Matt Wells had a great start to his Utah State head coaching career with an 8-win regular season in 2012 and a 9-win regular season in 2013 — both with bowl wins. In the follow three season, Utah State’s record fell to 15-23 without a bowl win.
This year, Wells and the Aggies look to be on their way to a bounce-back season behind one of the most efficient passing offenses in the nation. Utah State is 2-1 after a close 38-31 loss on the road to Michigan State followed by two absolute drubbings of New Mexico and Tennessee Tech by a combined score of 133-25.
Air Force is coming off a very early bye week to travel to Logan to open Mountain West play. The Falcons dropped a close one against FAU on the road to fall to 1-1, but Air Force will need to be much improved in this game if the Falcons want to get back to winning ways. According to SB Nation’s Bill Connelly’s S&P+ analytic system, Air Force’s post-game win expectation vs FAU — basically if all the stats were the same for the game for the offenses and defense, what is the percent chance that Air Force would win the game if it were played again — is 0%. That’s right, 0%. The Falcons will need a much better performance if they want to upset that Aggies this week.
Containing Utah State’s Passing Attack
Sophomore QB Jordan Love is off to a good start this season. He has thrown for 714 yards threw 3 games at a healthy 66% completion rate. He is also spreading the ball out nicely to his WRs, despite not having a true number one target. Five receivers currently have at least 75 receiving yards and 11 in total have a reception.
Air Force is coming off a game where it gave up 471 passing yards. Air Force will have to find a way to both leave little room in the secondary for throws and getting the pass rush into Love’s face to disrupt his timing.
If they do, Love does has a tendency to turn the ball over, which leads into the next point.
Win the turnover battle
One of the best ways to win a road upset bid is to win the turnover battle. The Falcons didn’t get a takeaway on defense last time out, but will need to have at least two to have a shot at winning this game in my eyes.
Love has thrown three picks so far. The Falcons should focus on getting pressure on Love in passing situations and baiting him into bad throws to possibly get picks and turn the tides in this game. The Air Force defense may struggle a bit again in this one, but turnovers can always be the great equalizer.
Contain Darwin Thompson
While the Falcons will have their hands full in the passing game on defense, they cannot forget about Utah State RB, Darwin Thompson. Thompson is the Aggies’ leading rusher with 231 yards on only 22 carries thanks to two huge 60+ yard runs. Working in tandem with Gerold Bright, Thompson finds ways to hit big runs and gash opposing defenses.
Air Force has one of the better rush defenses to start off 2018 holding opponents to 42 yards a game at 1.4 yards per carry. But, this will be the first big test for the Falcons defensive front. If they pass it and shut down the Utah State rushing attack, Air Force will have a much better chance to control the clock.
Control the Clock
Let’s face it, Utah State has a big advantage in the passing attack in this game. If Air Force is going to win, they will need to limit the opportunities for the Aggies. The best way to do that is keep the ball away from them and running some clock.
Troy Calhoun likes his teams to play with some faster pace, but he may want to slow things down a bit and make this a lower scoring game with fewer plays run. Air Force will need to pound the rock like they have been (66.5 rushes per game to 10.5 passes), and run some clock and play a bit of keep-away.
Winning the turnover battle and the time of possession are the two biggest keys for the Falcons this week, and if they do both they may just have a shot at a road upset in Logan, Utah on Saturday.