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Boise State vs. Air Force: Three Burning Questions and a Prediction

Coming off a dominant performance in the opener, Boise State looks to continue its MWC dominance against Air Force and the triple option

NCAA Football: Utah State at Boise State Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

BOISE STATE VS AIR FORCE

Location: Colorado Springs, Colorado (Falcon Stadium)

Date/Time: Saturday, October 31 at 4:00 p.m. (Mountain Time)

Television: CBS Sports

Head-to-Head: Boise State leads the all-time series with five wins against three losses. The Broncos have won the last three matchups after losing the three contests before the current winning streak. Boise State is 1-2 against Air Force at Falcons Stadium with their sole victory coming in a close 48-38 win in 2018.

Betting Line: Boise State is a 14-point favorite with the over/under at 49 points. The betting markets suggest an outcome of Boise State 31, Air Force 18.

Three Burning Questions:

1. Where will the tackles come from on defense?

The last time the Broncos and Falcons faced off, Boise State won 30-19 in a game that statistically was much closer than the final score. Air Force had the exact same number of total yards as the Broncos, had more first downs, and ran the ball 51 times at 4.7 yards per attempt. Entering the 4th quarter, Boise State clung to a four-point lead until Air Force turned the ball over on downs and then threw an interception. In other words, the game was close.

The two players on defense most responsible for tipping the scales in favor of Boise State, Sonatane Lui (16 tackles) and Khafari Buffalo (11 tackles and triple option experience), won’t line up for the Broncos on Saturday. To make matters worse, the two players who were expected to fill those roles, Scale Igiehon and Tyreque Jones, left Saturday’s game against Utah State with injuries and their status for this week is unknown.

Add that up and it could look like doom and gloom for the Broncos this Halloween, but there is some good news on the defensive side of the ball as well. Against the triple option the linebacker position takes on an even more important role than usual. It happens that Boise State is entering the Air Force game with perhaps their deepest and most talented group of linebackers in program history. Also, Boise State returns sure tacklers in Jalen Walker and Kekalua Kaniho to help on the perimeter. It will be a new challenge for the reloaded Bronco defense that will be fascinating to watch unfold Saturday afternoon.

2. How good is the Falcons defense?

Statistically the Air Force defense looks like an impenetrable force. They give up just 267 yards/game (8th nationally), 12 points/game (8th nationally), 189 Passing yards/game (23rd nationally), and 82 rushing yards/game (10th nationally). They look spooky good on paper. They also played a Navy team that got off to a rocky start to the season and a San Jose State team that nobody would confuse for an offensive juggernaut. So, how good is the Falcons defense?

Only time will tell exactly how stout the Falcons are on defense, but there is one reason to be optimistic that Boise State can find some success on Saturday. The most likely avenue for the Broncos to light up the scoreboard against Air Force is ironically through the air. The Falcons have a several new starters in the secondary and San Jose State was able to exploit them last week. Boise State has an explosive passing game and too many weapons for the Falcons to contain. This should be the week that Air Force starts tumbling in the national rankings on defense.

3. How will Boise State handle traveling in the time of COVID?

It wouldn’t be 2020 if a preview didn’t include the what-ifs of COVID-19. Last week Boise State successfully navigated the virus. They had no players miss the opener due to a negative COVID test. This week they travel for the first time and are presented with the challenge of schedule changes, logistical aberrations, and overall being more exposed to the virus then they are when they stay home.

Head coach Bryan Harsin cautioned his players to “expect the unexpected” and outlined a changed travel plan that includes flying to Colorado much later than usual and completely rethinking meals, meetings, and practice opportunities. Additionally, Air Force will allow cadets at the game which, while unlikely to cause the Broncos problems, is a change from the opener.

Facing adversity due to things beyond their control is nothing new for the Broncos under Bryan Harsin. This is a program who had a game canceled due to a thunderstorm and nearly canceled due to a hurricane. If any team can retain focus on the task at hand through uncertainty and distraction, it’s Boise State. This is another opportunity for the Broncos to prove their mettle against an opponent that has certainly earned their attention and respect.

Prediction:

This is always a scary game for Bronco fans. Air Force won three straight games against the Broncos not long ago. That is not something any other Boise State opponent can boast about. The Broncos have seemingly flipped the script, winning the past three matchups, but two of those three wins were hotly contested.

With all that said, Boise State is more talented, healthier, and has more experience on the field than the Falcons. There are a lot of reasons to expect a close game, but I don’t see it going that way. Boise State gets an early lead and Air Force can’t combat the Broncos passing game. Boise State cruises to a 2-0 record to open the season. Boise State 37 Air Force 17