Three Game Keys: Nevada
1) It may seem overdramatic, but the first key for Air Force is for the defense to give the Falcons a chance. Air Force hasn't been able to slow anyone down in Mountain West play. While in past games we've focused on specific players, it really is now a group effort. The unit ranks 116th in the country, 108th against the pass, and 97th against the run. It's not just one thing at the moment. Air Force simply can't slow anyone down because its problems are so noticeably pervasive. If the defense doesn't step up, Nevada will drop 40 or more points on the Falcons.
Here's a key-within-a-key: The defense must use the suspension of quarterback Jaleel Awini as a way to challenge itself to do better. Yes, the big story surrounding this game from a national perspective is Awini's exit from the program. Internally, though, the defense needs to turn an adverse situation into a moment of opportunity, a catapult toward improved performance. The "all for one and one for all" spirit of any team is easy to talk about. In this game, though, it must become real for the Falcons. This is in one sense a nightmarish confluence of events for Air Force. The team must flip the script and turn that darkness into a bright new day.
2) The second key for Air Force is to dominate time of possession. Awini's absence makes this need even more acute, since the Falcons are now less likely to uncork huge plays.
Nevada basically has been obliterated by the two quality opponents it played; it has handled the two lightweight opponents it has faced to date. Like Air Force, Nevada hasn't had much success on the defensive side of the ball; Troy Calhoun is still be waiting on that one game in 2013 when Air Force fully controls the clock. The magic number we'll set for the Falcons on Saturday in Reno is 35-36 minutes of possession. If the AFA can get to that figure, the Falcons probably have a good chance to win on the road.
3) The final key for Air Force is to limit turnovers. While the Falcons have been good in terms of ball security all season, they are facing a Nevada team that is tied for eighth nationally with 10 turnovers forced. These keys almost line up in that if Air Force can limit turnovers, it has a shot to control the clock, which in turn could help the defense's performance. Right now Air Force just needs to stop the snowball that's rolling downhill and get back on track. The easiest way to ruin any restoration plan is for the Falcons to give the ball away early in this game.
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