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Air Force-Colorado State Preview: 3 Keys for Air Force To Pull Upset

The regular season ends for the Air Force Falcons Friday afternoon when they host in-state rival Colorado State. The Rams are having a fantastic season, but there are three keys that can help the Falcons pull off the upset.

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Time/TV - 1:30 p.m. Friday on CBS Sports Network

Series Record - Air Force leads 31-20-1

Last Meeting - CSU 58 Air Force 13

Last Week - San Diego State 30, Air Force 14; Colorado State 58 New Mexico 20

Its the final week of the regular season in the Mountain West Conference, and the Air Force Falcons find themselves out of the race for the Mountain Division title, but facing a team that is right in the middle of the hunt as the in-state rival Colorado State Rams coming visiting Colorado Springs Friday afternoon. The Rams are enjoying a fantastic season, sitting at 10-1 on the season but needing a victory and a Boise State defeat to earn a trip to the Mountain West Championship Game next week.The Falcons will be facing long odds in this game, but are seeking to complete two huge task on this season. The Falcons are looking to go undefeated at home and also complete the biggest improvement from one season to another in Academy history. The Falcons will be looking to three key aspects of the game to help them pull off the upset.

The Gambler Can Bet The House

Head Coach Troy Calhoun has always been willing to go for it on fourth down in his coaching career at Air Force. Twice his teams finished first in the country in fourth down attempts (2009 and 2012) and he is routinely in the top ten in the nation in fourth down attempts and conversions. With nothing to lose, don't be surprised to see the Falcons throw caution to the wind and go for fourth downs, especially when they are in enemy territory. When the Rams destroyed the Falcons in Fort Collins last season, that was the worst loss in the coaching history of Calhoun. His teams generally don't get blown out in that fashion, but last year was a bad year for Air Force and the CSU game in particular was a bitter defeat as that is what the Falcons had to remember throughout the off-season as CSU is generally the last regular season opponent for the Falcons. Expect a heavy dose of fourth down attempts and trick plays in the Air Force game plan this week.

Freeing Up The Playmaker

Weston Steelhammer has been a difference maker for the Air Force Falcons defense this season, and you can see the sophomore safety becoming more and more engaged in stopping the running game for the Falcons. The Falcons run a 3-4 defense, and they are using their defensive lineman and inside linebackers to engage and draw the attention of the opponent's offensive lineman so that Steelhammer is free to attack the ball carrier in the run. Steelhammer has been the eighth man in the box most of the season for the Falcons, and has helped Jordan Pierce and company turn in the second best rushing defense in the Mountain West this season. He also leads the team with five interceptions on the season and has made some key interceptions in key games for Air Force. With last week's Mountain West Offensive Player of the Week Dee Hart coming into town, Pierce, Steelhammer and the Falcons defense will need to stop the running game for the Rams and also try to pressure quarterback Garrett Grayson. Grayson torched the Falcons for 395 yards and three touchdowns last season. This Falcons defense is much improved, and will be a huge key to Air Force having any kind of chance to upset the ranked Rams this week.

Get The Offense Rolling Again

San Diego State threw a wrench into the Air Force offensive engine last week, forcing four turnovers and only allowing 329 total yards of offense to the Falcons on the evening. CSU's defense has been average, but makes big stops when it has to and gets the ball back to the offense, the strength of the Rams team. Air Force has got to play keep away from the Rams and go on long drives that end in touchdowns. The Falcons will be missing sophomore running back Jacobi Owens for the second straight game due to injury and will need a big performance from Kale Pearson and Devin Rushing. Pearson is coming off one of his worst games of the season, having thrown an interception that was returned for a touchdown and being the focus of the Aztecs run defense. He, along with 27 other seniors, will be playing their last game at the Academy and will be motivated to leave a lasting memory Friday. Finding wide receivers Jalen Robinette and Garrett Brown in the passing game will be priority number one for the quarterback to soften up the running defense of the Rams.

Notes

  • This is Calhoun's fifth eight-win season as Falcons coach
  • Pierce has exceeded 100 tackles on the season (102)
  • Pierce and defensive end Alex Hansen have streaks of 10 games with at least one tackle for loss
  • Garrett Brown has caught at least one pass in 16 straight games which is a Falcons record