by Daniel Olsen
While the Utah State Aggies struggled in 2020, they have a new coach and new expectations in 2021. It’s time to pull out the crystal ball and see just how the upcoming football season will go for USU. With the kickoff of this game being 78 days away, it’s time to start with the preview of the conference opener against the Air Force Falcons.
Game 3 at Air Force
This game will take place on September 18, 2021 on a Saturday evening. Kickoff will start at 5:30 PM Mountain Time. The game will be broadcast on FS2. It is the conference opener for both Mountain West schools. Both teams are competing for the Mountain Division title.
Air Force leads the all-time series over the Aggies 6-3. The first matchup was won by the Falcons in 1969. However, the Aggies got out to a great start when the two became conference foes. The Aggies took the first two games in 2013-2014. The Academy then won three straight.
The Aggies then protected their home with Donovan Mitchell in attendance in 2018. That was an 11-2 dream season for the Aggies. Since then, the Falcons have dominated in the last two matchups. The Aggies have pride on the line to play for as they don’t want to let Air Force widen the gap.
2020-2021 Season in Review
While USU struggled with just one win in 2020, the Falcons fared slightly better at a .500 record. They went 2-2 in Mountain West play and battled out a 1-1 outing in competition with the other military schools. They routed Navy 40-7 but then barely lost 10-7 to Army in the game that eventually decided the winner of the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. Army also defeated Navy 15-0 to cap of the regular season with a sweep over their rivals.
Air Force as always runs the triple option to near perfection. That is something Coach Anderson should be somewhat familiar with. He has had some hard fought games with a feisty Georgia Southern team in the Sun Belt that runs the option well. In his last matchup, the Arkansas State Red Wolves defeated Georgia Southern 38-33.
The option led the Falcons to the most rushing yards per game in the nation in 2020 with 305.7 per contest. That was much needed as they ranked second to last in the FBS in passing with a game average of just 83.7 yards through the air.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Falcons will still be a stingy group despite replacing eight starters from last season. That is in large part due to players returning who sat out in 2020 due to COVID-19 precautions. The sixth ranked team in the nation in points allowed last year will still be good but might be hard pressed to maintain those same results. You can read more about what to expect from their defense here.
If the Aggies can stop the run, then they will be just fine against Air Force. The Falcons tend to be run heavy. Although they are elite at the triple option, it is a system that the best teams can exploit if they defend well.
The biggest weakness is the lack of experience. Air Force is replacing a large portion of their team on offense and defense. The schedule will get harder as the season goes on. The Falcons begin the season with a warm-up game vs Chattanooga. The result of the game vs Navy could play a big part in determining how the game vs Utah State goes. If the Falcons win a close game over a mediocre Navy team, they could get too confident and overlook the Aggies. USU also could get overconfident if they beat a bad Washington State team in Week 1 and then pummel the North Dakota Fighting Hawks.
Players to watch for
Several players were mentioned in this week’s Big Bluesday podcast. You can also read this article by College Football News for a more in-depth look at the players. In short, expect Air Force to be a fast and athletic team despite making quite the overhaul after the production they lost last year.
Final Score prediction
The Aggies likely won’t be favored to win either of their first two FBS games. However, they will find a way to get one. Starting the season 1-2 could be detrimental with formidable rivals Boise State and BYU looming next.
In the Week 1 Predictions article, the Aggies were predicted to come up just short. If that happens, they will beat Air Force. If they somehow surprise and win their first game over a P5 team since 2014, they may drink the poison and fall in their Mountain West Conference opener after starting 2-0 out of the gate.
While both games would be ideal to win with plenty of tough matchups coming up later on, the Aggies are in a rebuilding year. Winning a conference championship is more critical than beating a P5 team. The Aggies recognize that and will see this early challenge as a critical step in that direction. It will be close but USU will come out on top as long as they are 1-1 going into this game.
USU 27 Air Force 24