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Air Force-Boise State Showdown Preview

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Second straight must win game for Falcon championship hopes

Air Force takes to the road for only the second time this season traveling to Idaho for a Mountain West showdown with an always tough Boise State squad that has struggled at times this year. The Broncos appeared to right the ship last week by beating 10th ranked BYU in Provo. The Falcons will be trying for their first win over the Broncos since 2016.

The game will be televised on FS1 at 7PM MT Saturday night.

Boise State is led on offense by QB Hank Bachmeier and WR Kahlil Shakir. Bachmeier is a very accurate pocket passer, but not very dangerous as a runner/scrambler. When he passes, Shakir is definitely the preferred target, given his ability to make fantastic catches in traffic. Octavius Evans, Stefan Cobbs, and CT Thomas are all dangerous receivers, and could create the same problems for the Falcons that Utah State’s receivers did.

The Bronco running game has been moribund this year with George Holani limited with injuries. Holani is listed as questionable for this game. Cyrus Habibi-Likio had a decent game against BYU, but is averaging only 3.4 yards per carry. Watch for the Broncos to try to involve Shakir, CT Thomas, and/or Stefan Cobbs in the run game as well.

The Broncos run defense is so-so, allowing 178 yards per game and 4.4 yards per carry, but seemed to improve last week against BYU, only allowing 111 yards and recovering three fumbles. Last year, the Falcons were able to roll up 415 yards on the ground; it’s likely we’ll see pretty good results this year.

Keys to a Falcon Victory

Get A Quick Start

For the last four games, and in five out of the six games, the Falcons have scored a touchdown their first possession of the game. The Broncos are coming off their best game of the year, and the fans and players are very fired up about turning their season around. The Falcons need to diffuse that energy, and a methodical drive using a lot of time off the clock would send a nice message. Come to think of it, a stunning long pass to Brandon Lewis or Micah Davis would do the trick also.

Win The Turnover Battle

As I noted above the Broncos had three fumble recoveries in their win over BYU. They also have been adept at interceptions this year with a total of eight. The margin for Falcon victory is very tight, and they can’t stand to give the ball away very often.

The Falcons do have their own takeaway machines in Vince Sanford and Corvan Taylor. This week Sanford won the Bednarik player of the week award as the outstanding defensive player in college football. Taylor leads the Falcons in turnovers with 3 interceptions and 2 fumble recoveries.

Turning the ball over on downs is of course another way to give the ball up. Both teams are pretty good at converting on late downs; Air Force is #23 in FBS at 47.3% and Boise is #40 at 44.6%. Air Force has a large advantage on fourth down, 80% to 43%. Boise is better at turning trips into the red zone into scores, largely because of their accurate placekicker. They have converted 26 out of 28 trips into points to the Falcon’s 18 out of 22. The Falcons do have an advantage in turning red zone trips into touchdowns.

Contain Boise’s Passing Game

The last two years, Boise has completed 77% of their passes against the Falcons, hence the losses despite very good offensive performances. I’m sure the Bronco’s coaches are looking at videos from the Utah State game and salivating. I’m reasonably certain that that game was an anomaly, but anomalies can recur, just like the three losses on Boise’s record can recur. Which outcome is more probable? Given the recent history of this rivalry, it is more likely that the Broncos will again hurt Air Force in the passing game. So whatever DC John Rudzinski schemes up against the Broncos, it better be good. It’s not likely that Boise will consistently hurt the Falcons in the running game, even if George Holani is in the game. It is likely that Boise will hurt the Falcons in the passing game. The offense should be good enough to get a win if the Falcons don’t get scorched in the passing game. I’m not a coach, I don’t know the solution, but that’s the situation.

Prediction

The Betting odds opened on this game at Boise -5 and has moved modestly to Boise -4. If you are inclined to watch the analytics guys, the prediction is a closer match than what Vegas thinks. Bill Conelly’s SP+ has it as a 2 point Boise win, and Brian Fremeau’s FEI has Boise as a 1 point favorite. If this game was in Colorado Springs, I would go with the Falcons, but after the big win at BYU, I think the Broncos and their fans at home will be fired up to prove they are worthy of a spot in the Big 12.

Broncos win by a field goal 31-28. Air Force +4 and I take the over at 51 points.