(Sports Network) - After nearly pulling off the improbable, the Air Force Falcons now set their sights on their second Mountain West Conference game of the season as they make the trip to Laramie to face off against the Wyoming Cowboys at War Memorial Stadium.
Currently one of the top offenses in the nation, the Falcons tried to follow up their wins against Northwestern State (65-21) and MWC foe BYU (35-14) with another successful outing when they clashed with nationally-ranked Oklahoma on the road on Saturday. The academy put forth a tremendous effort, but came up just short in a 27-24 setback in Norman. If nothing else, Air Force scored a moral victory for the little guy as the Sooners dropped one place in the national polls from seventh to eighth following the close call.
As for the Cowboys, still grieving from the loss of Ruben Narcisse who died in a car accident early on the morning of September 6th, the season has worn on. Two days before the tragic event the Pokes began the 2010 campaign with a 28-20 win over Southern Utah, but since then little has gone right for the squad. Part of the problem is facing two teams ranked in the top-10 in back- to-back weeks, a proposal that few programs would care to endure. After losing to Texas in Austin (34-7) the second week of the season, Wyoming turned around and hosted third-ranked Boise State last Saturday and was blown out of the water in a 51-6 final.
Air Force lodged a 10-0 shutout win in the annual meeting a year ago and now holds a 25-20-3 advantage in the all-time series as a result.
The Falcons ran for a staggering 351 yards against Oklahoma last Saturday, the most yards allowed on the ground by a Sooners squad during the 12-year tenure of head coach Bob Stoops, and the effort nearly brought the academy to the brink of victory. Tim Jefferson not only gained a team-best 96 yards and scored once on 13 carries for the Falcons, he also converted 8-of-14 passes for 107 yards and suffered just one sack against one of the more formidable defenses in the entire nation. Also hitting the end zone for the Falcons were Jared Tew and Kyle Halderman. Of little surprise is the fact that Air Force is again the leading run team in the nation with a ridiculous 399 ypg and that has made the squad sixth in the nation in total offense with 517 ypg. Obviously the passing attack for the Falcons is nowhere near that of the rest of the nation, averaging just 118 ypg (116th), but considering Air Force had rarely put the ball in the air before Jefferson took over it is still a positive sign for the offense. With an average of 41.3 ppg after three outings it has also become clear that the Falcons are more than just a team that can beat up on weaker opponents such as Northwestern State.
In their first two games of 2010 the Sooners had piled up a combined 78 points against Utah State and Florida State, which means Air Force put up the toughest fight against Oklahoma before it too was sent to the loss column. The home team controlled the ball for less than 26 minutes, but during that time they scored on all four of their red zone opportunities. Brady Amack recorded a team-best 10 tackles for the Falcons, while Pat Hennessey and Zach Payne both tallied sacks in the losing effort as well. After three games Amack leads the program with his 23 tackles and has one of the two interceptions for the group which he returned 50 yards. Brian Lindsay has accounted for three tackles for loss and three pass breakups thus far and Caleb Konemann has made two of his five stops thus far against the opposing quarterback, making the most of his limited hits. The Falcons as a team are averaging 2.67 sacks per outing, ranking them third in the conference and 29th nationally.
With their hearts and minds anywhere but the football field these days, the Cowboys found themselves scoreless after the first half against third-ranked Boise State and ended up with just six points overall following a 35-yard TD pass from Austyn Carta-Samuels to Greg Saydjari, with the PAT having failed. Wyoming's offense was dreadful, posting just seven first downs and minus 21 net rushing yards. Carta-Samuels converted 12-of-21 passes for 156 yards, but was picked twice and sacked four times. Having trailed by large margins in each of the last two games, the first time Wyoming has faced top-five opponents in back-to-back contests in program history, it should come as little surprise that the so-called rushing attack has taken a back seat. While Air Force makes a living by keeping the ball on the ground, the Pokes have done less damage in that area than any other team in the nation, averaging a pitiful 24.3 ypg. Carta-Samuels, with his 70.1 percent accuracy and 211.7 ypg, has tried to make up the difference but it is simply too great at the moment.
Had Boise State not called off the dogs in the second half the final score could have been a lot worse for the Cowboys last weekend. While the Pokes were able to log an interception of Kellen Moore, a rarity these days for the successful BSU signal-caller, the pass defense still allowed a hefty 373 yards and another 275 yards and three touchdowns on the ground by the visitors to Laramie. Given how much time his squad was on the field, maybe its not that unusual that Shamiel Gary ended up with 17 tackles, adding a pair of pass breakups and that pick to his stat line. Brian Hendricks and Chris Prosinski both accounted for 12 stops apiece, but that's only because the Broncos ran so many plays to begin with. Then again, Hendricks is no stranger to constant action because he's the one who set the school's single-game tackles mark with 23 last year against the Falcons, ironically. Through three games this year Hendricks has 31 overall tackles, third-most on the squad behind Gary (38) and Prosinski (32). Unfortunately, the Cowboys are still 106th in the nation in run defense with 211 ypg allowed and 112th in total defense (473.7 ypg), even with the efforts of those three big hitters.
Keeping the ball on the ground and eating up the clock will be key for the Falcons this weekend. Wyoming's run defense has been battered already this season and now the Pokes just have to get ready for more of the same.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Air Force 38, Wyoming 14
Saturday, September 25, 2:00 p.m. (et).