FACTS & STATS: Site: Sam Boyd Stadium (36,800) — Las Vegas, Nevada.
Television: Mountain West Network. Home Record: AF 4-0, UNLV 2-2. Away Record:
AF 2-2, UNLV 0-5. Neutral Record: AF 0-0, UNLV 0-0. Conference Record: AF 2-2,
UNLV 1-4. Series Record: Air Force leads, 13-6.
GAME NOTES: They may be just 2-2 in Mountain West Conference play at the
moment, but the Air Force Falcons are already setting their sights on the
postseason as they size up the UNLV Rebels at Sam Boyd Stadium this weekend.
Air Force, which won a grand total of just two games all of last season, with
one of those victories coming against Colgate in the opener, is riding a huge
high at the moment for a number of reasons. With six victories they’ve already
assured themselves of finishing no lower than .500 on the campaign, and part
of that is thanks to the 23-6 win against Army last Saturday.
But the triumph over the Black Knights was more than just a normal one for the
Falcons, because it also gave them the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy for a
record 19th time.
While the Falcons were bringing the hardware back to Colorado, UNLV was trying
to deal with New Mexico and came out on the short end of a 31-28 final at home
last Saturday afternoon. The loss was the second straight and the sixth in
seven tries for a UNLV team that made it to a bowl game in 2013.
In terms of the all-time series between the programs, the Falcons maintain a
13-6 advantage, even though it was UNLV that scored a 41-21 victory in last
year’s challenge in Colorado.
Points were hard to come by in the first half between Air Force and the Black
Knights last weekend, but then the Falcons turned the corner and delivered a
pair of second-half TDs in order to claim the victory in West Point.
Quarterback Kale Pearson converted eight of his 12 pass attempts for 141 yards
and two touchdowns, shaking off a sack and an interception as he led the
visitors to the crucial win. Garrett Griffin caught only two passes, but both
finished up in the end zone.
On the ground, the Falcons ran for 242 yards on 62 attempts as Jacobi Owens
registered his fourth 100-yard game of the campaign with 118 yards on 27
Defensively, Air Force allowed a mere eight first downs to the hosts,
resulting in the Black Knights controlling the action for just over 24 minutes
in front of the home town fans. In addition to limiting Army to just 122
rushing yards, Air Force also came away with four sacks, while just three
completed passes stretched for 47 yards.
Jordan Pierce leads the Falcons not only with 70 total tackles, but he is also
tops with 12 stops behind the line of scrimmage and four sacks. Add in a
couple of interceptions and a blocked kick and you have one of the most
complete defenders in the MWC this season. Also having a very strong year is
Weston Steelhammer who has five TFL, three sacks, three picks, two fumble
recoveries and a safety.
Ranked 11th in the country this week in rushing, the Falcons are averaging
269.5 ypg on the ground, which is not quite up to par with what they’ve done
in previous seasons, but that’s only because the team is actually making major
strides in the passing department with 150.9 ypg. It might not sound like
much, but having a total of 10 passing TDs against three interceptions is also
a major accomplishment for a program that tends to run the ball more often
Owens leads the group with 853 yards rushing on 170 carries and is tied with
Pearson (411 yards) for the team lead with four TDs on the ground as they
continue to spread the wealth.
In the close call against New Mexico in front of the hometown crowd, Shaquille
Murray-Lawrence led the way as he ran for 125 yards and two TDs on 20
attempts, followed by quarterback Blake Decker with another 76 yards and a
score on 13 carries. Decker also converted 28-of-44 passes for another 271
yards, but he was intercepted twice.
Even though he was held out of the end zone, Devonte Boyd made a significant
contribution with 11 catches for 108 yards, both of which were easily tops in
Mike Horsey sparked the UNLV defense with his game-high 14 tackles, of which
3.5 were TFL, while Siuea Vaesau produced one sack and a fumble recovery for
the hosts in the setback. Vaesau now leads the team in both sacks and fumble
recoveries with four and three, respectively.
As a unit, the UNLV defense has been victimized quite a bit by opposing
runners, giving up 267.9 ypg which ranks the group 122nd in the country this
week. In terms of total defense, the Rebels are 117th with 501.0 ypg allowed.
Unfortunately, not much has gone well on the offensive side of the ball
either, with the team ranked 109th in scoring as it posts 19.9 ppg. Four times
the squad has been held to two touchdowns or less in a game this season.
Decker, who is second on the team in rushing (312 yards) and has four TDs on
the ground, is converting his passes at a 58.9 percent clip, but has just nine
TDs through the air, compared to 14 INTs.
With the Falcons rolling along this season and the aerial attack beginning to
take flight, it would not be surprising to see Air Force capture a rare
conference road win when they land in Las Vegas this coming weekend.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Air Force 28, UNLV 20