Location: East Lansing, MI
Time: 10:00 a.m.
Record: Air Force (2-0), Michigan State (2-0)
Series: F irst meeting between schools
Last Week: Air Force defeated San Jose State 37-16; Michigan State defeated Oregon 31-28
When you enter the United States Air Force Academy, it is all about challenges. The young men and women who are looking to become officers are driven by overcoming all obstacles and getting the job done through hard work, discipline and overcoming weakness. That describes perfectly what lays ahead of the Air Force Falcons this week as they head out on the road for the first time this season. But, this isn't your average road trip. This is a trip to East Lansing, Michigan to take on the fourth best team in the nation in the Michigan State Spartans. The Spartans are coming off a huge 31-28 victory over Oregon last weekend, and the Falcons will have their work cut out for them versus this Big Ten opponent.
This is not just some upstart program the Falcons will be facing. The Spartans have been good this entire decade. The Spartans have posted 55 wins so far this decade, the most in the Big Ten and sixth best nationally. They now have a culture of winning. Michigan State has scored 30-plus points in a school record 10 straight games, and 13 of the last 15 overall. Under head coach Mark Dantonio, Michigan State is 23-2 at home versus non-conference opponents. And of those 55 wins, 26 of them have come since the start of the 2013 season. Air Force will also be facing a big opponent.The Michigan State offensive front line averages out to 6'4" tall and 302 pounds. The Michigan State defensive line averages 6'5 and 281 pounds. The Falcons come in at 6'2" and 272 pounds on offense and 6'3" and 240 pounds on defense.
How do the Falcons overcome those odds? Offensively, the Falcons will do what they do best. They will attack the defensive line low and they will try to put those big bodies on the ground repeatedly. They will pound in their big fullbacks in D.J. Johnson and Shayne Davern on every opportunity possible to deliver the kind of body blows boxers use to tire and weaken an opponent. When you start to worry about the body blows, the Falcons will throw in their pitch game, sending speedsters like Garrett Brown and Jacobi Owens out wide to attack you behind wide receivers who are good at blocking down the field. And when those safeties and cornerbacks start to sneak up to help on the running game, the receivers like Jalen Robinette will fake a block and then run behind you for deep passes that make you respect the pass just enough to get an extra two or three yards a carry. Its how Navy attacked Ohio State in 2014 and it is how Air Force will attack Michigan State this coming Saturday.
The key to the game will be how well the Falcons defense can contain the Michigan State offense. The Falcons have been very good on defense this season, only allowing 11.5 points per game and 101.5 yards rushing. They have also done extremely well against the pass, only giving up 141.0 yards passing per game. With Weston Steelhammer and Alex Hansen leading the way on defense, the Falcons have broke in a number of new starters with great success. The Falcons face a tough challenge with quarterback Connor Cook leading the Spartans attack. A seasoned veteran, Cook has thrown for 448 yards and four touchdowns in his first two games. His favorite target is Aaron Burbridge, who has 218 yards receiving and a touchdown. When the Spartans go to the ground, which is quite often, they are led by Madre London and L.J. Scott. London has 162 yards on the ground with Scott close behind at 153 yards. They each have a pair of touchdowns to go with those yards. Air Force attempts to take away the run at all cost, so expect eight defenders in the box early to force Cook and Burbridge into lots of obvious passing situations.
This is one of those types of games where Head Coach Troy Calhoun might unleash his riverboat gambler personality and thrown everything but the kitchen sink at the Spartans. With nothing really to lose, Calhoun might have many tricks up his sleeve and be more willing to find a big play with a fake punt or switch up some tendencies on offense and defense. Over the years, the Falcons have been one of the teams that tends to go for it on fourth down more, and don't be surprised to see Air Force go for it in their own territory, especially if the defense is struggling or the Falcons need some kind of jolt to their system. The Falcons also have a good punt returner in Brown, so if the Falcons can get points out of their special teams, that would be a boost to any upset chances the Falcons have Saturday.
The Falcons are 17-71-4 versus ranked opponents in their football history. The highest ranked team they have ever defeated was #6 Stanford back in 1970. It is no big shock that the Falcons will need to face an uninspired and mistake prone team opponent Saturday to pull the upset. But, Toledo did beat Arkansas last weekend and Jacksonville State lost to Auburn in overtime so anything is possible. The Falcons are a better team than both of those upset-minded teams from last week, and if Michigan State is still in celebration mode from last weekends win over Oregon, the Falcons are a good enough team to defeat them this coming Saturday and putting a major problem in Michigan State's playoff dream.