The two offenses matching up against each other tomorrow couldn't be much different. The Air Force Academy runs a multiple scheme triple option offense while San Diego State runs a true pro-style offense that reflects Norv Turner's offense for the San Diego Chargers. Although different, the key to winning the game tomorrow will depend on the rushing attack of both of those offenses.
Both teams have been very good this season. Both San Diego State and the Air Force Academy are among only 10 teams in the country that rank in the top 35 of scoring offense, scoring defense, total offense and total defense. Vegas also recognizes this because in the sports books because despite being nationally ranked and 5-1, the Falcons are only a 1 point favorite. This is probably because SDSU is 3-0 at home and has lost twice on the road by a combined 6 points in games they got screwed by the officials so badly the conference had to change the rules in football games.
This game is going to come down to who can run the ball more effectively and who can tackle better. The Falcons probably should look to the film from last week to see how BYU was able to run the ball down SDSU's throat and dominate time of possession. If AFA can effectively mimic what BYU was able to do, they should win pretty easily. SDSU's offense is good enough that they can score on anyone, but they can't score if they don't have the ball, it's that simple.
The Falcons need to do what the Cougars did last week; get an early lead and take SDSU's running attack and Ronnie Hillman out of the game. This will force the Aztecs to rely on QB Ryan Lindley to be accurate, which is not his strong suit. Lindley and Aztec WRs Vincent Brown and Demarco Sampson are very, very dangerous, but they rely on the run to set up the pass. The offensive scheme relies on deep routes, Lindley is among national leaders in yards per attempt, but he's not particularly accurate. This results in a lot of 3 and outs if they can't use the run and the opponent dominating time of possession.
One big advantage SDSU has is defensive coordinator Rocky Long who is familiar with the Falcon offense and has had some success in the past stopping it. In fact, last season in Colorado, a much worse SDSU defense did not allow the Falcons an offensive score in a game the Falcons ended up winning. However, if the Aztecs tackle like they did last week, they won't have a chance. One key injury might hurt the Aztec defense in this sense, as Andrew Preston, who plays the "Aztec" position (A hybrid safety in Long's 3-3-5 defense which is the same position as the 'Lobo' in New Mexico) suffered a concussion last week and is currently day-to-day.
On the other hand, if SDSU can get Ronnie Hillman going early (who Sports Illustrated recently named one of 2010's "impact freshman") the Aztecs may be able to get a big early lead and not have to worry about time of possession problems. One of the reasons for the discrepancy in time of possession last week was that SDSU was able to score very quickly when it didn't give the ball right back. AFA's run defense isn't particularly good so getting Hillman going can counter the TOP game. Unfortunately for the Aztecs RB Walter Kazee, who is Hillman's main backup and who spells him on occasion, injured himself in practice and is out for the game.
AFA can secure themselves a bowl bid by gaining their 6th win on the season on Saturday. On the other hand, the Aztecs can give a big boost to their season by winning and going 4-2 instead of 3-3 after such a promising start. The Aztecs will be able to score, but how much depends on how much AFA can dominate the clock. Once again, I think this game will depend on Ronnie Hillman. If AFA can take Hillman out of the game, they win. If the Aztecs can get Hillman going, they win. This should be a close game either way.