AFAFalcons.com member "LRFHerk" for his opinion on AFA's matchup with #20 Utah.
This week the #20 Utah Utes will come to Falcon Stadium and try to do something that has not been done. Beat the Troy Calhoun coached Falcons at home. The Utes (3-0) come in sporting easy wins over UNLV and Utah State, as well as their marqueé victory in the house formerly known as "Big" against Michigan. However, this win has lost much of its luster as the hapless Wolverines continue to stumble their way through the season. Air Force (3-0) comes into this week with wins against Southern Utah, Wyoming, and the University of Houston; Last week, many outsiders felt the passing attack of the Houston Cougars would be too much for Air Force to handle. For the first 42 minutes of the game the doubters were wrong. Unfortunately, a college football game is 60 minutes. The Cougars crawled back from a 31-7 deficit before finally falling 31-28. The Falcons escaped thanks largely to an interception by freshman Anthony Wright, as well as a questionable onside kick call by the Cougars. So now, let's look ahead to the September 20th match-up.
When Air Force has the ball: Amazingly, Air Force defeated Houston without completing a pass. Air Force's problems with throwing the football last game may be attributed somewhat to the difficult weather conditions created by Hurricane Ike, as Shea Smith had been efficient throwing the ball until last game. Nevertheless, Air Force must create a credible passing threat in order to open running lanes for their spread option offense. Air Force may find their solution in star TE Travis Dekker who has yet to see the field this year after suffering a broken ankle in the summer. Though Dekker claims to feel great, it still seems unlikely that he will play this week. Therefore, it will likely fall on the shoulders of receivers Spencer Armstrong and Kevin Fogler to give the Utes a moment of pause before they crowd eight men into the box. Air Force's rushing attack continues to be strong. Air Force racked up 380 yards on the ground against Houston and averaged 5.4 ypc. Air Force's starting fullback Todd Newell is questionable for this week after suffering an ankle sprain against Houston. Jared Tew filled in for Newell and performed admirably gaining 22 yards on 4 carries. Shea Smith continued to run the offense very soundly and recorded a career long 41 yard rush. Smith will need to continue to impress against the excellent rush defense of the Utes. Let's just put it this way. Air Force is averaging 358 rushing yards per game. Utah has only allowed 281 yards rushing this year. Something has to give.
When Utah has the Ball: Brian Johnson is the leader of a balanced offensive attack. A sluggish second half against Michigan aside, the Ute offense has found plenty of big gains this year both on the ground and through the air. Darrell Mack is the most capable running back the Falcons have faced this year. He has averaged over 5 ypc every game this season, and the Falcons will have to keep him under 4 ypc to create more favorable third down situations this game. The Air Force defensive line led by Ryan Kemp and Jake Paulson must continue to create the type of penetration they have so far this season in order allow linebackers Andre Morris Jr., Brandon Reeves, Hunter Altman, and Ken Lamendola a chance to stop the Ute ground game near the line of scrimmage. Air Force's defensive back play has been a very pleasant surprise this year after replacing 3 of 4 starters. Chris Thomas is the clear leader of the unit, but Reggie Rembert is arguably the most improved player on the squad. Standing only 5'7'', 175 pounds, Rembert runs like a cornerback, but tackles like a safety. He will likely need to be able to cover his man without safety help in order to free a safety to help the inexperienced Brenton Byrd-Fulbright at the other corner. The Air Force defense has performed admirably this year, but this game will undoubtedly be their biggest test.
Outlook: Air Force will need to adjust quickly to the talent level of this Utah team. Air Force has opened as 7.5 point underdogs in this game, but it is hard to bet against them. Troy Calhoun teams seem to just find a way to win at home.