San Diego State comes off its biggest win of the year — of almost any year, for that matter — a dramatic 20-17 victory Saturday night over then-No. 19 Stanford. The Aztecs are looking to build on the momentum created with a 3-0 start.
Air Force leads the all-time series 19-15, although the Aztecs have won six straight games. That includes a 27-24 victory in their last meeting, when SDSU beat Air Force at Qualcomm Stadium to win the Mountain West Championship Game.
The early line has SDSU as a 3 1/2-point favorite.
About the Falcons
It’s difficult to assess Air Force after its first two games because of the two extremes the Falcons faced. Air Force opened three weeks ago with a 62-0 win over VMI, so there is little to learn from the victory. The Falcons’ 29-13 this past weekend at No. 7-ranked Michigan is more telling, with Air Force trailing only 19-13 entering the fourth quarter.
Air Force was picked for fourth place in the Mountain West Mountain Division in a preseason media poll, largely because of the strength of the division and the fact the Falcons return only one starter on defense.
This is the 11th season for Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, who has guided the Falcons to nine bowl appearances in 10 year and has a 78-54 overall record at the academy.
There’s no surprise what Air Force is going to do in its triple option offense — run and run and run some more.
Air Force had 14 different players get carries in its opener against VMI, but the primary ball carriers are junior quarterback Arion Worthman (37 carries, 98 yards 1 TD), senior running back Tim McVey (21-160, 1 TD) and junior running back Parker Wilson (11-79).
Worthman carried 27 times for 60 yards against Michigan, which limited the Falcons to 168 yards rushing. That’s not a bad day for many schools, but almost half what Air Force averaged last year (317.4 yards/game) when they ranked third in the nation in rushing.
Crucial for the Aztecs will be preventing Air Force being sucked in by the run and allowing a big pass play. The Falcons have completed only 11 passes (in 23 attempts) over two games, but three of those completions have gone for 45, 57 and 64 yards. The 64-yarder was a touchdown pass from Worthman to wide receiver Ronald Cleveland against Michigan. It was Air Force’s only completion of the game.
Air Force piled up 305 yards rushing (on 46 carries) when the teams met for the MW title two years ago. McVey rushed for all three of the team’s touchdowns. While the SDSU coaching staff is very familiar with what the Aztecs are up against, most of the defensive players from that championship game are gone.
“The triple option is a whole different animal,” SDSU defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales said. “You only get three days to prepare. They’re going to be tough, they’re going to run it at us and it’s going to be another physical, physical battle. …
“A lot of these guys have never seen it,” Gonzales said. “(Freshman safety) Tariq Thompson has never played a triple option team in his life. We’ve got every freshmen out there that they’ve never seen it, because it is not the same stuff in high school. It will be new. We’ll give them the best scheme we can, but players win games. We could lose it for them if we don’t give them a good plan.”
Air Force ranked 10th in the nation last season in rushing defense, allowing 114 yards a game. There’s one problem with that statistic — senior linebacker Grant Ross is the only returning starter on defense.
The new players held their own against Michigan, which rushed for 190 yards on 42 carries while passing for 169 yards. Most impressive was that the Air Force defense did not allow a touchdown until the final four minutes of the game. The Wolverines’ only other TD came on a 79-yard punt return in the third quarter.
“Air Force is a high, high pressure defense,” SDSU offensive coordinator Jeff Horton said. “They like to play zero coverage and they blitz like crazy. It’s like you’re playing on an aircraft carrier and the jets are taking off. They’re coming on every down. They did a great job with Michigan on that. They frustrated Michigan.
“We’ll have to handle the pressure and, hopefully, when people do that you can break some big plays on them.”
Did you know?
The best team in Air Force history was the 1985 squad that nearly played for the national championship. The Falcons opened the season with 10 straight wins, rising to a No. 2 national ranking. A 28-21 loss at BYU in the second to last game of the regular season cost them a chance for the championship. Air Force defeated Texas 24-16 in the Bluebonnet Bowl to finish the season 12-1 and ranked No. 5 in the nation.
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