WEEK 9: Air Force Falcons (4-3, 1-3 Mountain West) vs. Fresno State Bulldogs (1-7, 0-4 MW)
WHEN: Friday, October 28 — 7:00 PM PT
WHERE: Bulldog Stadium; Fresno, CA (41,031)
RADIO: The broadcast can be found in and around Fresno on the Central Valley’s local ESPN Radio affiliates: 940 (in English) and 1600 (in Spanish) AM.
SERIES RECORD: Air Force holds a 5-3 advantage in this series. In the last meeting on October 24, 2015, the Falcons beat the Bulldogs in Colorado Springs, 42-14.
It’s been a long week in Fresno.
Before the dirt had properly settled upon Tim DeRuyter’s tenure, his likely replacement, flaws and all, had already been
named strongly suggested as a front runner, making the two-week “search” more of a formality and, in the eyes of some, a joke. It was enough to almost make you forget that there’s a game under the Friday night lights. Almost.
Eric Kiesau’s tenure as interim head coach begins against an opponent that has struggled as of late, though you could’ve said the same thing about Utah State a week ago. Though Air Force’s running game has struggled as of late, and though you know it’s coming, the Fresno State Bulldogs will need to show some fire as the process of playing out the string begins.
Three keys to a Fresno State win
Get into the backfield on early downs. One significant reason for Air Force’s struggles is that the offensive line has been uncharacteristically shaky: after allowing just five tackles for loss in three non-conference games, by far the best figure in the Mountain West, they’ve allowed 27 in four MW games. That’s tied for the second-worst figure in the conference.
It can be argued that the setbacks on early downs have affected Nate Romine’s overall performance on third down, as well: With at least seven yards to go, Romine is just 7-of-23 with an average of 6.7 yards per attempt and one touchdown against two interceptions. Fresno State is dead last in the MWC in tackles for loss, but if there’s a time to break out of the slump, this is it.
Can the offense find big plays again? The last few weeks have seen a gradual decline in what explosiveness the Fresno State offense possessed, which has compounded the season-long problems with efficiency: Sophomore quarterback Chason Virgil had six plays of more than 15+ yards against UNLV and five against Nevada, then just two against San Diego State and one against Utah State. Considering only Kent Myers has more than Virgil’s 142 attempts in conference play, the scarcity is alarming.
To their credit, it’s not for lack of trying. Jamire Jordan had sixteen targets against the Aggies last weekend, after having just two versus the Aztecs, but averaged just 6.7 yards per catch. The deep ball accuracy has been shaky, at best, but it’s probably the unit’s best chance to get ahead: Air Force has allowed 16 plays of 20-plus yards in conference play thus far.
Stop Jalen Robinette. It’s one thing to prepare for stopping Air Force’s primary passing target — he’s been the target of roughly 45% of all Falcons pass attempts — and another thing entirely to actually do it. He has just 12 catches in conference play so far, but he’s averaged a staggering 27.6 yards per catch.
It’ll be interesting to see who’s primarily responsible for covering Robinette from drive to drive, and whether he’ll draw single or double coverage since, at 6-foot-4, he’ll have a significant height advantage on everyone in Fresno State’s secondary two-deep save for Mike Bell.