Air Force (6-5) at Fresno State (8-3)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, Nov. 24, 3:30 pm (et).
FACTS & STATS: Site: Bulldog Stadium (41,031) -- Fresno, California. Television: NBCSN. Home Record: Air Force 5-1, FSU 5-0. Away Record: Air Force 1-4, FSU 3-3. Neutral Record: Air Force 0-0, FSU 0-0. Conference Record: Air Force 5-2, FSU 6-1. Series Record: Air Force leads, 4-2.
GAME NOTES: Building a masterful turn-around from last season, first-year head coach Tim DeRuyter has his Fresno State Bulldogs tied with both San Diego State and Boise State atop the Mountain West Conference standings as the team proceeds to close out the 2012 regular season with a meeting against Air Force at home on Saturday afternoon.
The Bulldogs, who finished just 4-9 overall and 3-4 in Western Athletic Conference play in their final season under Pat Hill in 2011, have a 6-1 mark in league play this time around and with a win over Air Force would own their first conference title since 1999. The good news for Fresno State is that the team is undefeated at home through five games this season, and the hometown crowd will be ready to carry the squad to at least one more win this season.
Enjoying a bye on the schedule last week, the Bulldogs last took the field on Nov. 10 against Nevada on the road and crushed the Wolf Pack in Reno by a final of 52-36. The win was the fourth straight and the sixth in the last seven outings for the program.
Meanwhile, the Falcons could have caused a major log-jam at the top of the league standings had they not lost to San Diego State a couple weeks back in a 28-9 final on the road. That loss was the second straight for the team and the second in seven conference opportunities after bowing to UNLV unexpectedly earlier in the campaign.
More recently, the Falcons welcomed Hawaii to Colorado last week and captured a 21-7 win during Friday night action. With the win Air Force moved to 5-2 in the MWC which is currently good for fourth place. If nothing else, the Falcons now know what they'll be doing in the postseason as they accepted a bid to participate in the Armed Forces Bowl following the win.
The Falcons own a 4-2 advantage in the all-time series with Fresno State, but the teams haven't faced each other since 2000 when the Academy posted a 37-34 victory. The schools actually played against each other when they were both members of the WAC, the last of those encounters coming in 1997.
Against Hawaii, the offense took a little time to warm up for the Falcons, but once it got rolling it prevented the visitors from making any real runs at an upset. Wes Cobb produced a pair of rushing touchdowns and Cody Getz hit the end zone once as well, the team running for 338 yards on 68 attempts.
Connor Dietz managed the game rather well as the quarterback refrained from attempting a single pass in the meeting, the first time that has happened since 1992 when the team defeated Wyoming (42-28). The feat really isn't that unusual however, as the Falcons have now had five such games in their history where they've kept the ball on the ground exclusively.
Defensively, the Falcons were all over Hawaii, holding the visitors to just 162 yards of total offense. Most impressive was the run defense which allowed only 37 net yards, a major accomplishment considering the team is 101st in the nation with 204.7 ypg allowed.
Obviously, as they showed against the Warriors, the Falcons are a running team first and foremost and now they are ranked second in the country in that department with 335.6 ypg.
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, their ability to slow down the run isn't necessarily one of their strengths this season. In fact, Fresno State ranks third in the conference and 73rd nationally with 164.5 ypg allowed on the ground. Granted, that's barely half of what the Falcons are accustomed to, but assume that the Bulldogs defense will be on the field for quite some time this weekend.
Bad news for the Bulldogs is that, with Air Force running the ball all the time, it takes Phillip Thomas and Derron Smith almost completely out of their comfort zones. Between them they've made 14 interceptions, giving them more picks this season than 96 other FBS teams. The duo has scored four return touchdowns which is an incredible feat when you consider that FSU was tied for last in the nation last year with a mere nine take-aways.
On the other side of the ball, the Falcons had better get ready for a heavy dose of Derek Carr who has thrown for almost 3,300 yards and has tossed 32 touchdowns, 11 of which have gone to Davante Adams who has 80 catches for 1,027 yards. And if that were not enough, there's also Robbie Rouse coming out of the backfield as the school's all-time leading rusher. This year Rouse is among the nation's leaders with 1,362 yards and 12 TDs.
To say that the Falcons have their hands full in this one would be an understatement. However, should Air Force be able to slow the pace and use up the clock, don't be surprised if this game is a bit closer than it should be, given what's at stake for the Bulldogs.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Fresno State 42, Air Force 27
11/21 11:08:43 ET