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Air Force Football: Keys for Game with Florida Atlantic

The Falcons head to Florida to take on the Owls in what could be a high scoring affair.

NCAA Football: Stony Brook at Air Force Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Time - 12:00 p.m. Mountain Standard Time

TV - Facebook

Matchup history - First meeting

Head Coaches - Lane Kiffin, Florida Atlantic and Troy Calhoun, Air Force

It was the best of weekends. It was the worst of weekends.

As the Florida Atlantic Owls and the Air Force Falcons prepare for their Saturday afternoon showdown in Boca Raton, the teams are approaching the contest from two very different perspectives. For the Owls, its a chance to completely wipe away the horrible memories of a 63-14 blowout loss to 6th ranked Oklahoma. And Air Force will look to continue to improve on its 38-0 shutout victory over Football Championships Series opponent Stony Brook.

As far as the reality of the matchup, neither team truly has a sense of who they really are after last weekend. So, this contest should help define who Florida Atlantic and Air Force are going to be in 2018. To help with the preview of this game, we also sought out the help of Underdog Dynasty Managing editor and Florida Atlantic reporter Cyrus Smith for his take on the battle of the birds. His first thoughts were on the state of this Florida Atlantic team after the game in Norman.

“I think you’ll see an inspired FAU team. The debacle in Norman isn’t reflective of how much talent FAU has. In my eyes the disappointing performance highlighted just how many new pieces are to this team (new starting QB, new OC, new DC). At home, we should see a much more cohesive team on Saturday.”

The Owls started their program in 2001. As they open up their 18th football season, they are coming off the best season in their short history. The team was 11-3 in 2017 including a victory in the Boca Raton Bowl. The Owls also feature the only duo in the country to be named Conference preseason Players of the Year in junior running back Devin Singletary and senior linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair. Al-Shaair is looking to set the school record for career solo and assisted tackles. The senior is 2 shy for the solo tackles and 11 short of the assisted tackle mark, and he will have plenty of opportunities Saturday against the run-heavy Air Force offense.

Singletary, the 2017 team MVP and Associated Press All-American, will test the rush defense of the Falcons early and often Saturday. The Falcons had trouble stopping the run in 2017 and Singletary, who ran for 1,920 yards and scored 32 rushing touchdowns in 2017, will quite possibly be the best back they face all season. His 32 rushing touchdowns in 2017 was the third best total in NCAA history, trailing only Barry Sanders and Montee Ball. Air Force’s ability to limit Singletary to numbers like he had last week versus Oklahoma (18 carries - 69 yards and 1 touchdown) would be a big step forward in a Falcons victory.

You might have heard this before, but Air Force is really good at running the football. Normally a team that finishes in the Top 10 nationally, the Falcons found its running game hasn’t missed a beat when it went for 333 yards and four rushing touchdowns versus a good Stony Brook defense last Saturday. Led by junior running back Joseph Saucier’s 71 yards, the Falcons had a balanced attack with 11 different players rushing for positive yardage. The Falcons were also able to play all three quarterbacks on their roster, and all three scored a rushing touchdown. Arion Worthman, the experience starter, led the way for the trio, with the opening touchdown of the game and 66 yards of rushing offense, the senior quarterback proved once again that he is a dangerous runner.

For the Falcons to be successful in Boca Raton, the quarterback is going to have to be more productive in the air then he was in the opening contest. Worthman only attempted eight passes, with two being completed. The old adage of why pass when you can run is a solid example of what the Air Force program has built itself on, but it will surely need success in play-action opportunities to slow down Al-Shaair on the front seven of the Owls. Worthman has had his struggles in the passing game, so Saturday gives him a great opportunity to start 2018 on a high note.

How does Smith see the game going Saturday?

“While I expect a much more inspired performance from FAU, I’m not exactly convinced we’ll see much better play. The offense is a huge question mark as it relates quarterback-play. Defensively tackling and run defense was a huge problem last week. While Air Force doesn’t exactly have the athletes Oklahoma possesses, I’m still worried at whether tackling will improve. Last year FAU struggled mightily against Navy. I’ll be cautious and predict FAU 34 Air Force 27.”

The Falcons are heading to Florida for only the third time in school history, and are hoping that Saturday will be their first victory in the Sunshine State. The defense is coming of a historic effort of only allowing 75 yards of total offense versus Stony Brook. Facing an All-American running back and an offensive minded head coach like Lane Kiffin is going to test just how much this Falcons defense has improved from 2017. In the seasons Air Force is really good, they take away the opponent’s running game and make them one-dimensional. The Falcons will use that formula to slow down the Owls and Singletary and a high scoring offensive attack led by Worthman’s ability to run and pass to squeak out a 35-31 victory over Florida Atlantic.