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Death by a thousand cuts: An Air Force primer

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Air Force v San Diego State Photo by Kent Horner/Getty Images

It’s been a busy week in the Roberts household. In fact, this is a busy time of year for me in general, which isn’t terribly ideal since OBNUG deserves housekeeping. I wasn’t able to do a deep dive game preview this week, and for that I am sorry...while I’m on that topic—I’m sorry that Know Your Enemy has fallen by the wayside...I’ll refer you to the earlier statement of busyness. However, there was a time when I did pen a treatise on what makes Air Force tick and I think it’s worth revisiting, because while the Broncos have changed a lot since 2013, Air Force—like Dee Sarton and Carolyn Holly—stays the same.

In all likelihood

Air Force will get their yards...many more than you’d like.

In Boise State’s last meeting with the Falcons (a 44-19 Bronco win), the Broncos had a fellow named Leighton Vander Esch roaming from sideline to sideline. As such, the Broncos gave up just 181 rushing yards in that matchup, a minor (perhaps major) miracle. In 2016 (a loss), the Broncos allowed 314 rushing yards to the Falcons—and only rushed for 84 themselves. This game has more of a 2016 vibe than I’d like to admit (and not just because it’s being played in Colorado Springs)

Air Force will convert a lot of 3rd and 4th down tries they have no business converting.

This is inevitable. It takes sure tackling, discipline and teamwork to shut down Air Force’s onslaught...Boise State’s 2017 defense was up to the task and this year’s defense has the experience, but somehow not the sure-tackling and whatever other thing I mentioned. David Moa, Sonatane Lui, and Deandre Pierce are sidelined. Huzzah!

Air Force’s offensive attack will be more potent than in 2017.

I think, anyway. Nate Romine was not terribly effective against the Broncos last year under center (deep under center, if you ever see how the Falcon QBs line up) and the Falcons have tried several “QBs” this season—Arion Worthman, Donald Hammond, and Isaiah Sanders and they seem to have found their man in Sanders. Sanders accounted for 390 yards of offense in last weeks win against UNLV AND 4 TDs. Maybe the biggest step forward was his 9 of 11 passing against the Rebels. Dudes are going to be wide open at times...that’s just one of the by-products of the triple option. Since we’ve taken a step back in defensive discipline, this could be a pre-Halloween scare.

Cut blocks are happening. Watch your knees, everyone.

The Falcons obviously have to employ a more novel offensive scheme to gain leverage on their opponents, but they also have to get creative with blocking techniques to negate the fact that their lineman are undersized by Division 1 standards. It makes sense, really...how many 300 lb. guys can fit comfortably in a cockpit? Still, the cut blocking can be a nuisance for opposing defenses and we’ll see our share of gimping lineman in this one...hopefully not for more than a few plays.

Don’t get your hopes up

Blitzing not a main course.

Frazier and Weaver will be on the field, but sacks likely aren’t on the menu. Boise State will rarely, if ever, deploy many blitzes on Saturday night as they elect to keep the Air Force attack firmly in front of them. Weaver got one last year, but it was his one and only tackle of the game.

Eat your clocks.

Quick 3-and-outs aren’t something generally on the menu for Air Force. Just when you think you’ve got them stopped, they get just enough to extend their drive and then gash you on the next play. Thinking back to an Air Force game of yore (2011), the Broncos looked to have the game in control out of the gate before the Falcons went on a 90-yard, 17 play drive that ate up nearly 8 minutes of clock. On that game-tying drive, the Falcons converted a 4th down, a 3rd and 9 (they ran for it) and another redzone 3rd down try. That kind of drive can be demoralizing...but:

Relatively low score

Don’t expect the Broncos to score a ton of points. We saw on Friday that the Broncos can score in bunches, but this is not the norm against Air Force. Given that the Broncos haven’t ran the ball well this year—and rarely do against Air Force, anyway...if they can’t turn drives into points, we’re playing right into Air Force’s hands.

Take heart

Take the novel Air Force offensive attack out of the equation and the Broncos have several advantages on Saturday night. The biggest one would be that for all AFA’s run-stopping prowess, pass defense is not their strong suit. It also happens to be Boise State’s only real offensive strong suit. Last year, Brett Rypien dropped 300 yards and 3 TDs on the Falcons and only misfired on 6 passes all game. This was a FAR cry from his 2016 outing in Colorado Springs. Sure, he had over 300 yards then too, but it was on just NINE completions (out of 26). Lastly, the Falcons slow pace is their trump card when the other team doesn’t get points on the board, but if they face an early deficit, they are forced out of their comfort zone and will feel the need to score quickly, which generally means putting the ball in the air. Screen passes may very well play into this, in which case, we should all be a tad worried, but the Broncos won’t be giving up many deep balls. I think we win this one, but I’ll be happy to have this game in our collective rearview mirrors..