What you are going to witness this weekend, should you tune in to Air Force vs. New Mexico, is the 21st ranked defense playing a Lobos team with the 129th defense in the country, second to last in FBS football. Granted, Air Force is ranked 56th in total offense and New Mexico isn’t far behind at 65th, but I just wanted to give you some perspective as to what you will see.
The spread sits at -24 Air Force (it’s also been moving since it opened), and that may be important to anyone who doesn’t have an allegiance to either team, but still wants to watch the game. New Mexico’s two wins came against FCS teams in Sam Houston State and New Mexico State while Air Force has had a pretty remarkable season up to this point.
Air Force’s Offensive Keys
The Falcons have been incredible to watch this entire season. I cannot think of another time that Air Force has had this much depth in the running game. It seems like the coaches could put in Kade Remsberg, Taven Birdow, Duvall Jackson, or Josh Stoner and each of them could come up with breakaway yardage or a touchdown in the red zone. That’s also a nod to the effectiveness of the offensive line. While the Air Force tends to lean on the running game in an homage to their historical triple option system, the passing game hasn’t been too shabby either.
Geraud Sanders ranks second in the FBS for yards per reception with 24.22 yards. He also has five touchdown receptions. Benjamin Waters, on the other hand, averages 28.8 yards per reception and has four touchdowns, however, his 13 receptions precludes him from the minimum number required to be ranked. Donald Hammond III has been the primary passer in the offensive success, but he is backed by another quarterback with starting experience, Isaiah Sanders, who will not be in New Mexico this weekend due to his Rhodes Scholar interview (yes, really). No matter, DJ Hammond will be backed up by Mike Schmidt, a senior player who didn’t come with much fanfare until his breakout performance in the Air Force win over Hawaii with 5/6 passing for 147 yards an a touchdown, plus 120 rushing yards and 3 rushing touchdowns.
With all of the talent on offense, I still find it relatively difficult to make any definitive predictions. The play calling has taken enormous swings depending on the opponent this season. Against tougher defenses, Mike Thiessen and Troy Calhoun seem to prefer dives and options on first and second down, then they like to force the throw on third down. It’s a certainty that they have looked into the analytics as to why this is the most effective strategy, but it’s a lot more fun to watch when DJ has the opportunity to pass without the pressure of needing to convert.
I have a feeling that Air Force’s offense will go out and have some fun today. Expect a heavy rotation of running backs and some long shot pass plays. Once they pick up some momentum, the Falcons will get on a roll towards the expected blowout.
Air Force’s Defense
The defense has been Air Force’s bread and butter this season. A lot has been expected from them and they’ve delivered. Staving off Colorado in overtime, multiple goal line stands to get the win over Army, and a 99 yard pick-6 to cover the spread last week really shows why this defense is special.
They have an unbelievable cast of players, many of whom’s greatness is difficult to quantify with stats. Jordan Jackson and Mo Fifita are two names that come to mind as far as being involved in every big play, even if they aren’t credited with a statistic. The secondary has been fun to watch as well. Often outsized on matchups, offenses have a tendency to put together some frustratingly successful drives with 10-20 yard passes all the way down the field, but Tre Bugg’s three interceptions, Zane Lewis’s 11 broken up passes, and Grant Thiel’s 38 tackles are indicative of how good these guys really are.
It’s seriously hard to zero in on the stars of the defense because they’re just so deep. It’s the most complete Air Force defense I’ve personally ever seen.
I’m taking the high road this week after the reviews from the Colorado State preview. I won’t talk down on the 0-6 in the Mountain West New Mexico Lobos. I prefer to focus on Air Force’s successes and just see how it goes in a few hours when the teams kick off. My prediction for this game is 42-6 in Air Force’s favor.