Who’s the pretender and who’s the contender?
The Falcons find themselves about a half step behind in the race for the division championship thanks to their flat defensive performance against Utah State. A win would put them back into contention for the division, with another big game next week at Boise State. For Wyoming, this is their first conference game of the season, and a win would establish them as the front runners in the division (perhaps alongside Colorado State if they can beat San Jose State in the game earlier in the day).
It’s an intriguing matchup between one of the most experienced teams in college football against a younger team that has shown a growing ability to execute it’s offensive and defensive schemes.
Wyoming is lead on offense by junior quarterback Sean Chambers and 5th year senior Xazavian Vallady. Chambers is coming back from a season-ending injury last year and appears fully recovered. He is a dual threat quarterback who has upped his passing game this year and remains a threat with his legs despite his history of injury. Valladay has been the leading rusher in the Mountain West the past two seasons, and he runs behind a strong offensive line lead by first team all-Mountain West center Keegan Cryder alongside three other seniors and a junior. The defense is led by LB Chad Muma, who leads the Cowboys in tackles and interceptions, and DE Solomon Byrd, who leads a pass rush that has helped produce 21 TFLs and 13 sacks.
Wyoming comes in with an undefeated record against a fairly weak schedule. The Cowboys were able to defeat Montana State, Northern Illinois, and Connecticut only by a single score, but dominated the best team on their schedule, Ball State, by a score of 45-12. The offense has made good strides this year under new Offensive Coordinator Tim Polasek and is averaging almost 35 points per game. The defense has not been quite as strong as expected, allowing 24 points per game and 335 yards.
Falcon Rushing Attack
The Falcon offensive attack is familiar to all its opponents. There will be at least 40-50 running plays between the tackles split between fullback traps and dives, counter plays from the tailback, and sneaks and draws from the quarterback. The idea is a kind of Chinese water torture designed to wear out the defense. Every so often the Falcons will try to hit them up with several option pitches, sweeps, or zone runs to the outside. This helps to get the defense breathing hard. FB Brad Roberts says he knows the Falcons have the defense where they want them when they have their hands on their hips and are breathing hard and getting back into position more slowly.
For the last three games, the Falcons have taken this approach to the next level, averaging 430 yards per game. You have to go back to the late 80’s, when all-time great QB Dee Dowis led the team, to find rushing totals close to this for an extended time. Several components have helped to make this happen. The fullbacks led by Roberts have been very good at watching the blocking develop and hitting whatever seam they find hard and fast and protecting the ball in the process. QB Haziiq Daniels is one of the fastest QBs in Falcon history, as he showed on his record 94 yard TD run. The defense has to respect his dangerous ability to run the ball, which makes his pitch outs even more effective. When he does pitch it, he has four slotbacks that are shifty and fast, Micah Davis, DeAndre Hughes, Brandon Lewis and Dane Kinnamon. Those four combined are averaging close to 7.6 yards per carry. Those numbers have also been boosted by each player executing his blocking assignments consistently.
Wyoming is known as a good defensive team, and they have been a tough opponent for the Falcons, but in order to win, they will have to keep the Falcon running game from controlling the game.
So far this year, the Falcons have only two turnovers, and they both came in the loss to Utah State and came at very inopportune times. LB Justin Rice was the culprit on both turnovers, and the Cowboys have a linebacker in Chad Muma who is also a playmaker and has 2 interceptions and a fumble recovery already this year. Wyoming has given up the ball only once on a fumble and three times on interceptions.
On the defensive side, the Falcons have four interceptions and three fumble recoveries. The Cowboys have six interceptions and two fumble recoveries.
In a game as tight as this one should be, both teams need to keep turnovers fairly even and keep from making the big mistakes at key times.
The Cowboys have one of the best field goal kickers in the Mountain West in John Hoyland. He has made 4 out of 5 kicks this year and he made 13 of 14 last year and has not missed an extra point.
The Falcons are only 3 of 6 on field goals and have missed one extra point kick this year. This continues a problem that began last year, when they made 5 of 9 field goal attempts.
Again, in a tight game, this could be a determining factor. The Falcons have tried three different kickers on the roster with the same result. For them, with the game on the line, they likely need to stay out of a field goal situation by making third and fourth down conversions in the red zone.
The betting line in Vegas on this game opened with the Falcons as 2 point favorites at home. It appears that bettors have heavily favored Air Force, as the line has now moved to Falcons -6. The over/under has moved from 49.5 at open to 47, which means the bettors are more confident in the Falcon defense to contain the Cowboys and control the ball.
The Falcons are having quite an issue keeping players healthy. Coach Calhoun never releases anything about injuries, so it’s difficult to know who will be out for this game. I assume that TE Patterson, WR Cormier, and LB Blackmon will remain out for this game, but SB Micah Davis might be able to play. On the offensive line, the Falcons were down to the third string center and against New Mexico started sophomore Kaleb Holcomb at tackle in place of Ryan Booth. So far the offensive line has maintained and even increased their level of performance. Wyoming has no one on their injury list.
My opinion is that the Falcon offense is operating at such a high level that they can overcome all the negative factors and win, but as always the Cowboys will be a tough opponent. Falcons will win 34-27, so I’ll take Air Force +6 and the over.