Exactly what is going on with the Air Force Falcons? This team was cruising along at 4-0 and the thought was that the Falcons would be the biggest bump in the road for a Boise team that is nationally ranked and the biggest contender to grab the Group of Five spot in the Football Bowl Championship division. Now, they are nearly in the cellar of the Mountain Division after losing their last three games. For the Falcons to break this streak against the Fresno State Bulldogs and regain momentum on what was a promising season, the Falcons have got to refocus on three key aspects of their game.
The Little Things
The intangibles of the game have slipped away from Air Force as of late. One of the things near the top of the list as to why they are in their current slump has to be turnover margin. The Falcons on the season are a +2 in turnover margin, but during this losing streak they are a -4. The Falcons with their style of play have to protect the ball in their triple option attack. Fumbles and interceptions have hurt a team that is still averaging 452.3 total yards per game. The turnovers are bad enough, but when the defense is having a problem getting the opponent off the field, it just makes any turnover that much worse. The Falcons are currently letting teams convert third downs at a 43% success rate for the season, but it was well under 40% when the team was on their win streak and is much closer to 50% during this rough three game stretch. Winning the turnover battle and the third down conversion battle, as Fresno only converts 34% of third downs this season on offense, is a must for the Falcons going into Friday’s game with Fresno.
Defense has to improve
The defense has really struggled the past three games, and it has not just been in one phase of defense but overall defense. Wyoming and Hawaii had success passing the ball and New Mexico ran through the defense at will. The Falcons have given up 114 points (38 ppg) during the losing streak. The Falcons have a bend but don’t break approach to defense, so while the opponents haven’t really done much different between the 20’s, the Falcons giving up that many points has been a major issue. The Falcons are also hurting on defense, with cornerbacks Roland Ladipo and Jesse Washington missing time through the season, with Washington having been carted off the field during the Hawai’i game. The Falcons have a senior dominated defense, so the hope is that those seniors right the boat and the defense can start holding opponents under 21 points a game like they were during the early part of the season.
Consistency in the Passing Game
The only thing that has been consistent about the passing game this season is how inconsistent the passing game has been this season. The last two weeks have been the perfect example of the ups and downs. Nate Romine threw for 280 yards versus New Mexico and then follows that up with a 1 of 10 for 10 yards performance against Hawai’i. Throw in the three interceptions versus Wyoming and the quarterback play has been a problem during the losing streak. Jalen Robinette still gets forgotten about during key points of games and he is your biggest difference maker on offense. Tyler Williams has not been as much of a factor as a receiver as the player he replaced last year in Garrett Brown and that has been a problem as well. Getting Williams, tight end Ryan Reffitt and running back Timothy McVey the ball in space should free up Robinette from the double teams he sees quite a bit. Romine needs to improve his accuracy in his short to intermediate passes so that the Falcons can be more consistent passing the ball.
Sometimes teams go through stretches like this and it takes one game to shake off the funk and get back to winning games. It would seem as if the 1-7 Bulldogs give Air Force that opportunity, but the Falcons have to be aware of potential traps. The Bulldogs are going to be emotional having gone through a coaching change this past week. A lot of times teams play their best after this happens because everyone is on edge and the future holds no certainty. If Air Force can get back to playing like they did in the first four games, this game has serious potential to be a blowout. The Fresno defense has been weak most of the season and the Falcons should be able to get the ground game going early and often. Expect the Falcons to walk away with a 35-20 victory over Fresno this Friday night.