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Air Force Football: Falcons Look For Redemption Against Fresno State

After two straight heartbreak losses, Air Force looks to forget the past and focus on a tough stretch of games ahead

NCAA Football: Air Force at Fresno State Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

It’s now been a few days since the loss to Navy, and I was told by several of my fellow writers that I would feel better as the week went on. Time has proven that this concept of ‘time healing all’ was a lie. I’ve said countless times that I would prefer going 2-11 and winning the Commander in Chief’s trophy over going 11-1 and losing it. So now that the best Air Force fans can hope for in the CiC race is a three way tie where Army retains, it’s hard not to feel a little deflated this early in the season.

There are still some positives that can come from a successful second half of the season. CBS Sports bowl prediction has Air Force going to the Armed Forces Bowl in a MWC/Big 10 matchup against Maryland, but Air Force still needs to win a few games to even be eligible for a bowl game, and the season isn’t exactly downhill from this point.

Big Picture

In a weird way, I think gut feelings and just letting the game play out are more important stats and analysis for Air Force right now. I can’t reiterate enough how strange it was seeing Air Force have no problem handling a PAC-12 Colorado offensive line with their 6’5”, 230 pound quarterback, Steven Montez, yet Navy and their 5’8”, 190 pound quarterback Malcolm Perry proved to be too much to overcome. While that’s an over-simplified statement to make about an entire game, the quarterbacks’ success, and lack of success, played a huge role in the outcome of those respective games.

What are we looking at with Fresno State? It’s crazy to think that it’s already week 7 and the Bulldogs game against Air Force will be the first somewhat even matchup. They lost their first two games to USC and Minnesota, then won the next two against Sacramento State and New Mexico State. So two losses to power 5 teams who are solid, but aren’t exactly making a ton of noise this season, and an FBS win and an independent FBS win against a team so bad, they were literally kicked out of the Sun Belt. At least Idaho had the wherewithal to join the FCS while New Mexico State flounders around in the FBS, but that’s a discussion for another day.

There’s a ton of grey area of disparity between the talent of Fresno State’s previous opponents, so it will be interesting to see where they fall after the game against the Falcons. If you remember way back to before the season, Fresno State actually received AP top 25 votes, but they simply haven’t impressed voters up to this point. Perhaps it’s because they haven’t had much of a chance to with their schedule, but you have to think they would be somewhat in the conversation if they had won one of the power five games in the first two weeks.

Personnel and Playing Style

The offense starts with Jorge Reyna. His story is intriguing. He lit up the Metro League while playing at the JuCo West Los Angeles College, the alma mater of Keyshawn Johnson and Warren Moon, but some other alumni who played football but are known for other things like rapper Schoolboy Q and LaVar Ball, who, yeah… In his final season at WLAC, Reyna carried a 70.5% pass completion rate, threw for 3,646 yards with 39 touchdowns, and he rushed for 386 yards on 106 carries with 7 touchdowns.

This year, Reyna has completed 62.3% of his passes and has thrown 7 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. He’s also been sacked 11 times. What’s really interesting, though, is that his stats have been consistent in every game. He managed to throw over 256 yards and two touchdowns against USC and 234 yards and 2 touchdowns against Minnesota. While he’s been called a dual threat quarterback, and arguably so in comparison to the run/pass variance of Hank Bachmeier and Josh Love who Air Force has already played, he just seems like a passing quarterback with moderate utilization.

As far as other ‘star players’ go, Fresno State’s roster doesn’t move the needle. Running back Ronnie Rivers (great RB name) takes the bulk of the carries, but has only managed a 3.9 yard average and 1 touchdown. Derrion Grim, Zane Pope, and Ronnie Rivers are all frequent targets for Reyna with some solid numbers on the season. I would characterize Fresno State’s offense as versatile and team-based, but Jose Reyna is the clear leader. I think they will actually be tough for Air Force to shut down.

On defense, linebacker Mykal Walker and DB Juju Hughes are the biggest threats, but the option style of football will be an interesting dynamic for the bulldogs.

What Air Force Needs to Do

I have absolutely no idea. Air Force controlled the game clock against Navy, cleaned up their special teams play, and only had one penalty. Even through an Air Force fan’s sense, this is now the third game in a row that Air Force should win, but I just couldn’t even begin to make a definitive statement on. I think it’s going to come down to heart and swagger. Confidence is key, and while it’s unclear if this inter-divisional matchup will have any implications down the road, it will certainly show if this Air Force team is capable of rebounding and taking care of business.