The Minnesota Golden Gophers open TCF Bank Stadium against the Air Force Falcons which is my pick as the Mountain West Conference game to watch this week. Air Force has the MWC reputation placed on its shoulders this weekend, I won't put it on Wyoming as I don't see that Texas game as winnable. They are taking on a Minnesota squad who have been up and down and snuck away with an overtime victory last week against the Syracuse Orange.
Minnesota finished just above .500 at 7-6 last year which came after a 7-1 start to the season and 2007 saw them go a painful 1-11. The outcome of the game will depend on what Gopher team shows up, I am going to say not a great one. Minnesota had no big wins last year and got taken to the wire by a basketball player this past weekend.
Against Syracuse the Gophers had two turnovers, ten penalties for 61 yards, and only managed 112 yards on 32 rushing attempts, while completing less than half their passes. Not pretty but they did manage to get the win on the road.
Duane Bennett was one of the Gophers bright spot on offense last week with 78 yards in 15 carries, a 4.9 yard average. The average wasn't aided by a long run either, his longest being 16 yards. Junior QB Adam Weber will be behind center and looking to bounce back to last year's form when he completed 62.2% of his passes.
The other was WR Eric Decker who is a stud who had 183 yards on nine catches, last week against Syracuse. This means Air Force will need to do some different types of coverage to try to slow down Decker. The Falcons will need to jam him at the line, bump him within the five yards, and other coverages with help. Decker will get his yards, but Air Force needs to try to keep him in front of coverage in order to limit the big plays.
The Minnesota defense came up big on 3rd downs forcing Syracuse into 8 punts. The Orange could only muster two drives over 50 yards on the game. Minnesota was stout in rush defense only allowing 2.6 yards per carry that being said I am not sold on the Orange offense, 108th in points last year. The battle will be seeing how that Gopher defense stands up against the dynamic run game of the Falcons.
The Falcons ran for a huge 474 yards last week for a staggering 7 yards an attempt. Five players had rushes of 20 yards or more. We can just assume that the Falcons are happy with their running performance this early in the season. The question is how it will hold up against a Big 10 defense instead of a FCS school Nicholls State.
We know the Air Force attack, like any other service school, must adapt to their players having to meet physical standards stated by the military. This means misdirection, triple options, out hustling their opponents, and discipline among other tactics. This game should resemble the Navy Midshipmen against the Ohio State Buckeyes game last week. Navy ran 44 times against 13 passes, look for Air Force to follow that pattern.
Air Force will attack with QB Tim Jefferson and a stable of RB's; Nathan Walker, Savier Stephens, Asher Clark and Jared Tew. Jefferson was accurate last week and I would expect to see 6-10 passes for him, those will be key in moving that offense if they get in a rut running the ball or start falling behind.
Minnesota is listed as a 3 point favorite giving Air Force a chance to take an upset on the road versus a BCS qualifier. I think Air Force wins behind that strong run game and a disciplined defense.