Air Force vs. UNLV: Keys to a Falcons Win, How to Watch, Odds, Prediction
Can the Falcons Stay Alive in the Mountain Division Title Hunt?
What should we expect from Air Force vs. UNLV
WEEK 13: UNLV Rebels (2-9, 2-5 Mountain West) vs. Air Force Falcons (8-3, 5-2 Mountain West)
WHEN: Friday, November 26 — 12:30 PM PT/1:30 PM MT
WHERE: Falcon Stadium; Colorado Springs, CO
WEATHER: Sunny, high of 61 degrees
TV: CBS Sports Network
STREAMING: Fans can sign up to receive a free one-week trial of Fubo, which includes CBSSN, by following this link.
RADIO: The Air Force broadcast can be found in and around Colorado Springs on 740 AM (KVOR). The UNLV broadcast can be found in and around Las Vegas on ESPN 1100 AM and 100.9 FM.
SERIES RECORD: Air Force leads the all-time series 16-6. In the last meeting on October 19, 2018, the Falcons defeated the Rebels, 41-35, in Las Vegas.
LAST WEEK: UNLV lost at home against San Diego State, 28-20, while Air Force defeated Nevada on the road in triple overtime, 41-39.
ODDS (as of 11/23, via Vegas Insider): Air Force -18
SP+ PROJECTION: Air Force by 19.4
FEI PROJECTION: Air Force by 18.9
— Mountain West (@MountainWest) November 22, 2021
It all comes down to this! The Mountain West’s regular season schedule concludes this weekend, and it will be the final hurdle for aspiring Divisional winners, and thus Conference Champions.
This is ideally what you want in a competitive Conference; the full 13 week schedule needed to crown a champion. Sure, UNLV may not have another game on the calendar again until 2022, but they will have a hand in deciding the Mountain Division Champions for 2021. With a three-way tie atop the Mountain Division between Utah State, Boise State and Air Force, each teams game this week is a true must win.
Of the three Mountain Division contenders, Utah State looks to have the path of least resistance to stay alive in the race, as they take on a feeble New Mexico Lobos team. Boise State on the other hand will be playing for their own division title, and also influencing the West’s, as they take on San Diego State. Far and away the tallest order of all the Mountain Division leaders needing a victory.
The Aztecs and Fresno are both in play for the West Division, so the Conference is truly wide open. Specific to the Mountain Division though, it’s a bit messy when you look at how it will shake down based on the various possible outcomes. Thankfully our good friend Matthew Kenerly has that all covered here, a highly suggested read. The bottom line for Air Force fans; a Falcons victory is the first step to more likely outcomes that will result in a Division title.
Now, lets get down to business! The Falcons aren’t going to walk out of Falcon stadium with a victory, by just showing up. Contrary to their record, the Reb’s have been playing much better, winning two of their last three games. And that loss by the way, came against San Diego State by the same margin as Air Force lost to the Aztecs (by 8 points). In fact, of their nine defeats, six of them were by a single score or less. Some of those “quality losses” as the CFP Committee likes to coin them, came against San Diego State, Utah State, UTSA and Fresno State.
The Rebels weren’t exactly world beaters either of the last two times they played Air Force (2017 and 2018), but in both games they held leads before eventually succumbing to the Falcons by a combined 10 points between the two losses. And while it has been quarterback by committee for UNLV this year, it will be Air Force who comes limping into the matchup with starters and key contributors alike on both sides of the ball, who won’t be able to go on Friday.
Once again, the mettle and depth of the Troy Calhoun’s squad is going to be tested. If they want to add an extra game onto their schedule before their Bowl matchup, it’s going to have to start with a very sound effort against the Rebels.
Three Keys to an Air Force Victory
1. KEEP CHARLES WILLIAMS IN CHECK
Even though the Rebels haven’t lighting up the scoreboard, it’s not for a complete absence of artillery. One of the best running backs in the conference resides in Las Vegas, and he’s already accounted for 1,000 yards on the ground. Charles Williams has been the one consistent at UNLV for a while now. His 102 rush yards per game are second only to Air Force’s very own Brad Roberts.
The Falcons run defense is 2nd in the Conference and 6th nationally. However, in their losses to San Diego State and Utah State, yards on the ground were had by the opposition. Balance provided by a very efficient Cameron Friel and the Reb’s pass game will only make Williams more dangerous. Williams is the playmaker who should demand the defenses attention.
2. Score JACE WATERS (#18) OR BETTER
Statistically speaking, teams that score more than 17 points against UNLV beat them. When you consider that UNLV has only won two games, and both of which they held the competition to 17 and 13 respectively, maybe this ‘key to victory’ loses its luster.
However, it’s worth noting that in their nine losses (one of which came against Eastern Washington of the FCS), UNLV surrendered 35 points per game on average. For an offense that struggles mightily, barely averaging 20 points per game, the Air Force offense is more than equipped to score at clip that would challenge the Rebels greatly to keep pace.
In case your wondering, in their three losses, the Falcons scored 14, 14 and 45. For further context, those two 14 point affairs were against Army and San Diego State. UNLV is akin to neither.
3. GAMBLE AGAINST VEGAS
In two of their three losses, Air Force leaned to a side of conservative play that’s not conventionally their identity. The Falcons normally make a living on both third and fourth down, with short yardage to go. Reason being, their offense operates great on a four down schedule, not accounting for one down allocated to special teams.
UNLV has a defense that isn’t going to make things easy on the Falcons early. But it’s important to keep the offense moving, to help build an early lead. Getting the Rebels behind early can translate to a lower volume of carries for Charles Williams, and thus a whole lot of sideline time for their offense.
Air Force Diesel Among 13 Semifinalist for 2021 Joe Moore Award https://t.co/4bAQgw2aaj
— Air Force Football (@AF_Football) November 23, 2021
I don’t know if this is one of this “UNLV has nothing to play for, while Air Force has everything”, but there certainly is far more on the line for the Falcons. Pressure doesn’t always yield diamonds, but this Air Force team is battle tested.
There are some promising young players for the Rebels who are going to want to move into the offseason on a high note, and one of those players, Brennan Scott could make life very difficult for the Air Force offense. Scott was the most highly rated recruiting commit in the entire Mountain West Conference two years ago according to 247Sports.com, and he’s starting to show why.
Brennan Scott and Jacoby Windmon lead front seven that are going to present some challenges for Air Force if they aren’t assignment sound. The major question is, are they going to be able to stay clean and make plays for four quarters, to the point where the Rebel defense influences the final results.
History and the totality of the 2021 season would suggest, the Air Force Diesels are going to roll, and it doesn’t matter who they play. The nations top rushing attack is relentless, deep on contributors, and unfortunately for the rest of the conference, fairly young.
I expect the Rebels to keep things close, especially if Cameron Friel is healthy and able to lend balance to their rushing attack. The defense, even if playing well, will only be able to hang on so long before the coach Lobotzke’s bruisers wear them out. And while I don’t expect special teams, particularly in the kicking game to decide this game, after last weeks performance, you have to be encouraged at the play of Matthew Dapore, who kicked a career long 50 yard field goal.
Air Force does their part to stay in the hunt for the Mountain Division title.
Air Force 31- UNLV 17