Air Force vs. BYU: The Breakdown

The Cougars kick off Mountain West Conference play Saturday against the Air Force Academy. Even though this will be BYU's first conference game, the Falcons have already defeated two of the teams picked to finish in the top three in the conference. The G-man breaks down the matchups for Saturday's game.

Quarterback

Air Force: Shaun Carney (5-10, 190 Sr.) will be taking the snaps for the Falcons. Carney is very experienced and on the cusp of breaking the all-time passing and total offense marks in Air Force history. He is a bigger threat to throw the ball than most Air Force QBs of years past. Over the first three games of the season, Carney has rushed for 128 yards and thrown for 425 yards.

BYU: Max Hall has started off better than even the most optimistic fans could have hoped for. In his first three games starting for BYU, Hall has compiled 1,218 yards through the air and eight touchdown passes. He has started off his career as well as any BYU quarterback in history after three games, statistically speaking.

Conclusion: Carney is consistent and steady, doing what is necessary for his team to be successful. After three games, Hall is rolling, making 400 yards passing and three touchdowns appear to be the rule, rather than any form of beginner's luck.

Edge: BYU

Running Backs

Air Force: The Falcons' leading rusher this season is Jim Ollis (5-11, 200 Sr.), who is coming off a great game in which he compiled 138 yards rushing and a touchdown against a very tough TCU defense. Ollis will be joined by Savier Stephens (5-11, 190 Fr.), and Ryan Williams (5-9, 210 Sr.) will get most of the reps at fullback.

BYU: The Cougars will feature Harvey Unga as their primary tailback for the second week in a row. He'll likely rotate with Manase Tonga for tailback duties, while Tonga and Joe Semanoff rotate at fullback. Unga has performed well - when he's given carries - to the tune of 201 yards after three games.

Conclusion: The Falcons have seen much more consistent production on the ground than the Cougars have so far this season. With the injury to Fui Vakapuna, the edge goes to the Falcons, as they have a number of RBs with good ground production over the first three games of the year.

Edge: Air Force

Wide Receivers

Air Force: The Falcons' biggest threat at receiver, and indeed for their entire offense, is Chad Hall (5-8, 180 Sr.), who is used frequently as a running back as well as a receiver in the new Air Force offensive system. He is fourth on the team in rushing yardage, with 110 yards, and is also the leading receiver, having caught 11 balls for 93 yards. All other receivers on Air Force have seen little production thus far this season.

BYU: The Cougars' three-receiver rotation has been very productive thus far, with Austin Collie and Michael Reed each logging 15 catches on the season. Matt Allen is emerging after starting out the season slowly with a broken finger.

Conclusion: BYU uses their receivers much more than Air Force, and the Cougar receivers have answered the bell. If Collie and Reed are limited due to their individual injuries, the edge grows ever so slighter, but the edge still goes to BYU at wide receiver.

Edge: BYU

Tight Ends

Air Force: The Falcon tight ends are enjoying much more production this season than they have in years past. The tight ends at Air Force have already doubled the production of any Falcon tight end combo during the past five years. Travis Dekker (6-4, 245 Sr.) and Keith Madsen (6-3, 230 Jr.) have combined for 14 grabs so far this season.

BYU: Dennis Pitta is coming off a great game from a week ago, while Andrew George and Vic So'oto are both having productive years so far. With three tight ends rotating throughout the game and the HR receiver getting few reps so far this season, opponents are seeing a lot more two-tight end sets.

Conclusion: While the Air Force tight ends are seeing some pretty impressive production when compared to years past, they've yet to match the production of the Cougar right ends.

Edge: BYU

Offensive Line

Air Force: As is usually the case, Air Force has a relatively undersized OL - if an average of 274 pounds can be termed as "undersized." It's a group that includes three seniors and some good starting experience.

BYU: The Cougar offensive front may be the biggest disappointment of any position group so far. That said, they have worked together to help Hall and company put together some very impressive offensive numbers. The talent and potential of this year's OL remains tremendous, although they need to cut down on their mental errors.

