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Air Force-Utah State Preview

From the Falcon perspective

U.S. Air Force photo by Justin R

A year ago these two teams were involved in an offensive slugfest in Colorado Springs that ended up determining the Mountain Division championship. The Aggies came away with the 49-45 victory in a game that featured over 600 yards offense for each team. The victory in that game gave the Aggies the division championship.

The Aggies are still running the system that got them the Mountain West last year, but there have been a few personnel changes since then.

The biggest change is at quarterback, where Logan Bonner is out for the season. He underwent knee surgery over the offseason and struggled early this year with confidence in playing on the repaired leg. Two weeks ago he reinjured his leg and Cooper Legas has taken over the reigns. He has performed admirably when replacing Bonner. In last years LA Bowl against Oregon State, he completed 11 of 20 passes for 171 yards and 2 TDs after Bonner left with his injury. Last week against BYU, he was able to keep the Aggies close to 16th ranked BYU while completing 19 of 31 passes for 188 yards and 2 TDs. However, he has been susceptible to throwing interceptions. Last week he gave up 2 interceptions and threw another interception in the LA Bowl. He’ll provide a different set of problems for the defense because of his mobility and running skills. In fact the Falcons had shown interest in Legas in high school as a possible option quarterback.

Another big loss on the team was the graduation of Deven Thompkins, who took his 102 receptions and 10 TDs to the NFL. Brian Cobbs and Justin McGriff have returned and are the two leading receivers with 337 and 220 yards respectively.

At running back, Calvin Tyler returns as the main ball carrier. He averages almost 20 carries per game, rushing at a rate of 4.1 yards per carry. Falcon fans will remember his 61 yard run for the winning touchdown last year.

On defense, the Aggies lost three major players; LB Justin Rice and his 124 tackles and 3 interceptions, DL Nick Heninger and his 20.5 TFLs, and S Shaq Bond and his 80 tackles and 3 interceptions.

As a result of these changes, the Aggies metrics of performance have declined this year on both offense and defense.

On offense, the most notable decline has been in third and fourth down conversions and in red zone scoring. Third down conversions have fallen from 45% to 27%, fourth down has fallen from 53% to 35%, and red zone scoring has fallen from 78% to 56%. Scoring has fallen and points allowed has risen. Penalty minutes have risen from 54 minutes per game to 86 minutes per game. Passing yards have fallen by almost 100 yards per game.

Analysis and Prediction

Utah State, with it’s fast paced balanced spread offense provides a different challenge for the Falcons. It will require adjustments to the scheme and personnel of the defense. Last year they were unable to adjust very well, and the result was a missed chance to compete for the Mountain West championship. Hopefully, a year of game experience against Blake Anderson’s offense will provide some answers.

We should expect to see more of the fifth defensive back/spur linebacker in this game than we did against Navy. That means more playing time for Jayden Goodwin and less for Bo Richter. On the defensive line, the return of Jayden Thiergood last week provided a boost to the run defense and pass rush. With the mobility of Legas, the line will have to remember to contain the scramble as well. I’ll leave it up to Brian Knorr and Alex Means to figure that out, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see some playing time for PJ Ramsey or Bo Richter on the line.

For Utah State, the Falcons’ option based offense has been a nightmare. The Falcons have averaged 390 yards and 4 TDs per game against the Aggies the last five years. In spite of the two subpar games against Wyoming and Navy, the run game is even a bit better this year in my opinion. In regards to Wyoming and Navy, the run game actually did better in the losses this year than in the wins last year averaging 4.3 yards per carry versus about 3.2 last year. The difference in those games was that the opposing offenses were much better at controlling the ball and moving the sticks than last year. If the Falcons don’t give the ball away, I would expect another big day from the run game.

Draft Kings currently has this game as Air Force -10, with an over under at 56 points. I think that the Falcon run game will return with a big game and beat Utah State by a score of 35-23. I’ll take Air Force -10 and take the over.