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Falcons Outplayed by Aggies, Now Need a Win Against Improving Rebels

Two losses in conference put Falcons in a bind

U.S. Air Force photo / Trevor Co

The Falcon’s loss to the Aggies last week now means that three out of the last four weeks that the Falcons have underperformed expectations. Why has this happened and what does the future hold? I’ll try to answer this question by first looking at the factors that led to the Aggies’ win and common factors in the Wyoming and Navy games. For future expectations I’ll look at what the Falcons could do in the UNLV game this week to get back on track for a successful season.

Air Force-Utah State Analysis

To me, it was obvious from the start that Utah State was going to provide a formidable challenge to the Falcons. The three-headed combination of QB Cooper Legas, WR Brian Cobb, and RB Calvin Tyler were making big plays that the Falcons were having trouble containing. Legas was able to evade a Falcon pass rush that was providing a good amount of pressure to complete passes and scramble for valuable yardage. Cobbs was making great catches while having a defender draped around him with a hand in his face. Tyler was occasionally able to break out of tackles for some big gains.

Despite all of that, the Falcons were able to stiffen the defense in the red zone and run their ball control running attack well enough to establish a 17-13 lead halfway through the third quarter.

At that point, all the factors came together for the Aggies on an 80 yard drive that culminated in a 21 yard touchdown run by Calvin Tyler. The Aggie faithful in attendance were certainly a factor in the drive, exhibiting an enthusiasm of fans who were experiencing a 1-4 team that was showing the energy and talent of a team that had won a conference championship the previous year.

Even though the Falcons responded with a touchdown drive of their own the Aggies came right back with a quick 75 yard drive to again take the lead. The momentum was firmly on the Aggies side.

Coach Calhoun tried to respond with the kind of move he had used against Nevada two week ago. He put a rarely used offensive player in the game and gave him a chance to provide a big play tailored to his abilities. Against Nevada, Ben Britain threw an 80 yard strike to David Cormier for a touchdown that propelled the Falcons to a win. In this case he had Haaziq Daniels hand the ball to Jalen Johnson, who had run for an 80 yard touchdown on his only other opportunity. It started out well, but after a 22 yard run, Johnson had the ball stripped from his hands and the Aggies took over.

The run defense fell apart on the next drive and the Aggies were in the end zone in three plays. After that the Falcons threw an interception and stalled out on another drive with a holding penalty.

So was there any similarity between this game and the other two subpar games? The primary similarity was that all three teams had a quarterback that could present a threat with his running ability. The two losses occurred away from home with very enthusiastic fans cheering on the home team. The losses also featured an athletic running back who chalked up over 100 yards and an overall team rushing yardage of over 180 yards.

UNLV Preview

The Falcons will play the Rebels in Las Vegas on Saturday at 7:30pm PT. The game will be televised on CBS Sports network. The Falcons and Rebels come in with identical 4-2 records.

The Rebels improved performance this year has been spearheaded by a strong offense averaging almost 33 points per game. QB Doug Brumfield has led the charge with 1231 passing yards and 8 TD passes, and with 206 rushing yards with 5 TDs. However, he was injured in the last game against San Jose State and is listed in the injury report as out for this game. Cameron Friel will likely start against the Falcons. In two games he is 17-24 with 2 TDs and no interceptions. He has not proven to be much of a runner, having 4 carries for -28 yards, likely on sacks.

The rushing attack is led by Louisville transfer Aidan Robbins. He is second in the the Mountain West behind Brad Roberts with 561 yards in 117 carries.

The Rebels leading receiver is Michigan State transfer Ricky White, who has 386 receiving yards and 3 TDs.

On defense, the Rebels feature a fairly strong rush defense, allowing 125 yards per game at a rate of 3.5 yards per carry. The run defense is led by inside linebacker Austin Ajiake, who leads the Rebels in tackles with 60, TFLs with 8, and tied for the lead in sacks with 3. He was out with an injury last year when the Falcons racked up 511 rushing yards against the Rebels.

The pass defense is 11th in the Mountain West, allowing 247 yards per game.

Analysis and Prediction

If the report on Brumfield’s status for Saturdays game is correct, the Falcons might have dodged a bullet since Brumfield is the type of quarterback that have given them fits this year. Likely starter Cameron Friel has shown promise as a passer, but has not shown much ability in the run game. The Falcons rank third in the MW in passing yards allowed and the backs have served up pretty tight coverage for the most part. When the QB can tuck and run for a nice gain, it makes it more difficult on the defense.

The Falcon rush defense has not been quite as stellar this year as in the past. They are allowing a fairly decent 139 yards per game, but the yards per carry are at 4.6, which ranks in the bottom half of the MW. Aidan Robbins is a big back at 6’3”, 230 lbs, and is averaging 4.8 yards per carry. He’s just the type of back that can provide steady ball movement to keep the chains moving. With Alec Mock possibly out of this game, the Falcons will need to step up the pursuit to corral Robbins.

The final factor that needs to be cleaned up to beat the Rebel is the mental mistakes that lead to penalties and turnovers. The Utah State game was really the first game this year that the outcome was affected by miscues. In the loss against Wyoming, there were no turnovers and no penalties against the Falcons. In the Navy game there were 5 penalties and no turnovers. The two turnovers in the Utah State game came after the Aggies had rallied to take the lead, and the Falcons looked flustered by the energy of their opponent. The lesson learned should be that they can be a winner by settling down and executing the offense and defense at a high level. When they do that, they can beat anyone on their schedule.

The Vegas sportsbooks are again favoring the Falcons for this match. Currently on Draft Kings, the Falcons are 10 point road favorites with an over/under of 50 points. If Brumfield is out of the game, it’s possible that the Falcons could cover the spread, but I don’t have that much faith that the Falcons can easily fix all the issues on defense that contributed to the Utah State loss, especially without leading tackler Mock. However, I think the offense can perform at higher level and minimize their errors better, so I’ll take the Falcons by the score of 31-24.