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Air Force Football: Three Keys to San Jose State game

Air Force and San Jose State open up the Mountain West Conference league schedule when they collide in Colorado Springs Saturday evening. What are the three most important factors for Air Force to win Saturday?

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Location: United State Air Force Academy

Time: 8:15 p.m. MDT


Record: Air Force (1-0), San Jose State (1-0)

Series: Tied 1-1

Last Meeting: 10/25/1997 - San Jose State 25 Air Force 22

Last Week: Air Force defeated Morgan State 63-7; San Jose State defeated New Hampshire 43-3

The Air Force Falcons will be looking to break a four-game conference opener losing streak when they host the San Jose State Spartans this Saturday evening in the Mountain West Conference opener for both teams. Both teams are coming off easy victories over FCS opponents last week, and a win Saturday night would make a strong statement for either team in their respective conference division races. For the Falcons, there are three main factors to defeating the Spartans and improving to 2-0 on the season.

Slow down the Spartan playmakers

You can't stop them, you have to contain them and keep them out of the end zone would be a good way to describe the way the Falcons defense should enter the game Saturday evening. You aren't going to stop Tyler Ervin and Tyler Winston, they are two of the best players in the conference. And then factor in that both quarterbacks that played last week for the Spartans, Joe Gray and Kenny Potter, were highly effective, combining on 29 of 34 passes for 422 yards and a touchdown versus New Hampshire. This version of the San Jose State offense will be a dangerous unit for Air Force to handle.

The Falcons defense was solid in week one, breaking in seven new starters and also having new players in the depth rotations. After playing their first game, the Falcons shook up their depth chart, not because of some issues but rather to reward players who stood out against Morgan State. The biggest move of the week was the move of defensive back Roland Ladipo from backup safety to starting cornerback opposite Kalon Baker. Ladipo had an interception he returned for a touchdown against Morgan State in the blowout victory. Also making a splash last week was sophomore linebacker Grant Ross. Ross had a great debut as a backup inside linebacker last week, including five tackles, a sack and forcing a fumble. Ross played so well that he was officially listed on the two deep depth chart this week. Ross will continue to rotate with Patrick Healy and Connor Healy at the inside linebacker position. Ross and Ladipo will look help fortify the Falcons defense led by Weston Steelhammer (one and half tackles for loss in week one) and Alex Hansen (two sacks in week one) when they face the Spartans high octane offense.

Control the ground game and the clock

In this game, the best defense might be good offense from the Falcons. Air Force likes to uptempo their game and really get after the defense by getting as many plays as possible in the game. However, offensive coordinator Mike Thiessen might be doing defensive coordinator Steve Russ a solid favor by grounding out the game and the clock Saturday night. Limiting the amount of times Ervin and Winston are on the field would be a major factor in gaining a victory in the conference opener. Air Force pounded out 394 yards on the ground last week versus Morgan State. The Falcons need a similar or better ground game to control the clock this week.

For all of San Jose State's great defensive numbers last week versus New Hampshire, the one number that gives the Spartans cause for concern should be the 4.8 yards per carry they gave up last week. If Air Force is in third and short all night long, you have to like the chances of the Falcons to capture the victory. The Falcons averaged 6.3 yards per carry last week, and being able to move the sticks will be the best way to slow the Spartans weapons. Fullback D.J. Johnson (11 carries for 82 yards and 1 touchdown) is a wrecking ball and helps set up the entire offense for Air Force. Johnson allows tailbacks Jacobi Owens and Benton Washington (six carries for 62 yards and 1 touchdown) to get to the edge on sweeps and the option game. The Falcons are capable of putting up 400 yards on the ground, and if they do victory should follow.

Continue home dominance

Troy Calhoun is 37-14 at home during his head coaching tenure at the Academy, including a current eight game home winning streak. In fact, in only one season have the Falcons had a losing home record for a season under Calhoun, and that was the disastrous 2013 season that saw the Falcons go through four quarterbacks, including current starter Nate Romine. The 2014 undefeated home winning season was the second under Calhoun, with his first being his first year as head coach in 2007. Calhoun has built a team that is difficult to beat at home, with the altitude playing a role in the game. 2014 also saw the Falcons upset two ranked teams in Boise State and Colorado State. The Falcons have a great home field advantage and will be looking to make the Spartans the ninth straight opponent to taste defeat at Falcon Stadium.