(Sports Network) Sporting the most wins in Mountain West Conference play thus far in 2010, the 23rd-ranked Air Force Falcons shoot for league win number four this weekend when they visit the San Diego State Aztecs at Qualcomm Stadium.
TCU and Utah may be ranked higher than the Falcons in the latest AP poll, but the truth is the academy has three MWC victories already, compared to just two apiece for the Horned Frogs and Utes. The Mountain West has the fifth most members ranked in the top-25 this week, ahead of conferences like the ACC and Big East which both sport just one team at the moment.
Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun guided his squad to a convincing 49-27 win over in-state and conference rival Colorado State last weekend at home. The win was the third straight for the Falcons, but at the same time the 27 points allowed tied for the most surrendered by the squad this year, matching the production by nationally-ranked Oklahoma on the road in the middle of September. Even with the three-point setback to the Sooners, Air Force is off to its best start since 2003.
As for the Aztecs, they appeared to be much stronger than BYU on paper heading into last week's encounter, but the offense for San Diego State took a step back and that allowed the Cougars to capture the 24-21 victory in Provo in the Mountain West opener for SDSU. The loss was the second in the last three games for the Aztecs, who just a few weeks ago blitzed Utah State in a 41-7 final at home.
"We didn't execute, we didn't stop the run and we didn't tackle," SDSU head coach Brady Hoke said after the defeat. "I think in the first 18 minutes of the game we pushed too hard to make something happen and we didn't wait for the game to come to us. When you do that you get beat."
Air Force won the most recent meeting between the programs a year ago with a 26-14 decision, lifting the academy to a 19-9 advantage in the all-time series versus San Diego State. The Falcons, who have won three in a row over SDSU, did not score a single offensive touchdown in last year's meeting.
The top-ranked rushing attack took on a bit of a different look on Saturday when the Falcons hit the field against Colorado State, as quarterback Tim Jefferson turned a mere five completed passes into 160 yards and two touchdowns in the victory over the in-state rival. The same goes for Ben Cochran who threw just a single pass, yet it went complete for a TD as well for the Falcons as they poured it on against the Rams.
Reeling in the two TD passes from Jefferson was Zach Kauth who finished with three catches for 85 yards in the victory.
"We were hitting on cylinders the first quarter, first quarter and a half," Kauth recognized after the game. "Gotta keep it up going throughout the season, can't let down anymore."
Asher Clark led the ground attack with 125 yards and a score on 17 carries, hitting the holes created for him by teammates. During the contest Clark also went over the 2,000-yard mark for his career.
But it wasn't all offense for the Falcons, as senior defensive back Reggie Rembert posted a season-high seven tackles, picked off a pass, broke up three attempts and recovered a fumble on his way to being named the MWC Defensive Player of the Week.
"Pretty much, I just try to be around the ball, if it is on the other side of the field I'm going to try and make the tackle, I don't care where it is," Rembert said of his efforts. "It's always about hustle, I'm a small guy so I gotta always do something extra."
Despite being a bit slight in stature compared to the rest of the league's players, the Falcons are still a force to be reckoned with when it comes to pass defense. The unit is currently second in the conference and seventh in the nation with just 149.3 ypg allowed. In terms of pass efficiency defense, no one is better than Air Force in the MWC and there are only seven teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision that have a rating better than 100.31 at the moment.
But make no mistake, even though Jefferson and the passing offense has shown signs of life, this squad lives by running the triple option and averaging 352.7 ypg.
Working against the Falcons this time around is a San Diego State run defense that is third in the Mountain West and 42nd in the country with 133.6 ypg allowed. However, it must be noted that the unit's top performance this season came against Nicholls State in the opener and the second-best effort was posted versus Missouri, a program that doesn't run the ball much at all to begin with.
From an offensive perspective, SDSU quarterback Ryan Lindley is someone who can do some damage, yet last week he couldn't quite get his team over the hump as he threw for 220 yards and three touchdowns in the loss to BYU. Vincent Brown stepped up with six catches for 101 yards and a score, but the squad had virtually no running game with Ronnie Hillman posting only 62 yards on 11 attempts.
Hillman, the leading rusher in the MWC with 118.8 ypg through five outings, is averaging better than six yards per carry and has scored a total of eight TDs on the ground so there is certainly potential there for him to explode when the situation is right. Lindley has three times as many touchdowns (nine) as he does interceptions, but his 55.3 percent accuracy is not quite up to snuff for a squad that has leaned so heavily on the pass to this point. The good thing is that Lindley has remained upright much of the time while the offensive line ranks second in the MWC and fifth in the nation with just 0.40 sacks allowed per outing.
Pressure at the line of scrimmage will be critical for the Aztecs this weekend if they hope to slow down the Air Force running game. Averaging eight tackles for loss per game, tops in the MWC and 10th in the nation, certainly bodes well for SDSU, but when you consider that nearly one-third (12) of their total TFLs (40) this season came against Nicholls State in the opener, that stat might be a bit misleading.
Lindley needs to keep the Aztecs competitive in this meeting, otherwise the academy will eat up the clock as they routinely do and force San Diego State into making moves the home team might not want to try.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Air Force 38, San Diego State 21