Date/Time: Friday, September 22, 2023, 7:30
Location: CEFCU Stadium, San Jose, CA
Broadcast: Fox Sports
Radio: 860 KTRB
Head-to-Head: In the last six meetings since 1997, Air Force is 4-2 over SJSU.
As the gauntlet tour continues for San Jose State (1-3, 0-0 MW), the #1 rushing game in the nation with Air Force (3-0) comes to town Friday night with the obvious intent...to run.
The Falcons have already amassed 962 rush yards without any individual running back in the top 50.
5’11’ 220 lb. Owen Burk is ranked #51 with 222 yards on 39 carries in three games and QB Zac Larrier is just behind Burk in rushing production. It’s all part of the Falcon enigma.
You know what’s coming. You know all the combinations of what can come at you. But you can’t completely stop it...unless you have enough superior athletes.
“The more unique thing of it is we have less time to prepare than even they do for us since they get that extra day,” said head coach Brent Brennan. “They’re running a scheme we don’t see very often; like once every five years. That’s the real challenge of it all.”
Everyone knows the signature triple option is the drink of choice for the cadets. With their slotbacks/tailbacks, for example, it sets up a variety of threats against defenses trying to maintain their discipline waiting for those quick dives, as in the textbook example below against the Colorado Buffaloes in 2020.
“The really hard part of it is the discipline part of it.”
Now consider the Spartan defense. After four games, SJS is ranked 105th in rush defense allowing 170 yards average per game pitted against the Falcon’s 5.37 yards per rush and 321 yards rushing average per game.
What’s going to give?
Well, add in the triple-and-a-half option, there is the perfect threat of the pass to keep you honest. Just ask Utah State in their 39-21 loss last week to Air Force.
With Air Force also being #1 in passing efficiency, they’re ripe to pass against an overzealous defense. Oh, it should be mentioned the Falcons only have 10 pass attempts and six completions in three games is why Air Force is tops in the nation in efficiency.
It all begs the question - Air Force should shock the world and become an air raid offense some day considering everything they’re about off the field is air superiority.
But in the bigger picture, the analysts and analytics are only favoring Air Force by a bit more than a field goal. So just like last week, the Spartans on paper should be in the thick of it.
“As frustrating and disappointing as it was the other night,” said Brennan on the Toledo loss. “We had a real chance to win that game. If we fix a couple things and play with a bit more disciplined, there’s a chance for us.”
Brennan on the Falcons, “This one is a totally different challenge in terms of what they do, who they are and how they play.”
So the bigger question is can they close the deal? Execute, minimize fatal mistakes and keep time of possession up as the Spartans have been doing are the keys.
The Spartans preemptive defense will be QB Chevan Cordeiro keeping the offense on the field to help keep the Falcons’ run game at bay.
“We go as he goes on offense,” said Brennan on Cordeiro. “There’s been a lot of conversations and analyzing what we can do to give him a better chance.”
Cordeiro’s receiving palette is expanding. And seemingly perhaps the pressure to do more, as it’s abundantly clear of Cordeiro and his teammates’ torture from games they truly believe they should have won or been more competitive.
With one known receiving piece missing, Brennan confirmed pre-season All-Mountain West receiver Justin Lockhart would be out the remainder of the year from an undisclosed injury. Lockhart has not played in any games this season. This writer’s speculation was Lockhart looked to have suffered an upper extremity injury at practice the week prior to the USC game.
Nonetheless, we can most certainly and safely assume the next-man-up mentality has been in full force, as evident with a slew of dynamic receivers from Brendan Alvarez, Matthew Coleman and Maliki Miller joining Cordeiro’s other mainstay targets in Nick Nash, Charles Ross, Dominick Mazotti and Sam Olsen (though Olsen looked to have suffered a leg injury last week).
“I think we’ve got a good football team,” said Brennan. “We just can’t prove it yet by our record and that’s the hardest thing to deal with.”
“There’s been moments of some really good football this year and there is confidence.”
The Spartans will need all the will and confidence to pull out a must win against Air Force. Otherwise, going 1-4 headed to Boise State October 7th after their bye week will be a capper either way in the most difficult series of games to open a season.