USU comes into Saturday's matchup against AFA as the favored team in their first conference contest of the season. Here are three reasons why USU should be favored, and why they'll prove it on the field:
First, the Aggies are very tough at home. Aside from the two games immediately after losing Chuckie Keeton last year, in which they lost to BYU and Boise State in consecutive home losses, you would need to go back to October of 2011 in order to find a home loss from USU. The fans make an intimidating atmosphere for opponents to come into, and the Aggies protect their home turf jealously.
Second, USU's strengths are directly matched up to AFA's weaknesses, while AFA's strengths run (no pun intended) right into USU's strengths. I'll take a little more space on this point, so I'll break it down into two sections:
1- AFA's strength offensively is the run game. Everyone knows how dangerous the triple option attack can be. You need to account for every player on every play, or you will get burned for big yards. Fortunately, the Aggies do that. They consistently shut down the run, ranking 9th in the country against the rush. That includes shutting down the premier running QB in the country, BYU's Taysom Hill. The Aggies' 3-4 defense plays into this ability to stop the run, especially against the option; having three d-linemen who are able to occupy the o-line and stop a straight downhill dive allows the linebacker corps to read the run better to the outside or assist on the dive as needed. The run defense is disciplined, tackles well in space, and has hard hitting safeties who will clean up any plays that get past the second level, if any plays get past the second level (which is doubtful).
2- USU's strength on offense is the pass. Prior to LB Nick Vigil joining the running back crew, the Aggies had almost no run game to speak of. The o-line is awful on run blocking, and USU didn't have a back with enough power to gain yards despite them. This left the air attack, which Darell Garretson proved to be deadly against BYU last week. This, of course, was predicated on the run game doing well enough to keep the defense honest. That being said, assuming Vigil gets a few more carries this week, Garretson should have a heyday against this soft Air Force secondary corps. Now, I know you're going to say, "But look at all the interceptions, how can you call the secondary soft?! Blasphemy! Burn him at a stake!!" But take a second to look a little closer; Air Force has been impressive, it's true, in holding opponents to low completion rates, and in coming up with interceptions, but in spite of this, they rank 111th in the country in yards allowed through the air, giving up 282 yards per game. This means that they are consistently getting beat deep and giving up massive, huge plays through the air. And for any scholars of the game, it's abundantly clear what happens when you give up big plays... you lose.
Which brings me to point number three, which is that, at this point, you will be saying, "But they didn't lose! Look at their record!" I am looking at their record... and I'm not impressed. I'll be the first to say congrats on winning the games. But look at who they were won against. Let's examine each game they've played thus far. First, Nicholls State, who is 0-6 in the Southland Conference. Yes, you read that right. Central Arkansas and McNeese State beat Nicholls State by more than AFA did. Second, a neck-and-neck game that Air Force lost to Wyoming. Wyoming, who got blown out by the only good teams they've played so far, barely scraped out wins over awful opponents in Montana and Florida Atlantic, and still managed to beat Air Force. Next, Georgia State, who is currently 1-4, and 0-2 in the Sun Belt Conference. Georgia State's marquee win at this point of the season (well, their only win of the season) came against powerhouse Abilene Christian, by a single point; meanwhile, two of their losses came against Louisiana-Lafayette and New Mexico State. Fourth on the docket is the win everyone points to: Boise State. Congrats, they pulled off the upset in convincing fashion. But Boise is doing its own rendition of Jekyll and Hyde this season, and happened to have a Hyde moment that night. Having a reckless QB who refuses to do check downs is a great recipe for dropping an egg or two. And last, Navy, a 2-4 Independent with wins against a decent Temple and a mediocre Texas State, and losses to two good teams, Air Force, and the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. I know you can only play who's on your schedule, but c'mon... a 10 point road win against Georgia State just doesn't cut it for me. Believe me, I want to see the Falcons succeed this season, especially since my preseason outlandish projection was for Air Force to turn their program around and make a bowl game, which they seem poised to do; I just don't believe they're '98 Falcons reincarnated.
In summary, Air Force has done well at home, struggled on the road, and struggled against mediocre opposition. Utah State is having a down year, but is a far cry from being mediocre. Air Force is going to hit a brick wall in the Aggies front seven, and will not have the success through the Air that they enjoyed against Navy. The Homecoming game for the Aggies will be a three hour long party, in which no Falcon gets overlooked, no one looks past Air Force to Colorado State, and USU takes care of business in the best way possible. It's judgment day for the Falcons, and the Reaper, aka Coach Matt Wells, is come to collect their souls.