Preview: Wyoming Cowboys (5-3) at Air Force Falcons (5-4)


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Wyoming Cowboys
@ Air Force Falcons

Saturday, Nov 12, 2011, 12:00 PM MST
Falcon Stadium

TV: The Mtn

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This is a huge game for the Wyoming Cowboys as they look to establish themselves as the number three team in the Mountain West.  Wyoming took down San Diego State on the road two weeks ago and now need to do the same against Air Force. While the Falcons have won five straight in the series, these are always very close games.  The last time the Cowboys visited the Springs they lost 10-0.  This Air Force team is not nearly as strong as the Pokes have faced in recent history. 

Air Force still gains a ton of rushing yards with their triple option attack and Wyoming allows plenty of rushing yards.  The biggest difference is the Falcon defense that is giving up  29.3 points per game which is nearly 8 points then their 2010 average.  While Wyoming's offense is greatly improved this year there are now a couple question marks for the Pokes.  Ghaali Muhammad is lost for the season and that will certainly hurt the run game.  Can Alvester Alexander step up to a bigger role now?  Can the Pokes find lightning in a bottle after burning the redshirt of Kody Sutton?  Wyoming will need to establish the running game and eat up the clock to help give their defense some rest.

Coach Christensen says that Brett Smith is healthy and ready to go this week after being knocked out against TCU.  His leadership on the field is vital to the Pokes putting up some points on the board.  If Smith is his usual self then Wyoming has a great shot at knocking off Air Force and moving even closer to bowl eligibility.  Both of these teams need seven wins to go bowling since they played two FCS schools.       

To get a closer insight into the Falcon program we enlisted the help of writer AirForceTwo who covers Air Force for SB Nation site MWC Connection.  Big thanks to Tom for helping us out this week.   

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1.  This Air Force team doesn't look nearly as strong as they did last year.  What do you believe is the reason for that?  Injuries? Graduation?

 I would chalk this season up to a combination of the two.  The defensive line was decimated by injuries early in the year and teams have shown that the front seven is vulnerable against the run.  The line is coming back together though, with the return of Zach Payneand Ryan Gardner in the past few weeks.  The graduation of Reggie Rembert has clearly shown that there are holes in the secondary.  Opponents have been attacking Chris Martin and Josh Hall knowing that Anthony Wright, Jr is the better of the DBs on the opposite side.  But ultimately it has come down to turnovers with this team.  They are not producing them on defense (the Army game excluded) and they are not protecting the ball like they have in the past.

2.  This will be 50th meeting between Wyoming and Air Force yet Troy Calhoun doesn't consider Wyoming a rival.  Is there anything special between these two teams or is just another game? 

To my knowledge, I don't think coach Calhoun has ever stated whether Wyoming is or isn't a rival for Air Force.  I can't speak for him, but it seems that he is more focused on Army and Navy.  The Commander in Chief's Trophy is the number one stated goal of the football program, so more emphasis is placed on it than on other opponents.  So for Air Force, Wyoming could be a rival, but not on the same level as Army and Navy for Air Force or Colorado State for Wyoming.  But as an Air Force fan, I believe that Wyoming and Air Force are rivals.  10 of the last 15 matchups have been decided by 10 points or less.  Now Air Force has also won 10 of the last 15, but that also includes the last 5 straight.  And prior to these last five years the series was 21-20-3 in favor of Air Force.  You can't get much tighter than that.  The two schools are 200 miles apart and any time you have two institutions that are that close together and play on a regular basis, they have to be considered rivals.  As a Falcon fan who lives in the Denver area, I live around and work with Wyoming fans, and the one thing that I can say is there is a mutual respect for one another.  There isn't a nastiness that you find with some other rivalries out there, nor should there be to have a rivalry.


3.  Air Force is considering moving their football team to the Big East and other sports to a smaller conference.  They also may stay in the Mountain as a full member or football only member.  Which option do you prefer for the Academy and why?

I would prefer to see Air Force remain a full member of the Mountain West, but the leadership at the Academy has many things to take into consideration as far as it's conference affiliation is concerned.  Football is a marketing tool to recruit for the Air Force as a whole, not just to attrach cadets.  With potential budget cuts in the near future across the Department of Defense, the Air Force athletic department has to look at ways to fund the athletic programs outside of the little government funding they receive.  But, this isn't to say that if there is greater money to be made in the Big East that the Academy will automatically leave the Mountain West.  It seems as though the leadership is also taking into consideration its geographic location and its 30 year partnership within the WAC turned MWC.  There has also been a backlash by the fan base for interest in joining the Big East.  There are some season ticket holders who have told me that they would cancel their tickets if Air Force left for the Big East.  Outside of games against Army or Navy, Colorado State or Wyoming, and parents weekend every year, Air Force hasn't been able to fill Falcon Stadium.  I would imagine it will be even more difficult to sell Big East matchups, and potentially lose CSU or Wyoming every year.  I would not be surprised to see Air Force leave the MW, but I don't want them to.  I have always enjoyed going to road games in Laramie and Ft. Collins, but continuing those series may not be possible if they do leave.  As for Air Force's other sports, they are struggling in the MW and moving them to another conference may be inevitable, but doing that sends the wrong message to the cadets that the Academy is trying to build into leaders.

4.  Are you concerned by any part of the Wyoming offense or defense?  What will give Air Force the most problems?

Offensively Air Force needs to be concerned about Alvester Alexander.  Last year he carried the ball 22 times for 123 yards and two scores against the Falcons.  Air Force has struggled against the run this year, so gap control will be crucial in keeping Alexander contained.  But an even bigger difference this year over last is Wyoming now has a quality signal caller in Brett Smith.  If Smith can connect with his targets downfield it could be a long day for the Air Force secondary.  On the defensive side of the ball for Wyoming, Air Force needs to keep Gabe Knaptonunder wraps.  They can't allow Knapton to dictate where the Falcons can run the ball, inside or outside.  The offensive line needs to keep him occupied and off of Tim Jefferson.

5.  Complete this sentence.  "Wyoming will beat Air Force if ____________________"

they can force turnovers and disrupt the Air Force option attack.   When Air Force has made mistakes or gotten knocked off schedule in the running game, they have struggled.  They have beaten themselves at times, as was the case in the first half last week against Army.  If Wyoming can take advantage, their chances of winning this game will only get better and better.

 

6. Predict the score!!!

I hate the line on this game.  These two have had close matchups no matter how good or bad the teams are playing.  Wyoming is playing better this season, and Air Force is playing slightly below expectations.  I look for Air Force to take advantage of Wyoming's weakness against the run and exploit it.  Smith will be successful against the Air Force secondary, but Wyoming will lose the time of possession battle.  I don't like picking final scores but I will say Air Force wins another close one 35-27.

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