The Colorado State football team will look to start 5-0 in Mountain West play for the first time since 2002 when they face Air Force at home for the annual Ram-Falcon Trophy on Saturday.
Similar to CSU’s last opponent, New Mexico, the Falcons (3-4, 2-2 MW) run a triple option and focus on dominating the time of possession and wearing out the opposition’s defense. Air Force has had plenty of success doing just that over its current two-game winning streak.
Though the Falcons escaped Nevada with a narrow 45-42 victory last week, Air Force held the ball for over 41 minutes, while the Wolfpack only had 18 minutes and 40 seconds of possession.
“You’ve got to rotate guys in on defense to make sure you’re fresh,” head coach Mike Bobo said. “If you don’t rotate early in the game, in the second half, they’ll have their way with you. When they get behind, they don’t panic and change what they do offensively. They’re going to continue to run that and count on the defense getting a little bit tired because of the number of plays they’re running.”
Air Force has an extremely explosive offense. Currently, they are scoring the 23rd most points in the FBS per game at 37.3. Most of the Falcons’ offensive damage, of course, is done on the ground. Air Force’s 341.4 rush yards per game is the fifth most in the FBS.
Last week against Nevada, the Falcons ran 98 plays on offense, 91 of which were on the ground. In doing so, they gained a total of 550 rushing yards. Three Air Force players (Timothy McVey, Ronald Cleveland and Taven Birdow) all rushed for at least 100 yards, while starting quarterback Arion Worthman gained 92 yards on the ground.
“90 plus plays is something that’s pretty impressive from an offense,” Bobo said. “They are an explosive offense. They are going to be a handful for us.”
Completely shutting down the Falcons’ high-powered offense is almost out of the question. Instead, the focus will be to limit Air Force’s offense as much as possible. While CSU’s defense is only allowing 24.5 points per game, the Rams have allowed an average of 33 points over the last two games.
The recent news that safety and third leading tackler Jamal Hicks will miss the remainder of the season adds to the recent woes on defense. However, the unit seems poised to move on from this and put together a solid game defensively after two shaky outings.
“We’re looking forward to stopping the run and stopping big plays,” cornerback Anthony Hawkins said. “Hopefully we can come out with a victory from there.”
When the two teams met last season, the Rams lost 49-46 in a heartbreaker on the road. But, CSU has collected back-to-back home victories over the Falcons. If they make it three in a row this weekend, the Rams will guarantee at least a .500 record in the MW for a fifth consecutive year.
Offensively, specifically in the receiving core, the Rams are also banged up. Olabisi Johnson will be sidelined for the next two to three games. Detrich Clark is also questionable for Saturday’s 1 p.m. kickoff. That said, the Rams still have leading receivevr Michael Gallup.
Gallup leads the entire FBS in receiving with 1,006 yards and is the only receiver to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark so far this season. Gallup will have to carry the receivers against Air Force as his performances have been crucial to the Rams’ success. In fact, CSU is 4-0 when Gallup records at least 100 receiving yards and 3-0 when the receiver scores a touchdown this season.
Three of the Rams’ last four games have kicked off at 8 p.m. MT or later. This week offers a break as the game is expected to begin at 1 p.m. MT. This is something the Rams prefer and are excited about.
“There is less sitting around,” quarterback Nick Stevens said. “You get out at a decent time, you’re not finishing after midnight. It’s also easier for people to stick around after halftime with the earlier games because it’s not ending at midnight.”
Saturday’s game at Sonny Lubick Field will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network, and on radio on 102.9 FM as well as 104.7 FM.