Utah State hasn’t played Air Force all that often in relation to other schools from neighboring states. It only will be the sixth meeting between the programs when the Aggies go to Colorado Springs for Saturday night’s game.
That’s less than the amount of times Utah State has played Western State from Gunnison, Colorado (seven times) or even Colorado Mines (nine times).
But if the Aggies historically aren’t too familiar with the Falcons, Utah State coach Matt Wells sure is.
This will be the 13th time that Wells has faced the Air Force Academy as a coach, and he says there’s something about a Falcons team playing its last game of the year, particularly at home, that should keep Utah State on edge.
“I am very well aware of what the atmosphere is going to be like on Saturday night,” Wells said. “Our players will be very well aware. This is a team that will fight their guts out, and we will get their very best shot. They have over 30 seniors.”
Wells is 2-2 in his meetings with Air Force as Utah State’s coach. But he’s also been an assistant for three games with New Mexico and five times with the Naval Academy against the Falcons.
“I just know, from coaching at an academy, when there is no bowl game coming up and that’s the last game, it’s very well the last game of their careers,” Wells said. “It will be an emotional night for them. We will get their best game of the year, and I know that and I respect that about them.”
Air Force’s running attack will be the focal point of the offense.
Hawaii did have a 100-yard rushing day from Diocemy Saint Juste in the Aggies’ 38-0 win last week. But that was an “astronomically different” rushing attack than what the Aggies will be in for Saturday.
“They are pretty good, especially running the option,” Utah State junior linebacker Chase Christiansen said. “It is something we only see one other time of the year when we play New Mexico, and it’s hard to prepare for.
“It’s fast and they are efficient at it, so we need to really bring our A game and everyone has to play assignment sound if we want to win the game.”
Utah State increasingly displayed a running attack that could also be relied upon in the win over Hawaii. The Aggies rushed for 311 yards, which included big breakaway touchdown runs by Gerold Bright (60 yards) and LaJuan Hunt (48 yards).
Freshman starting quarterback Jordan Love, who was 10 of 16 for 110 yards, certainly didn’t seem to mind the success of the running game.
“The tempo of our offense was getting to Hawaii, and their defense was getting tired throughout the game, especially in the second half,” Love said. “It’s just a testament to how we practice and condition, and the entire offense being able to move the ball and get down the field fast and not get tired.”
Love said the thought of a bowl game increasingly has invaded his thoughts now that the regular season is about to end. The Aggies earned bowl eligibility last week.
“It is on everybody’s minds, but we have to finish this season off with Air Force, so we need to focus on them,” he said.
UTAH STATE AT AIR FORCE
Falcon Stadium, Colorado Springs, Colo.
Kickoff • 8:15 p.m. Saturday
TV • ESPN2
Radio • 1280 AM
Records • USU 6-5, 4-3 in MWC; Air Force 4-7, 3-4
Series history • Air Force leads 3-2
About the Aggies • Kicker Dominik Eberle has been named one of three finalists for the Lou Groza Award, along with Auburn’s Daniel Carlson and Utah’s Matt Gay. The last Utah State player to earn a national award was when Merlin Olsen won the Outland Trophy in 1961. … Utah State is on a three-game road winning streak, with the offense averaging 45.7 points during that stretch. … Junior linebacker Suli Tamaivena is only two stops shy of reaching the 100-tackle mark for the season.
About the Falcons • The offense averages 298.4 yards rushing per game, first in the conference and fifth in the country. … Quarterback Nate Romine is a rarity in that he’s started at least one game for five years, which includes the first two of 2015 before being injured and last week’s loss at Boise State, his first start of the current season. … Troy Calhoun, who is in his 11th year, is the dean of Mountain West coaches. … Air Force had a school-record 36 first downs in a 45-42 win at Nevada in October.