extra points.
𝘍𝘢𝘴𝘵 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘧𝘶𝘳𝘪𝘰𝘶𝘴 💥
— Air Force Football (@AF_Football) October 21, 2021
Despite ESPN’s inability to see this game for what it is; the hands-down most deserving to host College Gameday on Saturday, that won’t detract from what promises to be a fantastic, physical specimen of game.
The Aztecs bring the nations top run defense, to face the Falcons rushing offense which happens to be the best in the country as well. Something has to give. And for all the celebrating of San Diego States defense, it’s easy to forget that Air Force features one of the nations top defensive units, top 12 in many critical categories; scoring (12th) , run defense (10th) and total defense (11th).
Turnovers are always a Air Force is 28-4 over last seven seasons when forcing two or more turnovers. They are currently ranked 10th nationally in turnover margin, while the Aztecs are 38th. It’s not that either of these teams turn the ball over a ton, but in a game this close, those possession arrow changers will loom large. This is an area that could favor the Falcons at the rate that Corvan Taylor, Vince Sanford and crew have churned out turnovers.
The biggest deciding factor in my assessment is between these two offenses. Air Force will have to claw for every inch, but this isn’t anything new to them. They have faced some very good run defenses, and while none may be as stout as the Aztecs, like water traversing a rock, they will find their creases. And even with the change at quarterback for San Diego State, I don’t believe there is enough evidence to suggest their offense is going to have the kind of success that will outpace what Air Force can accomplish when they have the ball.
Welcome to the top 25 Air Force. You’ll have surely earned it.
Air Force 23- San Diego State 17