Facts and Factors
> No. 8/7 Utah (7-0, 4-0 MWC) plays Air Force (5-3, 3-2 MWC) in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Saturday, Oct. 30. Kickoff is 5:30 p.m. MT in Falcon Stadium. The game will be televised by CBS C. Radio is ESPN700 AM (espn700sports.com) and SIRIUS XM (Channel 91).
> Utah moved up one position in both the BCS Standings and the A.P. poll to No. 8, while improving two spots in the USA Today Coaches poll to No. 7.
> Utah is off to its third 7-0 start in the last seven years (the Utes finished 12-0 in 2004 and 13-0 in 2008).
> Utah is ranked No. 3 in the nation in scoring offense (47.7 ppg) and No. 4 in scoring defense (12.9 ppg).
> Shaky Smithson, the first-team Midseason All-America punt returner by SI.com, leads the nation in punt return average (23.33), punt return yards (560), total punt returns (24) and punt returns per game (3.43).
>Jordan Wynn was named the MWC co-Offensive Player of the Week for his 321-yard, three-touchdown performance against CSU. It is Wynn's second award this year and in his career.
> With 18 consecutive made field goals dating back to last season, Utah's Joe Phillips is tied for the longest FGM streak in the nation. Phillips also owns the school record for consecutive field goals.
> In 26 games against Air Force, just 19 points separate these two teams! Air Force leads the series 14-12, although Utah has closed the gap by winning six of the last seven games.
> Air Force, the nation's leader in rushing offense (326.5), faces a Utah team that leads the MWC and ranks No. 6 in the country in rushing defense (87.4).
When Utah Has the Ball
Can this offense be stopped? They put up over 600 yards last week and did anything and everything they wanted to against Colorado State.
Jordan Wynn was on fire as he and Terrance Cain hit 13 different receivers on the day for more than 400 yards combined. Air Force has a pretty stout pass defense, with one of the best secondaries in the conference. Led by Reggie Rembert, they've forced a lot of interceptions, and will look to do the same against a quarterback in Wynn who has 5 INTs in 5 starts this year. The defensive line for the Falcons isn't built on getting to the quarterback. They'll play disciplined, fundamentally sound football, hoping to capitalize on Utah mistakes and/or turunovers.
DeVonte Christopher has really turned into an elite receiver with another huge game last week. He's developed the much-needed consistency to his game that was lacking in the past. The talent has always been there and it is finally coming together. He'll have Reggie Rembert on him quite a bit, and might need to try to stretch the field more than he has in the past to get open. The Air Force safeties like to pinch up occasionally in run support, and have been beaten by the deep ball a few times this year in doing so.
The defensive front seven for the Falcons leaves a lot to be desired. They're not as undersized as some might anticipate, but haven't been able to slow down the run much on the year, giving up over 200 yards a game. This should call for a heavy dose of Matt Asiata and Eddie Wide, and could be the first game of the year where both backs go over 15, and maybe even 20 carries each in the game. The power game of Asiata should set up the outside running of Wide throughout the game. The offensive line isn't going to have much trouble with Air Force and should be able to forcibly manhandle them throughout the game. Don't be surprised to see the Utes pile up 40-45 carries in the game.
When Air Force Has the Ball
No one likes to play defense against Air Force. No one. You spend the whole game tackling phantom ball carriers, while someone else has the ball. It's boring, it's repetitive, monotonous, and conservative…..but it works. The triple option is not a lot of fun to defend, both for coaches and players. They spend the entire year learning how to play defense a certain way, and then have to have much of it thrown out the window for one week to deal with the a team that refuses to throw the ball.
The Falcons come in leading the nation in rushing, something they like to do on an annual basis, at over 326 yards per game. Quarterback Tim Jefferson is a very good runner, and leads the team with 8 touchdowns on the ground. Getting the bulk of the carries is going to be Asher Clark. He's split most of the carries to this point in the year with Jared Tew, but Tew is out for the year with an injury, meaning Clark is going to be counted on to be the main man. Last week he didn't respond well with only 18 yards on 10 carries against Air Force. If the Falcons want to have a chance, they need to keep the ball for close to 40 minutes in this game, and Clark needs to get close to 100 yards rushing.
The Utes counter with a defense that is one of the best in the country in stopping the run, giving up less than 90 yards per game. The defensive line may get bored and tired of sticking with their assignments that don't allow them to make a bunch of plays, unless it is right in front of them. The linebackers and safeties will be asked to do most of the tackling while the front four eat up most of the blockers.
Chaz Walker leads the team in tackles and has been a tackling machine all season long, especially against teams that are more prone to run the ball than pass it. Stopping the triple option is never easy, because as a defender, you can't always be looking for the ball. You have to stick with your assignment, stay in your gaps, and play the man in front of you. All three linebackers are going to need to be disciplined and do just that to be successful.
Another key for the Utes is going to be the play of the safeties, especially true freshman Brian Blechen. Retraining a young player like Blechen to do something he has never done in his life in going up against a triple option attack is going to be very difficult. If Blechen can keep himself composed, not get overwhelmed by the situation, and do exactly what he's been taught all week, he should be fine, but a true freshman against Air Force can always be a scary thing.
The corners aren't going to be tested much in the passing game, but will be asked to help out more in the run game. With Lamar Chapman's ability to get into the backfield, he could become a huge weapon in shutting down the Air Force offense.
The defense has to be content with stopping the run as a team, as opposed to making plays themselves. This hasn't been a problem at any point so far this year for the Utes, so it's doubtful that they'll fall into that trap against a team like Air Force that requires discipline to beat.
The games between these two are always close. ALWAYS. While the Utes have a clear advantage on paper, a game like this can always come down to special teams. Luckily for Utah, they have arguably the best special teams unit in the country. Joe Phillips has been automatic in making 18 straight kicks and very well could be the difference between a devastating loss and the continuation of a magical season.
For a team built on discipline, Air Force does not do a very good job in kickoff coverage. With both Shaky Smithson and Reggie Dunn a threat to take a kick back to the house, the Utes will have an edge in the return game. Air Force does a pretty good job in punt coverage, but it will take a stellar job to keep Shaky Smithson from taking another one back.
Kyle Whittingham has not lost in the month of October since 2006 (15 straight victories).
The weather is looking nice for the Utes with gametime temperature expected to be around 65 degress as the sun goes down with little wind. The nicer it is outside, the better it is for Utah.
The Utes have not lost at Air Force since falling 37-38 in 2001.
Utah has not lost a conference game to an unranked team since Air Force in 2007.
If the Utes jump out early and get a nice lead 10+ points, it's over. Air Force isn't built to come from behind, especially against a team like Utah. The Falcons need to keep it close throughout the first quarter, which shouldn't be hard as the Utes have had most of their struggles this year in the opening frame.
Things will start out slowly while both teams feel each other out, and the first quarter ending scoreless. Then the second will begin and the flood gates will open for the Utes, as the tend to do in that quarter. The pass opens up for Wynn to Brooks and Christopher, while Asiata and Wide wear down the Air Force defense, making the safeties come up for more tackles. Wide and Asiata combine for over 200 yards while Wynn passes for another 200. The defense is stellar again and holds Air Force to their third straight game under 200 yards rushing with less than 250 total.
The Utes put 34 on the board before the end of the third quarter when Kyle Whittingham decides to pull his starters and rest them before TCU instead of going for style points. Air Force puts 10 late points on the board to make it look closer than it really was and the Utes make it to the showdown with the Horned Frogs undefeated.
Utah 34 Air Force 17
Game Preview- Utah at Air Force
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