There’s something about Blake Anderson’s offense that Air Force hasn’t yet figured out. Over the last two seasons the Falcons have a record of 22-6, and two of those losses came at the hands of the Aggies. The Aggies have scored 83 points against a defense that was ranked 16th in points allowed two years ago and 3rd best last year. The Aggies accumulated 628 yards against a Falcon defense that allowed 296 yards per game in 2021, and 414 yards against a defense that averaged 254 yards allowed last year. Only one other team has scored as many points in a game the last two years as the Aggies have against the Falcons and that was Nevada in a triple overtime game.
Do the Falcons have a chance to break the spell? Let’s take a look at how the Aggies are shaping up this year.
Scouting the Utah State Aggies
The Aggies are off to a good start in 2023. They’re coming off a blowout win over FCS Idaho State 78-28 following a close loss to No. 25 Iowa, 24-14. The offense has been very balanced for the Aggies, with a greater emphasis on rushing the ball than has been the case the last two years. The running game has totaled 496 yards, the passing game has gained 424 yards.
When passing the ball, the Aggies have utilized more short passes this year. They have averaged 7.85 per completion this year versus an average of 11.03 last year. The shorter passes have helped improve QB Cooper Legas’ completion percentage to 71.9% from 61.1% last year.
The Aggies rotate into the game three running backs - Robert Briggs, Davon Booth, and Rahsul Faison. They’ve led the team to an impressive average of 7.6 yards per carry, although that figure is inflated by the performance against Idaho State.
Terrell Vaughan is Legas’ favorite receiver with 23 catches for 166 yards and 3 touchdowns. Ex-Falcon Micah Davis is part of the receiver rotation and has caught 4 passes for 69 yards with a 47 yard touchdown. Davis also serves as the team’s punt returner.
The Aggie defense has been stout against the run this year, allowing only 94.5 yards per game with a 2.9 yard per carry average. The Aggies biggest playmakers on defense are DB Ike Larson, and LB MJ Tafisi.
Larson was a preseason first team All-MW selection. He’s had 9 tackles, .5 TFL, 1 interception for 47 yards, 2 PBUs, and a blocked kick already this season. Last year, he set the team record with 3 blocked kicks.
Tafisi transferred in from Washington last year and earned an honorable mention all-MW award. He leads the team this year in TFLs with 4, and has 14 total tackles and a forced fumble.
What to Expect
I’ll be interested to see if Utah State continues to emphasize short passes and runs over deep passes. The Aggies have won the last two years by hurting the Falcons with deep passes. If they do go to the deep pass more often, I think that the Falcon’s pass rush has taken a step up this year, and could help to negate the deep pass. And the Falcons have been dominant at stopping the run.
Another thing that the Falcons have struggled with on defense is the rapidity with which the Aggies run their play calling. Brian Knorr and Calhoun like to match situations with different personnel and the rapidity makes that hard to accomplish. Calhoun said they were running two huddles on offense against the defense in practice to stress test their system, so hopefully that helps.
For the Falcon offense, the need is for an error-free effort. Early in last week’s game, the offense seemed disjointed and it took a while to get it together. When they did get it together, a couple penalties and a fumble took them out of two drives that looked very promising. The tendency for making errors has been high against the Aggies. Two years ago, a fumble on the Aggie 25 yard line killed a possible game-winning drive, and last year an interception and a fumble in the fourth quarter resulted in a one score loss.
Currently on Draft Kings, the Falcons are a 9.5 point favorite with an over/under of 47 points. That seems quite a stretch to me. That’s requiring a lot out of an offense that hasn’t found it’s stride yet. If you’re a gambler, you probably should go for the hot hand and pick the Aggies to cover and for the under to be the right bet. But I still pick the Falcons to win 21-20 back at home with good Mitchell Hall cooking.