After a two week hiatus due to positive PCR Covid tests among the Falcon football team and cadet student corp, the Falcons will return to action against the New Mexico Lobos at Falcon Stadium on Friday, November 20 at 7:30 PM MST. Both teams enter the game winless in Mountain West action, with the Falcons losing to 4-0 San Jose State and 3-0 Boise State, and the Lobos losing to 4-0 San Jose State, 2-2 Hawaii, and 4-0 Nevada.
A quick look at the box scores and a review of the game film reveals that neither team has been completely dominated in these loses to some of the top teams in the conference. Those results point toward a competitive battle that most likely will be determined by intangible factors and game time availability of key players.
With that in mind, I will be watching three key factors that will likely determine the game’s outcome. As of now the betting lines favor the Falcons by 7 points and the over/under to be 55 1⁄2 points.
Who Will Play?
The Falcons have had two weeks to get healthy and ready to battle. From the depth chart released this week, it looks as though injuries to Haaziq Daniels, Timothy Jackson, and Nicholas Noyen may not be a factor, but Kade Remsberg is noticeably absent from the depth chart. I think Noyen and Jackson are the most critical components here, as Josh Stoner and Brandon Lewis are more than capable replacements for Remsberg. Matt Murla, Brad Roberts, and Elijah Robinson have had good performances when Jackson has not been available, but Jackson has an excellent ability to find the right seams and explode through tacklers and demoralize a defense. Noyen’s absence was noticeable in the losses to San Jose State and Boise State.
The biggest worry for the Falcons is in the linebacking corp. Will Trawick does not appear on the depth chart and there are two freshmen linebackers in his place. I’ve heard that Alec Mock might also be injured at the other inside linebacker spot. Brandon Gooding, who during the spring had been showing promise at the linebacker position is now listed as a backup defensive end, filling a spot due to Kaleb Nunez’s absence. With all the surprises we’ve seen throughout the Mountain West regarding availability, it’s difficult to predict what kind of performance we can expect.
For New Mexico last week, QB Tevaka Tuioti was sidelined due to a concussion, and was replaced by Trae Hall. Hall does not appear to be as dynamic as Tuioti, especially in the run game. For now Hall is listed as number one on the depth chart.
This actually worries me a little more than availability. New Mexico has had three games against good opponents and has been tied or ahead at one point in all these games. The second half has been their downfall, but one can’t help thinking that the Lobos will be able to break out of this pattern at some point. Danny Gonzales has brought enthusiasm to the program and I’m sure the team thinks they are in every game.
The other intangible is the adversity issue. Much like San Jose State, New Mexico has had to deal with a dysfunctional government policy that makes little sense. They are unable to practice on their campus and have to travel to get their games, scrimmages and drills in. The mental toughness and get ‘er done attitude is evident in their game time energy. This was a factor in the Falcon’s loss to the Spartans.
The intangible factor that offsets the first two is that the game will be played at Falcon Stadium, where Air Force is always much better than they are on the road. Under Troy Calhoun, the Falcons have a 61-21 record at home as opposed to 32-44 on the road.
The Falcon Offensive Line (Again)
So far this year, the Lobos have shown a large improvement in run defense, averaging only 81 yards per game allowed. Of course, the three teams they have played are very much pass-oriented teams, but it’s clear that the run defense is the best part of their defense. Opposing teams are averaging 410 yards per game passing. If you remember last year’s game between the teams, Donald Hammond torched the New Mexico secondary for 327 yards and four touchdowns on just 10 attempts. With Hammond gone, the Falcon passing game has been almost non-existent, average only 67 yards per game, ranking 123rd in college football. So the onus will be on the Falcon line, running backs, and receivers to open holes in a defense that will be selling out to stop the run.
With the entire starting offensive line back in the game, the Falcons should be able to do just that. as well as helping to run up the time of possession, and keep the Lobos number of possessions down. The Falcon’s line is currently ranked 5th in college football for line yards, 8th for opportunity rate, and 5th for stuff rate. The New Mexico defense also features only two starters from last year, so many of them lack game time experience against the Falcon’s triple offense.
I think the performance of the New Mexico team this year has been a little surprising to most observers. They are certainly more competitive and come into the game with more confidence and momentum. The Lobos have been tough opponents for the Falcons in recent years, but not at Falcon Stadium where the Falcons have won their last eight games against the Lobos.
I believe the Falcons will be able to grind out a win at home 28-24. New Mexico will cover the spread, and the total score will be under the betting line.