The Air Force Falcons (2-3, 1-1 in MWC) travel to Laramie, WY for an evening tilt against the Wyoming Cowboys (1-4, 0-1 in MWC) Saturday. The game starts at 5:00PM MT and will be aired on ROOT Sports in the Rocky Mountain region. Both teams are coming off tough overtime losses last week feeling like they each should have won. Air Force fell to Navy in the opening game of the Commander-In-Chief Trophy race, 28-21 at Falcon Stadium. Wyoming dropped a heartbreaker in Reno to Nevada 35-28.
The biggest key for Air Force in this game will be winning the turnover battle. Last week the Falcons fumbled the ball away 3 times in the first half against Navy, costing them valuable possessions and chances to score. Because of this Navy was able to keep the game close and eventually prevail in overtime. For the season the Falcons have committed 14 fumbles, losing 6 of them to account for their only turnovers. All 6 of Air Force's fumbles have occurred in the last 3 games with running back Cody Getz losing 3. Wyoming on the other hand has committed 8 turnovers including losing 2 of 6 fumbles with 6 interceptions. Sophomore quarterback Brett Smith has thrown 5 of those interceptions.
Offensively for Air Force the key will be to finish drives in the Wyoming endzone. The Falcons are second in the nation rushing with a 389.6 yard average. They haven't had many problems moving the football on anyone early in games. Where things have gone wrong is later when their opponent has made adjustments to the Air Force scheme. The Falcons have outscore their opposition 108-55 in the first half of games. Conversely they have been outscored in the second half and overtime by an 84-64 margin. So yes, the Falcons have been able to score throughout games, but they have been slowed in the second half by defensive adjustments.
One thing to keep an eye on will be how Wyoming does against Cody Getz. Getz is leading the country with a 177.4 yard rushing average per game. However, last week Wyoming faced Stefphon Jefferson who was leading the country with a 175.4 yard average at the time. The Cowboys held him to 78 yards for the game, lowering his average to 159.2 yards. Getz will be keyed on by the Wyoming defense, he will have to be very protective of the football and must hold onto it.
When Air Force has the ball, not only do they need to hold onto the football but they need to score touchdowns. Kicker Parker Herrington has struggled all season long and is not reliable at this point to do anything more than hit extra points. Herrington has only kicked 1 field goal (a 22 yarder in the 1st quarter against Michigan) in 6 attempts. Herrington missed both of his field goal attempts against Navy last week from 27 and 51 yards, the last of which would have won the game in the final seconds.
But most importantly, defensively, the Falcons have to find a way to stop Brett Smith. Smith led the Cowboys to a 25-17 win last season in Falcon Stadium. This season, Smith leads the MWC in both pass efficiency (167.1 rating) and total offense (336 yards per game). Smith has completed 64% of his passes for 1182 yards and 12 touchdown passes and 47 carries for 162 yards and 1 touchdown rushing. Smith has shown great ability to run the spread formation and all of its wrinkles. Air Force is 105th out of 120 FBS division teams in pass efficiency defense and has allowed 241.8 yards per game through the air. The Falcons have not changed their defensive scheme against the pass and are being picked apart but spread offenses. Smith should find success with underneath passes in front of the Air Force defensive backs and subsequently keep the ball in the Cowboys hands. Adding more fuel to the fire is Air Force's inability to put any kind of pressure on the oppositions quarterback. The Falcons have only 3 sacks on the season ranking them 118th in FBS. If Smith is able to hit his receivers and Air Force is unable to force him to make mistakes it will be a long night for the Falcon defense.
Look for Air Force to continue to have success running the football. Getz will probably be held under his 177 yard average, but the rest of the offense should be able to make up the difference. But, Wyoming should have no problems moving the ball on the Air Force secondary. Ultimately this game comes down to who protects the football and wins the turnover battle. Whoever plays the closest to mistake-free football wins the game.