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Air Force Football: Keys to Victory in Wyoming

The Air Force Falcons return to Mountain West play when they head to Wyoming to take on the Cowboys Saturday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. on ROOT Sports Rocky Mountain.

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

They aren't the kind of rivals who play for a boot, but make no mistake there is no love lost between the Wyoming Cowboys and the Air Force Falcons in their football rivalry. Ever since the infamous Dave Christensen tirade on Falcons head coach Troy Calhoun back in 2012, these programs have had some real bad blood between them. The next chapter comes this Saturday afternoon when the undefeated Falcons (4-0) travel to Laramie to battle the 3-2 Wyoming club that is improved and coming off a victory over their border war rival Colorado State. What will it take for the Falcons to improve to 5-0?

Stop Brian Hill

Air Force has been spectacular against the run this year. The Falcons are only allowing 53 rush yards per game. Last week, their run defense was so good it forced Navy to throw the ball 31 times, which is unheard of from the Midshipmen. Navy, who came into the game averaging over 300 yards a game on the ground, ended the game versus Air Force with only 57 rushing yards. This week, the Falcons will face the best running back on their schedule in Brian Hill. The junior running back is the workhorse for the Cowboys, rushing the ball 116 times for 629 yards and seven touchdowns. He is a big back at 6'1 and 220 pounds and he will be a handful for the Falcons. The Falcons have been committed to stopping the run this season, and inside linebackers Jack Flor and Grant Ross have been the key figures in shutting down any inside rushing game. On the outside edges, linebackers Jacob Onyechi and Ryan Watson have protected the edges making it difficult to run on the Falcons front seven.

Get the running game going again

Air Force is as patient of a running team as there is in the country. They are committed to letting fullbacks D.J. Johnson and Shayne Davern punch their way through the heart of the defense which will open up the outside game for Jacobi Owens, Tyler Williams and Timothy McVey. That recipe usually ends up with a 300 yard rushing day and an Air Force victory. Air Force has come away with victories the last two weeks, but the running game has had issues. Against Utah State, the Falcons ran for a respectable 213 yards, but that was over 100 yards less than what they were averaging at the time of that game. Against Navy, the rushing game only netted 173 yards, which at this moment puts Air Force's yards per game average at 213.8. That is not a number you are accustomed to seeing with Air Force. The Cowboys have a good rushing defense, only allowing 139 yards per contest. It will be important for the Falcons to get back to churning out yards and keeping their time of possession high so they can keep the ball away from Hill and the Cowboy offense.

Take advantage in the air

Jalen Robinette is coming off a great day versus Navy where he caught five passes for 163 yards including a 75 yard touchdown. It was also the first time all season that Nate Romine completed over 50 percent of his passes, going 8 of 14 for 257 yards and two touchdowns. It was a good momentum game for the Falcons passing game as they now encounter a Wyoming team that is giving up a lot of yards through the air. The Cowboys are allowing 312.2 pass yards per game this season, and while the Falcons will look to establish the run first, they have to feel like there will be opportunities in the sky as well. The Falcons are very good at play action passing, and with Robinette and tight end Ryan Reffitt, they have weapons to take advantage of Wyoming over playing the run. The Falcons have also had success throwing to their running backs, with McVey scoring a 62 yard touchdown versus Navy and Tyler Williams and Ronald Cleveland also having made big plays early in the season. If Romine can maintain his accuracy and not struggle like he did early in the season, the Falcons will have opportunities through the air.

Wyoming has not been a friendly place for the Falcons, with Air Force having an 11-12-2 record all time in Laramie. The Falcons got beat late by a score of 17-13 the last time they visited the Cowboys and this years game projects to be another tough, physical game. Both teams strengths match-up in this contest, so little things like penalties and turnovers could come into play. The Falcons have played cleaner more disciplined football this year than the Cowboys, so I am projecting the Falcons to win a hard fought 24-17 game Saturday in Laramie.