The Air Force Falcons have finally made it to the end of October and their brutal stretch. We have learned a lot about the Falcons, they can score points, but they are also giving up a ton as well. October ends with a road game at the winless New Mexico Lobos Saturday at noon MT in Albuquerque. The game will be available on the Mtn.
Air Force is on a three game losing streak and is 1-3 during October. After a heart stopping OT victory at Navy the Falcons fell in consecutive weeks to Notre Dame, San Diego State, and Boise State. The last five games on the scheduled should be a little easier than that stretch. It begins with a New Mexico team that is in search of an identity. The Lobos are 0-7 for the third straight year and have won only two of the their last 36 games. They have already fired head coach Mike Locksley after their week four loss to FCS Sam Houston State and interim head coach George Barlow, who was the defensive coordinator, hasn't been able to turn it around yet.
This game for Air Force should be a lot like the Tennessee State match-up following their loss to TCU. It is a chance for a season re-set. The Falcons are 3-4 and 0-3 in the conference, both first time marks in Troy Calhoun's five year tenure at the Academy. The defense is finally getting players back from injury and will have nose tackle Ryan Gardner playing full time Saturday after returning against Boise State last week in a part time role. Fellow defensive linemen Zach Payne, Ben Kopacka, as well as cornerback Chris Martin should return next week, with a slight chance that they might see some action against the Lobos.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Falcons will need to contain Deon Long, a freshman wide out who has gone over the 100-yard mark twice, including a 209 yard, three touchdown performance against Sam Houston State. Throwing to him will be junior quarterback B.R. Holbrook. The Lobos have used two quarterbacks this season, with the additional help from sophomore Tarean Austin. Holbrook has taken over as the more productive passer, while Austin is a dual threat that can beat you on the ground as well as through the air. Holbrook got the early hook in last weeks blowout loss to TCU after the Lobos had trouble holding onto the football and were buried early. The Falcon defenders must take advantage of New Mexico's struggles with turnovers and swarm the Lobo ball carriers. With another losing season already guaranteed, the Lobos' psyche has to be brittle and any early advantage the Falcon defense can take could put this game away. Look for Brady Amack to fly around and make plays as usual in the middle of the Air Force defense. He leads the MWC in tackles with 71.
Offensively, Air Force has shown they are having no problems moving the ball against anyone. Boise State, by far Air Force's toughest opponent to date, went into last week's game leading the conference in scoring defense at 14.5, but still allowed 26 to the Falcons. The Broncos also lead the league in rushing defense at 113 yards per game, but allowed a season high 264 yards to Air Force. New Mexico on the other hand, is ranked dead last in the conference in scoring defense (47.6), rushing defense (249.4), and total defense (532). Air Force should be able to get into a rhythm early if they can have success running the ball up the middle. Fullback Mike Dewitt is coming off his first 100 yard performance of his career finishing with 108 yards on 18 carries against Boise State. Back-up Wesley Cobb, who is more like option 1B should be able to get into the act as well. Trying to stop them will be senior linebacker Carmen Messina who is ranked just behind Amack in tackles in the MWC with 66. The Lobos play a 4-2 defensive front with a nickel package in the secondary. Being successful against that style means you have to run the ball up the middle, because the defensive backs will be able to pursue the outside runs in the triple option. If Dewitt and Cobb are able to break off a couple of early runs up the gut, the safeties will have to stay honest to the inside, opening up holes on the outside for Asher Clark, Jonathan Warzeka, and Dontae Strickland. Tim Jefferson should also be able to take advantage of the Lobo defense by hitting timely passes to receivers Warzeka, Zack Kauth, and Joshua Freeman. The Lobos have given up an average of 282 yards passing per game.
Two things could work against Air Force this week that do not really involve New Mexico. First is the pending match-up with service academy rival Army next Saturday. The Falcons are looking for their second straight Commander-in-Chief's Trophy and might be thinking ahead to the Black Knights. Yes, this is a senior laden squad and maturity is on their side, but with an inferior opponent on paper like New Mexico, the Falcons may not be completely focused on the Lobos. Secondly, the Falcons need to take care of the football and not turn it over. Twice last week against Boise State junior wide receiver Mikel Hunter fumbled the football. The Falcons recovered one fumble, but the other came on a 4th down fake punt, and Broncos cornerback Hunter White was able to scoop up the ball and dash into the end-zone stretching a 6 point lead to 13 with 2:44 to play in the first half. Jefferson must be crisp with his pitches to the Falcon tailbacks, and all of the ball carriers must take care of the ball.
Air Force should have no problems against New Mexico if they are focused on the game and their jobs on the field. They showed they know how to take care of business against a lesser foe prior to a rivalry game in their week four blowout win against Tennessee State. If they can take the same approach they had going into that game there should be a similar result against the Lobos.