The San Diego State Aztecs and Air Force Falcons are both riding high after picking up huge victories in Week 6. San Diego State ran its winning streak to four and improved to 1-0 in Mountain West Conference play by beating Boise State 19-13 on the road. The win cemented SDSU’s place in the conference title race despite a wave of injuries to several key players early this season.
Meanwhile, Air Force snapped a three-game losing streak with a dominant performance in a 35-7 rivalry win over Navy. The Falcons are now 2-3 overall and 0-2 in league play due to earlier losses against Utah State and Nevada. Nevertheless, with the momentum that comes with a major victory and with a new quarterback at the helm who led them to it, Air Force could make life difficult for the Aztecs Friday night in San Diego.
Air Force at San Diego State
Kickoff: Friday, Oct. 12 at 9 p.m. ET
TV:CBS Sports Network
Spread: San Diego State -10
Three Things to Watch
1. The quarterbacks
Air Force and San Diego State each began the season with an experienced senior quarterback atop the depth chart. Highly productive runner Arion Worthman started the season for the Falcons, and steady pocket passer Christian Chapman for the Aztecs. However, neither will start Friday.
Worthman has lost his job under center and has reportedly fallen to third in the QB pecking order, clearing Donald Hammond III to make his second consecutive start. Hammond has run for 96 yards and five touchdowns, including a 60-yard, three-TD performance in the win over Navy. He is 12-for-25 passing for 213 yards and two touchdowns without an interception, and he threw for 142 yards last week. Isaiah Sanders, the team’s leading passer with 289 yards, is expected to be the top backup, and though Worthman has experience and athleticism, head coach Troy Calhoun has not shown any indication he will use the senior at another position.
The situation is different for the Aztecs as Chapman suffered a sprained knee against Sacramento State. Junior Ryan Agnew has started the three games since. Agnew has completed 55.1 percent of his passes for 577 yards and three touchdowns with three interceptions in four games this season.
2. Stopping the run
Both Air Force and San Diego State lean heavily on the running game. The option-oriented Falcons rank second in the Mountain West and No. 15 nationally in rushing offense (254.8 yards per game), while the pro-style Aztecs rank fifth in the league and 55th in the country (189.4).
Therefore, both defenses will be tasked with stopping the run first and foremost. And fortunately, both defenses have excelled at doing so this season. The Aztecs have allowed just 61.8 rushing yards per game and an incredible 1.96 yards per carry this season, both of which lead the conference and rank second nationally. Only one opponent (Eastern Michigan, which gained 119 rushing yards and averaged 3.05 yards per carry) has gained more than 53 yards on the ground or averaged more than 1.8 yards per attempt against San Diego State this season.
While Air Force hasn’t been quite as dominant, the Falcons rank second in the league in rushing defense (104.6), which sits 13th on the national leaderboard. Opponents have gained 3.31 yards per carry against the Air Force defense, which ranks 24th in the country.
3. San Diego State RB Chase Jasmin
The Falcons will not have to face San Diego State’s leading rusher, Juwan Washington, who leads the conference with an average of 128.3 rushing yards per game. Washington missed the Boise State game and is out indefinitely with a broken collarbone. However, the Aztecs always seem to have another running back at the ready, and the next man up is Jasmin.
Jasmin had just eight carries combined over the first two games of the season, but he now ranks second on the team with 311 rushing yards. The sophomore has averaged 4.51 yards per carry and scored two touchdowns. Jasmin carried the load against Boise State in his first start, gaining 78 tough yards on 26 carries. He set a career high with 112 rushing yards against Arizona State and followed that with 94 yards, including a 40-yarder, against Eastern Michigan.
With Jasmin now the primary ball carrier, true freshman Jordan Byrd is the change-of-pace back. Byrd, a track star, has gained 87 yards on just four carries this year, including an explosive 72-yarder against the Broncos that sealed the victory.
Motivation shouldn’t be a problem for either team Friday given the importance of the matchup, but because both teams picked up huge wins last week, there is a slight danger of either squad succumbing to the hangover effect. If one team comes out flat and the other capitalizes with an early score or two, it could make all the difference. Both teams play methodically on offense, so it will be difficult for the other to dig itself out of an early hole.
That said, San Diego State has the best chance to avoid a letdown. The Aztecs have some key injuries, but Agnew and Jasmin have filled in admirably at key positions, and the team hasn’t missed a beat since the two took over at their respective positions. San Diego State also has the edge on defense with its dominant performance against the run, as well as the home-field advantage, which is important because Air Force has yet to win away from home this year.
Prediction: San Diego State 31, Air Force 17
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.