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2015 Mountain West football championiship game: Keys to Air Force winning

The Air Force Falcons travel to San Diego to take on the Aztecs in the 2015 Mountain West Championship game this Saturday at 5:30 p.m. on ESPN2.

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports


Air Force Falcons

San Diego State Aztecs

Overall Record

8-4

9-3

Conference Record

6-2

8-0

Last Week's results

L 35-47 at New Mexico

W 31-14 vs. Nevada

Head Coach

Troy Calhoun

Rocky Long

Record at School

67-48 (9 years)

41-23 (5 years)

Overall Coaching Record

67-48 (9 years)

106-92 (16 years)

Record vs. Opponent

3-5

4-0 at San Diego State

The Air Force Falcons will be seeking their second conference game championship in the school's football history when they travel to San Diego to take on the San Diego State Aztecs this Saturday. In 1998, the Falcons defeated BYU 20-13 in a title game match-up in Las Vegas to claim the Western Athletic Conference title that year.

Air Force also claimed WAC titles without a championship game in 1985 and 1988. This is their first opportunity to capture a Mountain West championship and there are some key things Air Force must do to win their second title game and fourth championship overall.

The key match-up that jumps out between the two schools is what will happen when Air Force's explosive running game takes on San Diego State's road blocking run defense. The Falcons are the Mountain West Conference's top rushing team averaging 323.5 yards per game, which is good for third in the nation. They have yet to face a run defense like the Aztecs possess however, as San Diego State is only allowing 95 yards per game on the ground.

That is a 228.5 yard per game difference between the two teams. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that if Air Force hits their rushing game average, they will be in a great position to capture the title. However, if Air Force struggles to rush the ball (last year Air Force only rushed for 148 yards in a 30-14 loss), San Diego State, even with a limited offensive attack, would be in a great position to capture the trophy.

Defensively, Air Force has got to hope the New Mexico effort versus the run was a case of an unfocused night with a injury riddled inside linebacker situation causing some bad run coverage. Air Force gave up 377 yards rushing in the game last week, including five runs of 40 yards or more.

Air Force has done a good job covering up injuries this year, but having both Connor Healy and Grant Ross out for the game might have put too much stress on the inside linebacker position. Claude Alexander III, who wasn't on many depth charts for most of the season, had some gap coverage issues opening up huge holes that the Lobos took advantage of repeatedly. Alexander did have 12 tackles on the game, but when he missed his responsibility the Falcons paid the price.

The Falcons also put their entire front seven up on the line of scrimmage, which meant that there was no second level of defense and once the New Mexico running backs broke past the initial defense the free safety had no chance against the talented backs. If the Falcons employ a similar effort and alignment, Donnel Pumphrey can be counted on for a huge game and give an Aztec offense that is playing a redshirt freshman quarterback more than enough offense to win.

When looking at how the game will play out, one can not overlook San Diego State coach Rocky Long and his record versus service academy schools. Long has gone 9-0 against Army, Navy and Air Force while serving as coach for the team.

His defenses really take away the running game from those schools and force them to rely on less than powerful passing games. The key play last year between the two schools featured a 56-yard interception return for a touchdown by Calvin Munson that took away any hope of an Air Force comeback. Air Force has had big games through the air this season, especially in their marquee wins versus Utah State and Boise State.

But, Karson Roberts is not a consistent thrower so the Falcons are going to have to find a way to churn up the run game or have big performances from receivers like Jalen Robinette and Garrett Brown. In the end, Air Force's defensive performance last week giving up so much in the running game and 47 points makes me feel that they will be more focused defensively this week and churn out enough yards for a 20-17 victory Saturday evening.