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San Diego State vs. Air Force 2014 preview: Aztecs take on revamped Falcons

SDSU and Air Force excel in similar areas, but in dramatically different fashion. Those two philosophies will go head-to-head on Friday night in San Diego.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Matchup: Air Force Falcons (8-2, 4-2 Mountain West) at San Diego State Aztecs (5-5, 3-3 Mountain West)

How we got here: After yet another late collapse on the road by the Aztecs, this time to the Broncos, they return home to Qualcomm Stadium where they are a perfect 4-0 and average an 18-point margin of victory. The Falcons, meanwhile, extended their win streak to four last week as they edged out Nevada in overtime.

What's on the line: Both teams are still alive to make the conference championship game, although with limited scenarios, which makes this match all the more important. Neither team can afford a loss, as a defeat will formally rule them out of the title game. This match has an extra meaning for the Aztecs who are still looking to tally their sixth win and become bowl eligible for the fifth straight season.

What to watch for:

1.     Air Force's triple-option vs. San Diego State's defense

The Falcons enter this match with the No. 7 rushing attack in the country averaging 288.4 yards per game and going against an Aztec team that allowed 212 yards on the ground last week in Boise. It was clear the SDSU defense wore down and was unable to get off the field as the game progressed. This will again be an obstacle for the Aztec defense as they face a Falcon squad that converts on nearly 49 percent of third downs

Air Force showed last week that anyone can lead their rushing attack, as their top running back who has over 1000 yards on the season, was only the third leading rusher against Nevada. San Diego State will not be able to key on any of the backs and will have to play honest to Air Force's triple-headed monster of Jacobi Owens, Kale Pearson and Shayne Davern.

The Falcons will also air out the ball as Kale Pearson went 11-15 for 129 yards and three touchdowns last week. Expect SDSU head coach Rocky Long to stack the box with eight men and to have one of his safety hybrids spy on a receiver that splits wide or comes into the box.

2.     San Diego State's offense vs. Air Force's defense

It is no secret that SDSU's offense revolves around its run game and primarily on the shoulders of the sixth-leading rusher in the FBS, Donnel Pumphrey. The sophomore back will once again have to carry the Aztecs and hope to receive help from his quarterback and the passing game. The offensive unit as a whole, however, will need to maintain any early momentum and try not to repeat the complete breakdown against Boise State, where they only scored nine points in the second half.

As already mentioned, senior quarterback Quinn Khaeler and his receivers will have to step up in this game and push the ball down field and keep Air Force honest in how they attack the run game.  The Falcons primarily play man-to-man in the secondary and these should be matchups that Khaeler and receivers senior Ezell Ruffin and sophomore Eric Judge look to exploit.

The Aztecs will have their hands full offensively though as they face a vastly improved Falcons defense from a season prior. Air Force has only allowed 140 rushing yards per game and more importantly are able to get off the field limiting teams to a 36 percent conversion rate on third downs. And after allowing 40 points per game last season Air Force has only allowed a little over 23 points per game this season.

3.     Turnovers

Both teams have only won one game when they've lost the turnover battle this season; coincidentally both were against New Mexico. With both teams wanting to run the ball early and often, and both being very successful at it, possessions will be at a premium and turnovers can spell doom for either squad. The Aztecs do face a disadvantage, as 12 of their 16 takeaways are from interceptions and the Falcons will primarily run the ball.

Outlook: Under coach Long the Aztecs are a perfect 9-0 against triple-option teams and it will be a huge task for Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun to break that streak. Even with a much-improved defense, the Falcons will not be able to stop the run game of SDSU as the combined attack of Pumphrey and Chase Price will prove too much. The match will remain close, but San Diego State will be able to pull away in the fourth and remain undefeated on its home field.

Prediction: San Diego State 27, Air Force 17