The Falcons celebration over the Navy Midshipman last Saturday will have to be relatively brief as they prepare to play the San Diego State Aztecs on Friday night.
The Aztecs are currently ranked second in the Western Division of the Mountain West Conference, but a case can be made that they are much better than this ranking implies. The Aztecs are currently 4-1, with a win against No. 23 Arizona State and a single loss to Stanford in the season opener. Hawaii is 6-1 currently, but their loss was to Army who, despite outperforming their recent past seasons, is a largely unimpressive squad.
Quick and Effective Offense
The Falcons have entered each game this season with unique sets of issues, especially at the quarterback position. The Navy game showed that Donald Hammond III is a capable starter despite beginning the season on the third team. His brand of triple option is unique to past Air Force starters like Nate Romine and Kale Pearson, favoring inside cuts and early pitches as opposed to traditional option styles that prefer getting around the corner to look for long sideline strides. The game against San Diego State will be telling as to whether or not this style will be sustainable for the rest of the season.
The Falcons have already crowned fullback Cole Fagan as their hard nosed work horse who can always get a few yards, even on busted plays. He’s carried the ball 68 times this season for 252 yards and 2 touchdowns. If the Falcons can power their way into the red zone, the combination of Hammond and Fagan will be critical against a high powered San Diego State defense, which has held its opponents to 31 points or less in every game this season.
Even with Air Force’s primary offense being cemented as far as standard play calling goes, the Aztecs junior linebacker Kyahva Tezino is a formidable defensive player, tallying 17 tackles this season, 3 of which being sacks. If he is able to break down the Falcons’ run game, they may need to resort to more passing.
Air Force has been very underwhelming as far as any sort of hurry up package goes, with scoring drives often lasting 8 minutes or more, but there are plenty of passing targets. Marcus Bennett, Ronald Cleveland, and Geraud Sanders have all combined for some pretty impressive receiving statistics, reeling in 480 yards total this season. In order to buck the trend of San Diego State stopping offensive gains this season, offensive coordinator Mike Thiessen and coach Troy Calhoun will hopefully look to dive deeper into the playbook for more passing plays.
Stopping the Aztecs
Air Force did an outstanding job of rendering Navy’s offensive basically ineffective. Brody Bagnall had a part in an impressive 13 tackles against the Midshipmen, and the usual suspect, Garrett Kauppilla played well in his own right. However, they were facing off against a low threat passing team that also employed the triple option with Navy.
Air Force has allowed opponents to score 33, 42, and 28 points in the three games leading up to Navy, respectively. As college football goes, this isn’t a terribly high number if they had the offense to back it up, but San Diego State has managed to keep relatively low scoring games. If Air Force wants any chance at preventing scoring, they need to stop the two-minute drills that have been so deadly against the defense this year.
The Air Force has some skilled secondaries, especially with Zane Lewis at safety, but they need to prevent the 10-15 yard passes instead of simply trying to contain the long ball. If they cannot hold San Diego State to 20 points or less, there is simply not enough time for the methodical offense to score touchdowns.
Playing in San Diego
There aren’t many environmental factors which should affect the Falcons as they travel to Southern California. Last week’s game against Navy was played in 40 degree temperatures and Colorado Springs saw its first snowfall this past Wednesday, so traveling to play in mid-60 degree temperatures will be a welcomed change.
By no means is the Falcons’ season back on track. Not only are they still below .500, but the most difficult games still lie ahead. Obviously Air Force needs to take it one game at a time for now and do what they need to in order to get wins. If the Falcons can pull of this win against the Aztecs, they will at least gain some more confidence before taking on two more Mountain West opponents prior to playing Army.