Time/TV - Friday at 7:30 p.m. MST on CBS Sports Network
Series Record - Air Force leads 19-13
Last Season - San Diego State 27 Air Force 20
Last Week - Air Force 45 Nevada 38, Boise State 38 San Diego State 29
As the Air Force Falcons look to finish the best turnaround in the program history, two huge task stand in their way. Up first will be the San Diego State Aztecs who have defeated the Falcons in four straight contest. Thanksgiving week will bring in-state rival Colorado State to Colorado Springs. Both teams are tied for first place in their respective conference divisions, and both have had good success against the Falcons in recent history. Air Force has already tied the 1958 team with a six game improvement in victories. To become the team with the best single season improvement, there are three key factors the Falcons need to include in their Aztec game plan.
Kick A Team When Its Down
San Diego State is coming off a tough loss to Boise State last weekend where they held a huge advantage over the host Broncos and then watched Boise State come away with a nine-point victory. The Aztecs were functioning on all cylinders in the first half, forcing turnovers and controlling both line of scrimmages. The wheels just fell off the bus in the second half and it would be very advantageous for the Falcons to come out efficient and get an early lead to stir up those feelings that San Diego State felt in the second half of the Boise game. The Falcons have a great opportunity to come into San Diego, get the early lead and then let their aggressive defense led by Jordan Pierce and Weston Steelhammer play aggressively and pressure quarterback Quinn Kaehler. Getting an early lead would also force the Aztecs to decide how much they can run the ball with leading rusher Donnel Pumphrey and company, forcing their super sized offensive line to pass block as much as possible, where they are not as successful as when they can tee off and run block for the speedy sophomore running back.
Be Special on Special Teams
San Diego State can turn the game around with their special teams, especially their punt return game, and this is an area where Air Force has been good but not great. The Falcons do have a Groza semifinalist in senior placekicker Will Conant and he is as solid a kicker as their is in the country. The Falcons could use something more in their kick and punt return games. Jon Lee returns kicks and has put the Falcons in good field position most of the year, but seems to not be able to crank out a huge return into the opponent territory or even for a touchdown. A huge return would be good for the Falcons to compliment their ball-hawking defense and balanced offense. Same holds true for the punt return game as both Garrett Brown and Jalen Robinette have been deep on punts, but neither has provided the momentum turning return to this point. Brown appears to be the more aggressive returner and he was back in action last week after missing the UNLV game with an injury.
Status Quo on Offense
Kale Pearson, the Mountain West Offensive Player of the Week last week, has been the steady force in the Falcons offensive attack this season, and he is a big reason for the Falcons turnaround and their current four game winning streak. The Falcons have been using all of their weapons, including the fullback tandem of Shayne Davern and D.J. Johnson who have been dominate in wins over New Mexico and Nevada. The emergence of the fullback was a main reason Air Force held the ball for over 44 minutes last week against Nevada in the Air Force win. Jacobi Owens quietly cracked the 1,000 yard barrier last week and then there's the performance of Pearson this season. He is nearing 500 yards rushing to go along with his 1,342 yards passing with 11 touchdowns as compared to only 2 interceptions. Pearson has become very adept at reading the option and picking the right times to keep the ball for huge plays. He led the Falcons to a late touchdown in the first half last week against Nevada, largely in part to his four straight runs for nearly 50 yards. He is also making sensational wide receiver Robinette a bigger part of the offense as well as tight end Garrett Griffin. The Falcons offense is in a very good place right now, and the key to victory as they will be facing a very good Aztec defense.
- Head Coach Troy Calhoun was named a semifinalist for the Maxwell Club National Coach of the Year Award this week. He is joined on the list by fellow Mountain West coach Jim McElwain from in-state rival Colorado State.