Welcome to week nine and the eighth game of the roller coaster known as the 2019 Falcon football season. The birds are 5-2, and all things considered, they’re on a roll. I don’t want to sound like a broken record about crushed CiC hopes and the MW championship scenario, so let’s just focus on the positives. Air Force has a great shot at going undefeated for the rest of the season should they win on Saturday night against Utah State, and we’ll just have to see where the chips fall in terms of a bowl game. The magic number for a bowl game bid is down to just one win, so now it’s just exciting to see how far up the bowl game pecking order they can go.
For Mountain West fans, Utah State is a familiar team. They joined the Mountain West in 2013 and have only played Air Force seven times, but for some reason, it feels like a much older matchup. They’re one of those squads that gets over-shadowed thanks to Boise State in their conference and two larger Utah teams of the University of Utah and BYU in their state. Despite all this, they have a way of bringing in some quality players.
One player I’ve been extremely high on in the past, in particular, is quarterback Jordan Love. He had an unbelievable year in 2018, but he’s been kind of stagnant this season by comparison. There was some talk that he would enter the 2020 NFL draft after his junior year, but this season seems to indicate that his draft stock has fallen from being a first round lock. While it’s not really of concern of ours at this point about him returning for a senior year, he’s still a great player in the Utah State system.
He’s 6’4” and 225 pounds. He’s a confident passer, but his running has been severely lacking. As to how Air Force will handle him is totally unclear at this point. Air Force has taken down a quarterback of similar stature in Colorado’s Steven Montez, but they struggled terribly with Navy’s smaller QB Malcolm Perry. While these games made it seem like Air Force would have a hard time with quick run and pass threats, they silenced Hawaii’s Cole McDonald for the most part. So really, I have no idea what to expect from Jordan Love. It seems that past performance totally goes out the window whenever quarterbacks step on the field to play Air Force, and it’s a toss up as to whether or not he’ll be a thorn in Air Force’s side.
Utah State’s running game is just okay. Gerold Bright takes the majority of the carries, averaging 5.4 yards per carry and 4 touchdowns, while Jaylen Warren is worked into the rotation, averaging 6.6 yards per carry and 4 touchdowns as well.
The Aggies have the classic Mountain West feel. They run a more pro-style offense, but lack the superior talent to do so effectively against really good teams. It’s essentially why they can beat teams like San Diego State, Nevada, and Colorado State, then get absolutely crushed by LSU. Being an upper-middle tier team in the Mountain West is nothing to sneeze at, but it really feels like there is a ceiling on what they can accomplish. I think if Air Force was able to take down Colorado, who runs a pretty similar offense to Utah State, there’s no reason why the Falcons can’t win.
On defense, there is one man who really stands out for the Aggies. David Woodward has 49 solo tackles and has racked up 82 in total with two sacks. He reminds me a little bit of San Jose State’s Ethan Aguayo or Navy’s Diego Fagot, but he has a much better supporting cast surrounding him. Safety Shaq Bond is a safety who is extremely effective in his own right. With two interceptions and 32 tackles total, he will be looking to shut down Air Force’s passing game.
There’s no doubt Air Force is in for a challenge. The difficulties will likely be similar to the games against Colorado and Boise State, but Air Force is on a roll. They should have some reinforced confidence, but maybe a little bit of a chip on their shoulder after losing to Navy. I do worry about the pressure. Air Force has lost the two most meaningful games of the season in terms of Mountain West standings and the Commander in Chief’s trophy race. If they want to make any kind of push to win the Mountain West, a win in this game doesn’t guarantee anything, but a loss would take them completely out of it.
Air Force Factors
I am worried about injury. DJ Hammond wasn’t 100% at practice this week after taking a hard fall against Hawaii. Isaiah Sanders has also dealt with injury, and although Mike Schmidt had a sensational performance against Hawaii in one of the feel-good football stories of the year, I do fear that the film is now out on him and a 150 yard passing, 120 yard rushing game with 1 passing touchdown and 3 rushing touchdowns might be an unrealistic expectation. Other injuries have been sustained by Garrett Kauppila, Tre Bugg, and Kade Waguespack, just to name a few. The next man up philosophy has held strong and there’s still more depth than ever, but it would really be tough to go into such a tough matchup with any kind of uncertainty if all your players aren’t good to go.
There’s still a lot of positive external factors going into the game. For one thing, a home game never hurts. Second, obviously the mentality is playing one game at a time, but the thought that this is the last big test before going into games against weaker opponents has to creep into their minds to leave everything on the field. Finally, as I already mentioned, there must be a reinforced sense of confidence. It’s crazy to see how far this team has come despite a pair of losses to Boise State and Navy that derailed some big goals. Multiple players have broken team records like Geraud Sanders unbelievable year as a receiver, we’ve had a number one play on Sportscenter’s top 10, and there are three quarterbacks who have proven that they all have the talent to win. They have to believe in themselves at this point. Playing their game, being dynamic, and having some faith in themselves are absolutely enough to beat Utah State. So make a pot of coffee and take a nap, the Falcons are playing late tonight.