For BYU, this Saturday game against Air Force is, I believe, the signature game of the 2004 season. It is a game BYU can and should win. It is also a game they could easily lose. Patience and execution are the keys to a BYU win.
10 REASONS WHY BYU BEATS AIR FORCE ...
1) Offensive line: BYU's offensive line has made tremendous improvement over the course of the season. Pass protection is better. Penalties are down. But the most impressive aspect of the offensive line was shown in the fourth quarter last week against Wyoming. To simply say the line was dominant does not do justice to their superb run-blocking. They were literally blowing the Wyoming front seven back on their heels. Look for the BYU offensive line to wear down a much smaller Falcons defensive line and dominate as the game moves into the second half.
2) Curtis Brown: Brown has emerged as a major weapon for BYU – running, catching and even throwing touchdowns! I love everything about this guy. I predict if he gets 20-plus touches on Saturday, BYU wins.
3) Power formations: In the fourth quarter last week, BYU showed a lot of power formations - two tight ends, with and without a fullback. With the success of the running game, look for a bunch of options out of this formation - misdirection, play action, bootleg, etc.
4) Boise State - Ft. Collins - Colorado Springs: BYU played well in their last two road games - at Boise State and at Colorado State. With a great deal on the line, I expect BYU to show the same effort in Colorado Springs, a venue not that much different than Boise or Ft. Collins.
5) 52-9 and 24-10: Two years ago, Air Force completely outplayed BYU. Last year the game was much closer, but AFA made the plays in the fourth quarter to win and BYU did not. Air Force's touchdown on the last play of the game last year is sure to provide a little extra motivation for the BYU defense. In any case, the Falcons won the last two in a row and five of the last seven meetings. They have BYU's full attention this week.
6) Cameron Jensen and Aaron Francisco: One key when playing against an option team is assignments and speed, especially from the pursuit people - linebackers and safeties. I think Jensen and Francisco have the instincts and speed to slow down the Falcons' wide option game.
7) BYU defensive line: These guys may not have all the defensive statistics on Saturday, but they will be a major key to the game. If BYU can shut down the inside dive play of Air Force with just the defensive line, the Falcons will have a difficult time getting their offense going. Look for the depth and strength of BYU's defensive line to impact the game in the second half.
8) Brown vs. Todd Watkins: The key question for the Falcons' defense is whether to focus on stopping the run or stopping the long pass. It is very tough to do both. Each requires strong play from BYU's safeties. I suspect AFA will vary their defense and try to confuse John Beck. I think Beck will make good decisions on Saturday.
9) Second half swoon: In each of the last two years, Air Force ended their regular seasons 2-5. In fact, the four wins came from Army and UNLV (twice each). Look for this trend to continue, starting with a loss to BYU on Saturday.
10) Third quarter blues: In their four home games this season, Air Force has only scored seven points in the third quarter. In fact, other than their game against Utah, they have struggled to score in the second half: zero points vs. Cal; 14 points vs. E. Washington; 3 points vs. UNLV; 28 points vs. Utah; 15 points vs. Navy; 7 points vs. UNM. If BYU can weather the Falcons' blitz in the first half, they should wear them down in the second half.
… AND 5 REASONS WHY THEY MAY NOT
1) Brandon Heaney: Heaney's likely season-ending injury is a big loss for the Cougars – and not just for his contributions on the field. Heaney is an inspirational team leader and provided a lot of intangibles. His loss is especially difficult this week as BYU will have to play a lot of man coverage against a quarterback who is a better passer than what we have seen in recent years at Air Force.
2) Bye week for Air Force: You can be sure the Air Force used their bye last week to get ready for BYU. They'll have a good game plan, with some surprises.
3) Turnovers: UNLV. Enough said.
4) 34:14: Air Force has won the time-of-possession battle in every game they played thus far, averaging 34:14 in possession. BYU will need to avoid too many "three-and-outs."
5) Juniors and seniors: The Falcons have 24 offensive and defensive starters that are juniors or seniors. They have been thoroughly trained in their system and understand their role. By nature and experience, they won't panic when they get behind and will keep playing through all four quarters.
KNUTE'S PREDICTION: In a close game, the BYU offensive and defensive lines control the fourth quarter and provide BYU another much-needed victory – BYU 30 - AFA 20.
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