At 7-4, Air Force will become only the third team BYU has faced this season that currently has a winning record (TCU at 10-0 and Oklahoma at 6-4 are the others; Wyoming and Florida State are 5-5). This very well may be the second or third most difficult game of the year. The Academy held TCU to 20 points and only lost by 3 (20-17). They took Utah to overtime before losing (23-16). They also went into overtime with a good Navy team (8-3) before giving up another close one. The Cadets mean business and they are desperate to break through into the top tier of the MWC. They will come not only with talent, but with motivation. Despite having Air Force’s number for the last several years, it is going to take everything the Cougars have to pull this one out. Saturday will be a good one.
What to watch for…
• Will BYU’s offensive line be able to open up running lanes on the smaller Falcon D line? The first two series should be an indicator of how this game will go. The running game from BYU will be essential to winning this game. The size could become more of a factor as the game wears on and Air Force’s lighter line begins to tire.
• Will Unga be able to go? And, if not, will Kariya and DiLuigi be up to the task of filling in for him. Last week, without Unga in the game, the running game suffered. That won’t cut it this week.
• Can the Cougar front 7 continue to contain the run? For most of the season, the specialty of the defense has been limiting opponents running games. That will be key this week, as Air Force is fourth in the country in rushing offense (and 118th in passing).
• How much will the team miss Terrance Hooks in the middle? Will Shawn Doman be able to hold it down solo? Will Shane Hunter be able to spell him sufficiently to be effective? Defending the wishbone option will require all players to know their assignments, and a lack of experience could cost the Cougars.
• Will Dennis Pitta get the big game that he needs to solidify his status as Mackey finalist? He has historically had a big game against the Falcons, but opponents are much more aware of him this season. With 7 catches, 85+ yards, and a TD, Pitta would likely be in.
• What impact will the weather have? Friday night has a 20% chance of rain. On Saturday there is a 30% chance of snow. Highs are forecast to be 44 degrees. The team has been doing some practicing outdoors this week, ostensibly in preparation for Saturday’s conditions. A wet field might favor a passing game, but a cold precipitation would swing in favor of a running game. In any case, should rain/snow arrive before or during the game, expect the field to be sloppy.
• Can the team come out of this game without any significant health losses going into the rivalry game with Utah? Last year, Air Force’s chop blocks and low hits took a toll on Dennis Pitta specifically, as he was only a limping shell of himself in the Utah game (and played anyway) and was worse than a non-factor as he probably hurt the team by playing.
• Will more records fall? Last week, Hall moved into second in touchdowns, Pitta second in receptions. By the numbers this week…
o 1 victory for Hall to break a tie with Ty Detmer for all time wins
o 11 catches for Pitta to tie Austin Collie for all time most receptions
o 20 yards for Harvey Unga to become the all time leading rusher in program history
o 105 yards for Unga to move into third in all-purpose yards
o 165 yards needed by Pitta to pass Margin Hooks as the third leading receiver all time (Collie, Drage)
o 203 yards needed by Max Hall to become second all time in total offense
o 359 yards needed by Hall to become second all time in passing yards
How do I see this playing out? BYU got a wake-up call last week against New Mexico and will put in some extra effort this week in preparation and game planning. The Falcons will have the Cougars attention and there will not be any problem with losing focus. Hall and his fellow seniors know they only have two games left and will make the most of this one, having fun, playing relaxed, and showing a good first half. The defense will play well enough to give the Cougars a small lead at half-time. The second half will likely have AFA gaining some momentum out of the gate to make it look like a game, only to begin to tire going into the 4th quarter and BYU pulling out a two score win. BYU 34, Air Force 24.
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