Nevada (6-3) at Air Force (7-2)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, November 15, 2 p.m. (ET).
FACTS & STATS: Site: Falcon Stadium (46,692) -- United States Air Force Academy, Colorado. Television: ROOT-RM. Home Record: Nevada 3-2, AF 4-0. Away Record: Nevada 3-2, AF 3-1. Neutral Record: Nevada 0-0, AF 0-0. Conference Record: Nevada 3-2, AF 3-2. Series Record: Series is tied, 1-1.
GAME NOTES: Riding high on their second three-game win streak of the season, the Air Falcons turn their attention to the Nevada Wolf Pack for a Mountain West Conference battle this weekend.
Air Force, which is undefeated at home in 2014 (4-0), has won six of its last seven outings overall, the lone setback coming against Utah State on the road back on Oct. 11 by a score of 34-16. Most recently, the Academy picked up a lopsided 48-21 decision over UNLV in Sin City, boosting their claim for a postseason invitation.
Despite the impressive overall record for Air Force, the team is still fourth in the Mountain Division standings of the MWC heading into this week.
Meanwhile the Pack, tied with San Diego State atop the West Division standings, is also enjoying a three-game win streak currently. The squad is coming off a bye week following a 30-14 victory against the aforementioned Aztecs at home the first of the month.
Thanks to a 45-42 victory last season at home versus Air Force, the Wolf Pack evened the all-time series at one game apiece.
The formula that made Nevada so successful over the last decade continues to rule the approach followed by head coach Brian Polian. Against San Diego State, quarterback Cody Fajardo had a bit of a down game with just 109 yards and one touchdown passing, to go along with an interception and two sacks, but still he made headlines for the program.
Fajardo became just the second player in FBS history to throw for at least 9,000 yards and run for 3,000, the only other quarterback to achieve the feat being former Nevada signal caller and current San Francisco 49ers signal caller Colin Kaepernick.
Granted, Fajardo was less than impressive when running with the ball versus SDSU as he netted a mere four yards, a number that was especially difficult to accept given that a week earlier he put up a season-high 133 versus Hawaii. Still, the quarterback remains a real threat to challenge opponents at the line of scrimmage and in the secondary with his 60.9 percent accuracy through the air.
Fajardo clearly has his favorites when it comes to passing targets, as there are four players with at least 28 receptions, and each one of them has reached the end zone at one point or another. Richy Turner is responsible for a team- best 49 catches for 442 yards and three TDs, while Jarred Gipson owns a team- high four TDs on 28 grabs.
Outside of Fajardo and his 589 yards and 10 TDs on the ground, the other running threat is Don Jackson with 649 yards and four scores, as well as James Butler with 468 yards and five TDs on 110 carries.
Defensively, the Pack has not been that great versus the pass to this point in the season. In fact, the group currently ranks 117th in the nation with 293.2 ypg allowed over the top. Duran Workman and Nigel Haikins have labored to keep the pass defense from being a doormat, the former registering three interceptions and the latter a pair of picks to go along with six passes defended.
Air Force fell behind early against the Rebels last weekend at Sam Boyd Stadium, but then the Falcons woke up with 17 straight points and effectively put the game out of reach of the hosts. The visitors generated a hefty 386 yards rushing and five touchdowns on the ground, which dwarfed the 33 net yards UNLV was able to produce running the ball.
Jacobi Owens did most of the damage with a game-high 135 yards and a score on 18 carries, while D.J. Johnson accounted for a mere 24 yards on six attempts, yet landed in the end zone twice. Quarterback Kale Pearson converted all but one of his six passes for another 115 yards and a score, the TD going to Jalen Robinette who finished with two catches for 81 yards.
Defensively, not only did the Falcons come up with five sacks against Blake Decker, they also knocked the signal caller out of the game, making it that much easier to control the action on both sides of the ball. Jordan Pierce recorded 11 tackles, two for loss, and a sack, while David Harris made the most of this three stops as he tallied 1.5 sacks for the Academy.
Through nine games, Pierce not only leads the team in total tackles with 81, he is first with 14 stops behind the line and owns five sacks, to go along with two interceptions and a blocked kick. Another big hitter is Weston Steelhammer who has played like his name suggests, notching five TFL, three sacks and a team-best three interceptions, not to mention two recovered fumbles and a safety.
Over on the offensive side, Owens is one of three players to have scored five rushing touchdowns, the others being Pearson and Johnson, but it is the former who leads the ground attack with 109.8 ypg. Adding a whole new dimension to Air Force football is Pearson with his 134.8 ypg through the air, which has led to 10 TDs and just two interceptions.
As long as Air Force can keep the ball out of the hands of Fajardo, the Academy certainly has a fighting chance. With an improved passing attack and ball carriers who are more than willing to share the load, expect the Falcons to come out on top by the slimmest of margins.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Air Force 28, Nevada 24
11/12 10:40:51 ET