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Air Force Falcons Wrap Up Regular Season Against UNLV Rebels

(Sports Network) — The Air Force Falcons close out their regular season on Thursday night as they pay a visit to the UNLV Rebels for a Mountain West Conference showdown at Sam Boyd Stadium.

Since losing three straight games against powerful conference competition, the Falcons have turned the corner and are now riding a two-game win streak. Last weekend the Falcons posted a 48-23 win over New Mexico at home to help strengthen their case for making it the postseason again this year.

As for the Rebels, they finally managed to get back into the win column by putting up a 42-16 victory over the Wyoming Cowboys here at home in the desert. The win snapped a five-game slide for UNLV, but was still just the second triumph of the season for the team, following a 45-10 romp over New Mexico back in late September.

The academy captured a 45-17 win in last year's matchup with UNLV and that leaves the Falcons with an 11-4 edge in the series as a result. Air Force has won three straight and seven of the last eight meetings with the Rebels.

Asher Clark ran for a pair of touchdowns and gained 95 yards on 19 carries for the Falcons as they overcame the loss of quarterback Tim Jefferson to record the lopsided win over the Lobos last weekend. Jefferson, who suffered a head injury that has him listed as questionable for the matchup with UNLV, hit on 2-of-3 passes before leaving. Stepping in was Connor Dietz who generated 67 yards and a TD through the air, not to mention a rushing score for a unit that gained 373 yards and posted six TDs in the victory. Not to knock Jefferson and his passing ability, but everyone knows this offense is predicated on how well the Falcons move the ball on the ground. At this stage the team is back to being first in the conference and second in the nation in rushing with 315.6 ypg, having gained more than 300 yards six times this season and scoring a total of 36 touchdowns on the ground. Its nice to always have the option to put the ball in the air, but for the Falcons it isn't necessary.

The Falcons defense watched the Lobos march down the field on their first possession of the game on Saturday and score a touchdown, but considering UNM was handed a short field after a lost fumble it wasn't all the unit's fault. Air Force did bounce back, allowing just two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, but by then the outcome had already been decided. Jordan Waiwaiole was again instrumental in the squad's success with eight tackles, 1.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage. Catching opponents behind the line of scrimmage has not been a strong suit for the Falcons this season and at the moment the group is ranked sixth in the conference and 97th nationally with just 4.8 TFLs per game. What's worse, the unit has recorded a mere 1.18 sacks per outing and that has the academy ranked seventh in the MWC and 110th in the nation entering play this week.

Even though quarterback Omar Clayton generally makes the headlines for the Rebels, it was freshman running back Tim Cornett who stole the show for UNLV as he scored one touchdown in every quarter of the team's win over Wyoming last week. Cornett totaled 70 yards and three TDs on the ground and one catch for 12 yards and a score to become the first player since 1994 to have four TDs for the Rebels. Clayton did have his share of the highlights though, as he converted 13-of-18 passes for 163 yards and three touchdowns, but it was Cornett who earned a share of MWC Offensive Player of the Week honors. As great as it was for Cornett to earn himself and the UNLV offense some respect, the fact remains that the so-called rushing attack for the Rebels is still last in the conference with just 107.1 ypg and overall the offense ranks 118th in the nation with a mere 269.9 ypg at the moment as well.

The Rebels allowed Wyoming quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels to run for 92 yards and a touchdown and also throw for another 108 yards, but aside from his efforts the Cowboys did little to threaten the inevitable victory by UNLV. Wyoming was allowed a mere 273 yards of total offense and 53 plays, converting just 3-of-11 on third-down efforts. Ronnie Paulo tallied a team-best 10 tackles for the Rebels, while B.J. Bell registered the lone sack for the home team. Not only is the offense for the Rebels generally a lost cause, outside of beating the two other teams in the MWC that have a combined record of just 3-18, but the defense is also one of the weakest in all of college football in several areas. When it comes to tackles behind the line of scrimmage, this is a group that has managed less than four per game, last in the MWC and 116th in the country this week.

The run defense for the Rebels has allowed a whopping 211.9 ypg this season and you can be sure that Air Force is well aware of that fact and plans to exploit it as much as possible this week.

TV: CBS College Sports, 8 p.m. mountain time.