"[The Falcons] played a really strong first game and obviously we only have one game on them from this year," said junior quarterback Riley Nelson. "We have game film on them in the past and they're kind of your typical Air Force defense. They're very disciplined and they make very few mistakes and play with great effort, so knowing those things, we have to be on top of our game."
The Falcons beat Northwestern State 65-21 in their first game of the season. And while the Cougars also got into the win column last week, the two teams won't have any more opportunities to prepare for conference play.
"You always like a couple tune-up games before you get into conference, but it is what it is," said Nelson. "It's an exciting opportunity for us to go and play Air Force on September 11th and be in a great atmosphere like that. We'll rise up to the challenge, but like I said, you always want a couple of tune-up games before you get into conference play. We've got to rev it up because our goal is to win a conference championship."
The last time BYU played Air Force for the conference opener, the Falcons won 32-12 in 2000. However, the Cougar defense will be more prepared this year after having faced Nelson during spring and fall camp.
"We don't run a pure triple option here like Air Force does," Nelson said. "We do run a variation of it with the dive and the pitch and, obviously, with the quarterback being a threat to run. I would hope that I've helped the defense in some way during camp by running around with my feet being that quarterback run threat."
First-team all-MWC cornerback Reggie Rembert of the Falcons was carted off the field last Saturday with a neck injury. Nelson learned during the press conference that one of the top cornerbacks won't be out on the field when he steps behind center.
Nelson said that the injury is "unfortunate for him and I hope he recovers quickly. If they do have a new and inexperienced guy, that definitely does make our job a little easier. You just never know. If he's out there on the field playing, that generally means he's a pretty good player, so we'll evaluate him."
BYU is expecting the Falcon defense to try and confuse the Cougar offense more than the Huskies did.
"I think Washington felt like they had good enough athletes that they didn't have to really disguise what they were trying to do," said Nelson. "Air Force has good athletes, but part of their scheme is to not give you a good idea on what they're going to do pre-snap, so that's a different challenge facing us. But I'm not too worried about that because our o-line and backs played great against Washington, and I think they'll continue to play great against Air Force even though they're great at causing a lot of that chaos. Our line is great at sorting all that stuff out, and as far as protection is concerned, they'll take care of it.
"Washington came down with a lot of three invert. They brought that safety down into the box and tried to do a little bit of blitzing. Now, Air Force comes at it from a little bit of a different look because they have the three down linemen and the four linebackers. So they can cause a little more chaos from where they're bringing the pressure from, but seeing so much [safety] invert from Washington and stuff like that will really help us against Air Force."
Air Force runs a 3-4 defense similar to what BYU runs, so the Cougar offense is familiar with some of the things that the Falcon defense does.
"We were watching film on them last night," Nelson said. "A lot of the same things they do with their linebackers - some blitzes that they bring and some coverages that they do - are similar. In fact, we were watching one play where they take their outside linebacker and run him out to the trips. That was the exact same play we run here. It was like watching Kyle Van Noy in camp running out to the trips and make a play by picking the ball off. The good thing is we did see it for 29 practices in fall camp. Now, they do have a few different wrinkles, but the foundation of the defense is still the same. Hopefully that will settle us down a little bit knowing that we've already faced it."
While Washington might have an edge over the Falcons when it comes to athleticism, few programs squeeze the most out of their athletes like Air Force does.
"I know [the Falcons] play with great effort, and maybe their forty times, whatever they are, might not be as good as perhaps some of the players from Washington. I would think that because they play with greater effort, that aspect of the game might be made up because of that."
As for player rotation on offense this upcoming Saturday, BYU fans can expect to see many of the same freshmen that played against Washington.
"I think they all played great," Nelson said. "Marcus Mathews obviously had that great catch on the rollout from Jake [Heaps]. Then Mike [Muehlmann] had that nice catch over the middle and Richard Wilson had a few, so I expect those guys to continue to get better and better. With greater confidence comes greater performance, and those guys got their feet wet so to speak during that first game, so I expect them to continue to improve and help this team.
"Then Joshua Quezada for, I think, his first or second play goes in and catches a touchdown, that lucky dog. In looking back, I think all of our freshmen played well. In a setting like that when you do have a lot of guys with a lot of inexperience, I think it helps to have a lot of depth. In other words, being able to have guys go in and out because then they don't feel like it's all on them, that there are other guys that can make plays, and when they see other guys making plays, then it kind of a reassurance for them. I was so proud of how all of our young guys played, especially Jake. He played so well and was so poised and experienced that I hardly think of him as a true freshman."