SDSU Aztecs 3 keys to victory vs Air Force Falcons

Credit: GoAztecs

Credit: Aztecs Athletics

Before diving into this week’s keys, let us revisit last week’s three keys to victory against San Jose State and how they impacted the Aztecs’ double-overtime victory. 

Limit Nick Nash to less than 30 yards rushing (on non-sacks)

The Aztecs allowed 41 rushing yards to Nash, the longest of which was 16 yards. While the Aztecs did not limit Nash to less than 30 yards on non-sack plays, they sacked him twice, leading to a net of 27 yards. The Aztecs’ ability to contain Nash from breaking long runs directly impacted holding the Spartans to only six points in regulation.  

Jesse Matthews collects at least 75 receiving yards

Before last Friday’s game, Matthews collected only 40 receiving yards through five games as the overall passing game really struggled for the Aztecs. Through regulation, Matthews only caught two passes for 16 yards and continued to be a non-factor. In the two overtime sessions, he made the two biggest plays of the game, hauling in touchdown catches of 14 and 24 yards from Lucas Johnson. Matthews finished with 54 receiving yards and two touchdowns. During Tuesday’s press conference, Matthews was asked how he had dealt with the lack of targets this season. “It’s been testing my patience a little bit,” he said. “Just trusting that eventually, it will all work out. (Wide receiver coach Hunkie Cooper) always says just be ready when my opportunity comes, and that’s what I try to do. Going every day at practice, just work hard, and then when the opportunity arises make the most out of it.”

Win the turnover battle

After a bobbled snap by quarterback Jordon Brookshire in the first quarter recovered by the Spartans, both teams played turnover-free the rest of the game. However, the Aztecs intercepted a pass attempt from Nash in the end zone on the Spartans’ second overtime drive giving the Aztecs the opportunity to win the game on either a field goal or touchdown. The Aztecs took advantage by scoring on the 24-yard pass to Matthews. While the turnover margin was even (1-1) for the game, the interception played a large part in the Aztecs securing the victory. 

 

Here are the three keys to victory against Air Force this Saturday.

Win the first quarter

The Falcons have outscored their opponents 59-14 in the first quarter this season. They have scored a touchdown on their opening drive and forced a punt on the opponent’s opening drive in six of seven games this season. Coach Hoke attributed the Falcons’ ability to dominate the first quarter to the difficulty of preparing for their triple-option offense. 

“You can’t simulate that offense,” he said. “It’s awfully hard, and we’ve worked at it in the spring a little bit, a little bit during fall camp, and working hard at it right now. The speed of the game is different, and the speed of the blocking on the line of scrimmage is different.” 

Credit: NBC Sports

After struggling in the first quarter in each of their first three home games of the season, coach Hoke placed a strong emphasis on “starting fast” during the bye week before the start of conference play. In the two games since, they shut out both opponents in the first quarter and scored one touchdown themselves. This will need to continue if the Aztecs want to win on the road against an elite team on both sides of the ball. 

Contain the fullback to less than 3.0 yards per carry

The fullback is the first option for a handoff in the triple-option offense. Coach Hoke believes the key to stopping the triple option is stopping the fullback, not just when he is handed the ball, but especially if he is not and subsequently turns into the lead blocker instead. “You’ve got to hit him. You can’t let him stay upright. You can’t let him run through your linebackers and get to the second level. He becomes a heck of a blocker then.” Air Force’s leading rusher, fullback Brad Roberts, leads the Mountain West with 818 rushing yards (5th in FBS) and eight touchdowns, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. If the defense is able to make the quarterback progress to his second and third options and also ties up the fullback, not allowing him to get to the second level to block linebackers and safeties, the defense will have a better chance to contain the Falcons’ rush offense. 


Give Jordan Byrd at least eight touches in the game 

The Aztecs’ dynamic running back has been mostly absent the past two weeks against New Mexico and San Jose State after rushing for 75 yards and two touchdowns against Towson on September 25. Against New Mexico, Byrd received five touches but only mustered four total yards rushing and receiving combined. In that blowout victory, his services were not necessarily required. However, in the game against San Jose State that saw the Spartans bottle up Greg Bell and the Aztecs run game, Byrd did not get a carry until 5:31 remained in the fourth quarter. He broke a 12 yard run on his first carry but was stopped on the next play for no gain. His last carry was the next to last play of the game, also stopped for no gain. For a player that possesses Byrd’s game-changing speed, the Aztecs need to utilize him more than three times in a game, especially when their offense is unable to get on track. Look for the Aztecs to get Byrd more touches this week, primarily on screens, shovel passes, end-arounds, and halfback tosses.  

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Andre Haghverdian on Email
Andre Haghverdian
Avid sports fan and historian of basketball, baseball, football and soccer. UC San Diego and San Diego State alumni living in America's Finest City. Diverse team following across multiple sports leagues, but Aztecs come first in college athletics.

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