The Nicholls State University Colonels have not been shy about who they open up their season with in recent history. Last season, the Colonels traveled to Oregon for a 66-3 beatdown from the Ducks. They have made the trip to the Air Force Academy in recent history as well, returning back to their campus with a 72-0 whipping at the hand of the Falcons.
Nicholls State Colonels Facts
2013 Record - 4-8 Overall, 1-6 Conference
Coach - Charlie Stubbs (6-27 at Nicholls State)
Returning Starters - 5 on Offense, 5 on Defense
Predicted Finish - 9th in League
Last FCS Playoff Appearance - 2005 - lost in First Round
Nicholls State Offense vs. Air Force Defense
During an injury-plagued season, Nicholls State turned to sophomore quarterback Tuskani Figaro, and the 6'3", 210-pound quarterback took charge of the team and started the last eight games of the year. While the Colonels would go just 2-6 in those last eight games, Figaro displayed talent and skill that gives the Colonels hope for improvement during his next two years. Figaro would go on to rush for 1,103 yards with seven touchdowns and pass for 1,135 yards and eight touchdowns.
The Colonels liked to spread out the ball in the passing game, but they did lose big play receiver Erik Buchanan to graduation. To help fill Buchanan's void, former Colorado Buffaloes wide receiver Keenan Canty will join returning receivers Xavier Marcus and Demon Bolt to test the Falcons' young secondary while they look to play more aggressively in 2014. Canty never materialized as a reliable receiver in Boulder, but the Nicholls State spread offense gives him a real opportunity to finish his college career on a positive note.
While the passing game is important to the Colonels, it is the running game that is the biggest threat to the Falcons defense. Figaro will test the edges of the Air Force defense on roll outs that have run/pass options. If the Falcons get too spread out defensively, Nicholls State will pound the ball inside with a zone read option look that will include a power running back hitting the inside gaps for big chunks of yards. Last season, Nicholls State had to rotate running backs due to injuries. One of the injury fill-ins for the Colonels was Michael Henry (6'2", 225 pounds), who rushed for 161 yards and one touchdown in limited action. Whoever lines up at running back, there will be holes available as defenses key on Figaro.
Air Force Offense vs. Nicholls State Defense
Air Force's defensive woes in 2013 cannot be topped by many teams, but one team that had a worse defensive year than Air Force would be Nicholls State. The Colonels gave up 43.8 points per game last season, 270.8 rushing yards per game for a 6.7 yards per carry average, and only forced 12 total turnovers for the season. That does not bode well for Nicholls State as Air Force is traditionally one of the best rushing teams in the nation on a yearly basis. The Falcons also have the makings of a better than average passing game, and the Colonels gave up 223 yards per game through the air to go along with their porous run defense.
Three key players for the Colonels are senior cornerback Bryon Cobb, senior linebacker Davin Bowie (2014 2nd Team All-Southland Preseason Team) and sophomore defensive end/edge rusher Chris Lorden who displayed an ability to get to the quarterback (3 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss) and showed a nasty streak at times as a freshman. They will be joined by another Colorado transfer, linebacker Lowell Williams, who was a special teams contributor for the Buffaloes in 2013.
Three Keys to Air Force Success vs. Nicholls State
1. The Falcons defense will have to be stout up front as the Nicholls State offensive line is strong and experienced up the middle. They are breaking in two new tackles, but if the Colonels can establish the dive with Henry up the middle, they could turn this game into a shootout. While Figaro is the number one threat and keeping him in the pocket will be a big part of the game plan, the dive has to be stopped. Air Force has been working all off-season on gaining bulk, and if they can't dominate the line of scrimmage in this game there is a real possibility 2014 could be a long season. Playing physically strong will be important as the Colonels starting quarterback and running back are bigger than any linebacker Air Force will put on the field.
2. No empty possessions for the Air Force offense. Air Force did not have a good time of possession ratio last year, with opponents having the ball about six minutes a game more than the Falcons offense. The pound and ground Falcons will face an aggressive 3-4 defense that tries to pressure the quarterback and swarm the ball carrier, but last season the Nicholls State defense could not stop teams from moving the ball or scoring points. Air Force had turnover and penalty issues in 2013 and that lack of discipline and ball security cannot be repeated in 2014 if Air Force has any kind of bowl game aspirations.
3. A fast start on August 30th is a must for Air Force not only in this game, but for the season as a whole. While none of the Nicholls State players were around in 2009 when Air Force beat the Colonels 72-0, many were on the sidelines for the Oregon game last season. Give a team like Nicholls State hope and that is when upsets happen. Air Force is currently involved in a scandal investigation and has made national news over the Devon Rushing injury resulting in the running back having to earn his jersey back. Only a resounding victory in this game can ease the tension, if only temporarily, for the Falcons and head coach Troy Calhoun.