Conclusion: The talent level of the Cougar offensive front is superior and looking for its breakout game of the year. This week's matchup could very well be just that.

Edge: BYU

Defensive Line

Air Force: The Falcons feature a three-man front, with all three starters averaging 262 pounds. They've helped to front a very good Air Force defense, which haven't allowed an opponent to score over 20 points so far this season.

BYU: Lack of containment was a big issue last week against Tulsa, but the Cougar defensive front line looks to alleviate those problems. Containment is obviously just as important - if not more so - against Air Force this week, as the Falcons run the triple and spread-option attacks.

Conclusion: The consistency of the Falcon front gives them the edge over a Cougar defensive front that is looking to fix a lot of problems on the heals of last week's game against Tulsa.

Edge: Air Force

Linebackers

Air Force: The Falcons are led by Drew Fowler (6-2, 240 Sr.) from one of the starting inside linebacker positions. Fowler was named as the Defensive Player of the Week for the Mountain West after Air Force defeated Utah, and has been the defensive leader for the Falcons throughout the season. He will be joined by two others seniors and a junior as the starters at LB in AFA's 3-4 system.

BYU: The Cougar LBs were taken away from the game last week due to Tulsa's brilliant offensive game-planning. This week they're likely to come to the forefront once again while defending against Air Force's option attack.

Conclusion: The Cougar LBs are still the best in the conference, despite some setbacks last week against Tulsa.

Edge: BYU

Secondary

Air Force: The Falcons have a lot of experience in the secondary, which features three seniors. So far they've yet to give up many yards through the air, as opponents have only averaged 216 passing yards per game against them.

BYU: The consistency of the Cougar secondary had been impressive until last week's hiccup against Tulsa. It was a big hiccup, but look for the Cougar secondary to regain its impressive form against a far less potent Air Force passing attack.

Conclusion: Yes, the AFA pass defense has seen good production, but has not faced anything near the execution level of the Cougar passing attack so far this season. The Cougar secondary needs to rebound from a very shaky outing against Tulsa.

Edge: BYU

5 Things

1. Defending the Long Ball

The long-ball was previously nonexistent against BYU until last week's expose by Tulsa and Paul Smith. Look for the Falcons to try and follow suit, but the Cougar secondary should be ready this time around. Given the fact that Air Force lacks a quarterback with the accuracy and arm of Paul Smith, and also has less speed on the outside, the Cougar secondary should rebound nicely and contain the Falcons and keep them from completing long plays down the field.

2. Strength up the Middle

Both Eathyn Manumaleuna and Rick Wolfley will be tested to a much larger extent this week. If the middle isn't solid against the triple-option, then the triple-option will run rampant over any defense. Defending against the fullback dive is key in any matchup against Air Force, and will be the case again this week. Manumaleuna and Wolfley have to step up and shut it down.

3. Still Waiting

We've been talking about a dominating Cougar rushing attack since the first days of fall camp, and have yet to it manifest itself. With Vakapuna being out for this game, the prospects for the breakthrough running attack are less likely. The Falcon defensive front looks more imposing on paper than Tulsa's from a week ago, and should relegate the Cougar ground game to being merely productive - but not dominant - again this week.

4. Ahead of the Curve

As mentioned, the passing game with Max Hall at the helm has exceeded just about everyone's expectations thus far. In viewing Air Force's pass defense, there are chinks in the armor there, and the Falcons have yet to face such an imposing attack through the air. Look for Hall to approach and even pass 400 yards passing again this week.

Special Teams

Special Teams will again be key in this game. While the special teams did their best to give BYU the advantage in just about every game last season, they're doing very much the opposite this season so far. If BYU can even manage a draw in the special teams battle, then the offensive and defensive advantages that the Cougars should enjoy will make for a comfortable victory.

Final Score: BYU 41 - Air Force 20


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