Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs is one of the most scenic settings in all of college football. On Saturday, it will play host to a rare meeting between Fresno State (2-2) and Air Force (3-2) in a critical Mountain West game for both teams for the second week of October.
Fresno State will be looking to get its offense performing at a higher level as it kicks off conference play this week. The Bulldogs were off last week and will be looking to extend their winning streak to two after beating New Mexico State 30-17 two weeks ago in Las Cruces. Quarterback Jorge Reyna managed the game well against New Mexico State, completing 20-of-31 passed for 147 yards. The offensive line did a good job of controlling the line of scrimmage, as Fresno State rushed for 238 yards on 39 attempts. Defensively, the Bulldogs did a good job forcing New Mexico State to be one dimensional, limiting the Aggies to just 105 yards on the ground.
Air Force will be looking to bounce back after a 34-25 loss last Saturday to rival Navy in Annapolis. It was the inability of the Falcons to finish that haunted them in the loss to the Midshipmen. Air Force was ahead 25-21 late in the fourth quarter before Navy quarterback Malcolm Perry scored the game-winning touchdown on a three-yard run with 23 seconds left. Overall, the Falcons execute their option attack as well as anyone, as they are fourth in the nation in rushing with 287.8 yards per game. As for the defense, the Falcons are allowing only 23.6 points and 319.0 total yards per game.
Fresno State at Air Force
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 12 at 7 p.m. ET
Spread: Air Force -3.5
When Fresno State Has the Ball
Staying on schedule offensively will be important for the Bulldogs on Saturday; they can’t try to force things against a disciplined Air Force defense. Jorge Reyna has done an excellent job of taking care of the football in recent weeks, and that will need to continue on Saturday. Getting off to a fast start will also help, as Fresno State was 5-0 last season when scoring on the opening drive. Also, Reyna will need to get Ronnie Rivers and Jared Rice going in the running and passing game, respectively. These are the Bulldogs' two most experienced returning playmakers, and they are due to post huge numbers even with increased attention from opposing defenses.
Air Force will need to make the Bulldogs work for everything they get and bet on their defense, finding ways to consistently get off the field. Red zone defense is also going to be critical because if you can force Fresno State to settle for field goals, you’ll be in great shape to win. Demonte Meeks and Jeremy Fejedelem are the leading tacklers for a deep Falcons defense, and Lakota Wills is the main pass rusher the Bulldogs will need to account for.
When Air Force Has the Ball
Falcons QB Donald Hammond III will need to execute a few explosive plays in the passing game to give the Falcons a change of pace offensively. On the ground, Taven Birdow and Kadin Remsberg have rushed for nearly 400 yards apiece and have combined for six touchdowns. Converting on third down will continue to be important for the Falcons, as they are sitting at 50 percent on the year. That consistency on third down allows Air Force to keep drives alive and save wear and tear on the defense.
The Bulldogs' defense is going to have to be assignment sound in dealing with the option. They have done a nice job this year in stopping the run, limiting teams to just 109.5 yards per game on the ground. This week will be a different beast as the Falcons are outstanding at executing their triple-option offense. Linebackers Mychal Walker and Justin Rice are going to have to come up with double-digit tackle type of games and a force a fumble or two to steal possessions for the offense.
Altitude is always a bit of a factor for visiting teams at Falcon Stadium. Fresno State is coming off a bye week, their second of the season already, so the Bulldogs should be well-rested. Air Force is always tough at home and will look to put the game away with their ground attack. In the end, the Falcons defense will force a key turnover in the fourth quarter and seal what should be a tightly contested battle for 60 minutes.
Prediction: Air Force 27, Fresno State 24
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ScottWhittum.
(Top photo courtesy of @FresnoStateFB)