DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 7, 3:30 p.m. (et).
FACTS & STATS: Site: Falcon Stadium (46,692) -- United States Air Force Academy, Colorado. Television: CBSSN. Home Record: USU 0-0, Air Force 1-0. Away Record: USU 0-1, Air Force 0-0. Neutral Record: USU 0-0, Air Force 0-0. Conference Record: USU 0-0, Air Force 0-0. Series Record: Air Force leads, 1-0.
GAME NOTES: The Utah State Aggies get their first taste of Mountain West Conference football on Saturday afternoon as they tangle with the Air Force Falcons in Colorado.
New Utah State head coach Matt Wells had his 2013 debut spoiled by in-state rival Utah last week as the Utes held on for a 30-26 victory in Salt Lake City. The defeat snapped a seven-game win streak for a USU squad which last lost to another local rival, BYU, by a score of 6-3 on Oct. 5, 2012.
Like several teams from the Western Athletic Conference, which is not sponsoring football this year, the Aggies have found a new home in the 12-team Mountain West. The good news for the squad is that they've won 11 consecutive conference games, dating back to 2011 and setting a new school record in the process.
As for the Falcons, who are a conference-best 11-3 in MWC openers, they thumped Colgate at home last weekend in a 38-13 final. The victory snapped a two-game slide, dating to last season, and was just the second in the last six games overall.
Air Force, which won the only previous meeting between these two programs back in 1969 by a score of 38-13, is 5-2 at home in Mountain West openers, bowing only to TCU (2011) and Wyoming (1999). . The Aggies were paced by Chuckie Keeton who connected on 31-of-40 passes for 314 yards and two touchdowns, not to mention running for a game-high 85 yards and another score in the setback to Utah in the opener. Travis Van Leeuwen accounted for a team-best 107 yards receiving on six catches. USU generated 487 yards of total offense in the meeting, but was also flagged for seven penalties which sent the Aggies back 94 yards.
Jake Doughty anchored the defense for the Aggies last week as he registered 16 tackles, although only three were unassisted. Senior safety Maurice Alexander made a major impact as well for the visitors as he delivered a career-high 11 tackles and posted 1.5 sacks after not playing for the team in 2012.
The WAC Offensive Player of the Week a total of four times last season, Keeton is the player to watch on offense for the Aggies after setting single-season school records for touchdown passes (27), passing yards (3,373) and total offense (3,992). In addition to Van Leeuwen, the other key outlet for Keeton is Bruce Natson who picked up 83 yards receiving against Utah, on a career- best nine catches.
Unfortunately, the USU defense took a few steps back from last season when it was ranked seventh in the country with just 15.4 ppg allowed. The squad finished 2012 with a pass efficiency rating of 104.43, eighth-best in the nation, while allowing only 113.8 ypg on the ground (13th nationally).
Jon Lee and Broam Hart both ran for a pair of touchdowns and more than 100 yards as the Falcons dismissed Colgate rather easily at home last Saturday afternoon. Lee finished with 130 yards on the ground and Hart 101, making them the first tandem to reach the 100-yard plateau in the same game for the Falcons since 2009. As a group, Air Force ran for 409 yards and five touchdowns, while quarterbacks Jaleel Awini and Kale Pearson combined to hit 7-of-11 passes for 72 yards.
The Falcons were second in the nation in rushing last season with 316.2 ypg and they will need another standout performance in that area if Pearson is unable to play due to a knee injury that has him listed as doubtful for this contest.
If Pearson is kept on the sidelines, that will push Awini into the starting lineup. Awini did hit on two of his three passes attempts in the opener, going for a total of 26 yards, but you can believe the USU defense will be coming after him so he'll need to get rid of the ball even quicker, whether it be on hand-offs, options or the occasional pass down the field just to keep the Aggies on their toes.
The Falcons surrendered 300 yards of total offense last week, but that's probably not a true representation of their ability, considering Colgate is not an FBS program. Expect to see Keeton test the Air Force secondary early and often, presumably to put this game out of reach in a hurry.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Utah State 31, Air Force 17
09/04 10:37:44 ET
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