Location: United State Air Force Academy
Time: 1:30 p.m. MDT
TV: ROOT Sports
2014 Record: Air Force (10-3); Morgan State (7-6)
Series: First game between the schools
Last Game: Air Force defeated Western Michigan in Famous Idaho Potato Bowl; Richmond defeated Morgan State in 2014 FCS Playoffs
The air is crisp and football is back this week on campuses around the country. For the Air Force Falcons the opener is the usual opening act, a team from the NCAA Football Championship Series affiliation. This year, the Falcons will host the Morgan State Bears, a team that surprised a lot of people in the FCS division with their run to the playoffs under new head coach Lee Hull. Hull and the Bears will be an interesting opponent for the Falcons, as they return 65 letterman from last year's team that tied or set 57 school records. Its a team that will come into Colorado Springs with a ton of confidence. However, the same can be said for Air Force as they are coming off a great turnaround season that was capped by a victory over Western Michigan in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. This will be a clash of two confident teams Saturday afternoon.
Air Force offense vs. Morgan State defense
The Falcons will enter this season with as dangerous of an offensive attack as any in the history of Air Force football. Running back Jacobi Owens is coming off a 1,000 yard rushing season despite missing the last three games of the season, and figures to get right back on track in 2015. The Falcons have talented backups behind Owens, with Benton Washington getting a ton of praise throughout spring ball and fall camp. Devin Rushing is also a steady rushing option for the Falcons. Factor in starting fullback D.J. Johnson and backup Shayne Davern, recovering from shoulder surgery, and the Falcons running game will be stronger than ever.
It is the passing game that could be a difference maker in 2015. Junior quarterback Nate Romine will be settling into the full-time starter position after being a part time starter his freshman year and starting one game in 2014. Romine is one of the better passing quarterbacks Air Force has had in recent memory, and the Falcons are also loaded at receiver with Biletnikoff Award nominee Jalen Robinette and Garrett Brown being the favorite targets. Robinette is closing in on becoming the most prolific pass catcher in school history, while Brown is a dual threat receiver/runner for the multi-faceted Falcons. And while the Falcons will always be a run-first team, the ball could be aired out more than usual in 2015 for Air Force.
The Morgan State defense will have its hands full, but with nine returning starters the Bears are in a position to slow down the Falcons offense. Led by returning safety Peterson Janvier and cornerbacks DeShaun Summers and Delonte Hall, the Bears have a very strong secondary. The glaring weakness for the Bears is their rush defense. Last season, the Bears allowed 203.2 yards per game, which does not fare well with a team getting ready to face a team that will run at you in many ways, including the triple option. Morgan State is running a different defense in 2015 with a new coordinator, who is promising a more attacking, pressure-oriented attack. The Falcons will surely test that defense early and often Saturday.
Air Force Defense vs. Morgan State Offense
Having to replace seven defensive starters in 2015 will be a task for Air Force defensive coordinator Steve Russ. What bodes well for the Falcons is how well Russ did coordinating the defense in 2014. Russ built his 3-4 defense around stopping the run first and then attacking the opponent in obvious passing situations. The Falcons were difficult to run against in 2014 and up front the Falcons return Lombardi Award nominee Alex Hansen, outside linebacker Dexter Walker and inside linebacker Connor Healy to help break in new starters at the other positions. David Harris, the new starting nose tackle, and defensive end Samuel Byers bring size to the front three. The two new starting linebackers for Saturday are Patrick Healy and Ryan Watson, but the Falcons are deep at linebacker and names like Jacob Onyechi and D.J. Dunn could be called on to play lots of snaps.
In the defensive backfield, the leader is safety Weston Steelhammer. Steelhammer had a strong 2014, being named first team All-Mountain West and is on the watch list for the Lott Award. Steelhammer is a versatile safety who is used in a variety of ways. He helps stop the run, blitzes on occasion and is a ballhawk who had seven interceptions in 2014, including three versus Boise State in Air Force's best win last season. Joining Steelhamer in the backfield will be cornerbacks Kalon Baker and Jesse Washington and safety Hayes Linn. Another name to watch in the backfield is safety Roland Ladipo who has earned good press in fall camp.
Morgan State will bring a multiple spread attack into the season opener, led by quarterback Moses Skillon and running back Herb Walker Jr., who rushed for 1,408 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2014. While Skillon is the starter, he is being pushed by Seth Higgins. Higgins started in 2014 before a shoulder injury derailed his season and allowed Skillon to grab the starting job he owns heading into the first game. Walker is a 5'8, 190 lb. workhorse who also can catch the ball out of the backfield. Walker caught 20 passes for 244 yards and a pair of touchdowns. If the Bears can successfully replace three starters on the offensive line, they have talented skill players to be a dangerous foe for a retooled Falcons defense.