I’m not particularly in the mood for flowery language or fabricating narratives going into the Air Force game against San Jose State tomorrow night.
The bottom line is that the Falcons are now 0-1 in the Mountain West and tomorrow’s game will likely be against the weakest opponent left on the schedule aside from New Mexico. It’s an opportunity to get a win, keep everyone healthy, and work out some kinks in a live game environment before playing Navy next week for the first leg of the Commander in Chief trophy race.
Who is San Jose State?
We are starting to get a pretty good idea of who Air Force is as a team. They have the most all around talent we’ve seen in years, and probably the best ever in some of the defensive lineman especially. Even with a wealth of experienced depth, there are some holes that were exposed against Boise State, namely with the play-calling in the event that the very talented backup, Isaiah Sanders, gets called in to play.
San Jose State, on the other hand, is a bit more confusing. They’re 2-1 with a power 5 win over Arkansas, an FCS win over Northern Colorado, and an AAC loss to Tulsa.
The win over Arkansas is totally transparent - Nick Starkel threw 5 interceptions and San Jose state parlayed that into a win by a touchdown, 31-24.
The win over Northern Colorado was expected, but a 35-18 score was a bit closer than it should be for any respectable FBS team, especially considering that Sacramento State managed to shut out that same Northern Colorado team 50-0.
The San Jose State offense is captained (if that’s what you want to call it) by quarterback Josh Love. He’s thrown the ball 110 times, completing 62.7% of his passes. He’s not particularly mobile with 6 carries for a total of -18 yards, but a decent San Jose State offensive line has only allowed three sacks. However, the Spartans have not faced a defense that is the same caliber as the Falcons’ up to this point. They do have a quarterback who is a stark contrast in mobility with Nick Nash, averaging 8.3 yards on 17 runs and earning two touchdowns, but there’s no guarantee he will have an opportunity to take the field in a meaningful way.
San Jose State does have some players on defense that move the needle with their star linebacker Ethan Aguayo and safety Bobby Brown II. Ethan Aguayo has racked up 44 tackles in just three games as well as an interception, so it’s safe to say he’s a legitimate threat that Air Force has scouted. Bobby Brown II’s three interceptions raises some eyebrows as well.
The receivers, running backs, and the rest of the defense are all pretty standard San Jose State players. None of them really jump off of the stats sheet or prove to be too difficult to overcome in film.
Keys for Air Force
It’s been a few years since these two teams have faced off. Air Force has won the last two games against the Spartans, with the most recent being a 41-38 win in 2016 when Air Force had an 8-3 record. Obviously these teams are vastly different from their personnel then, although Ethan Aguayo did shine in that game with 13 total tackles.
Air Force is certainly in no position to take this game lightly, but I believe there will be room to work on different aspects of their play before heading to Annapolis next week.
I would love to see the offense get back to basics and work a little bit of the triple option which seemed to be less efficient that usual against Boise State. Air Force has opted to allow Taven Birdow to muscle his way to yards up the middle, tempered by Kade Remsberg’s shifty speed on sweep-style plays. If Isaiah Sanders can get in, it would likely be beneficial to let him work with some of the starting running backs and get the team comfortable with him being under center. DJ Hammond is certainly the leader of the offense and that shouldn’t be undermined, but his injury was scary last week and Air Force just didn’t seem prepared for it.
I would also like to see the offense work on their tempo with short first down conversions. Calling timeouts and slowing down the flow when they need a few feet gives the defense more of an advantage than it does the offense. I understand that it can take some time to communicate between the sidelines, the coaches, and the offense in those situations, but confidence and keeping the defense on their heels is a powerful thing.
The defense needs to be relentless in this game. Lakota Wills and Jordan Jackson absolutely pounded Hank Bachmeier last week and I give him a ton of credit for taking hits the way he did. The DB’s and linebackers played well considering Boise State was the 20th best team in the country at the time (16th now), but there were drives when the passing game absolutely shredded the Falcons, and even if Josh Love won’t be up to the same skill level as Boise State’s quarterback, he will likely have a similar volume of pass attempts.
Finally, Air Force needs to just play their game. They’ve proven they’re a quality team this season, so all of the usual keys will stand. Controlling the clock, making the most of possessions, and limiting turnovers will be key. If they can get ahead early, they can have some fun for the majority of the game.
I still can’t sugarcoat how important this game is. At this point in the season, it really is still week by week with the vast swings in the level of competition that Air Force has on the schedule. Vegas has Air Force at -19, and quite frankly, I’m not so sure they will cover. Air Force slowed the pace of the Boise State game to an absolute crawl early on, but I still believe Troy Calhoun’s squad is the better team. If I had to give a score prediction, I would say it will also go below the under of 57.5, and I see something around 31-24 in Air Force’s favor. It feels like every game has been an important opportunity to learn more about this Falcon team, and this week it’s no different. It’s time to take care of business and ramp up for the Mids.