The featured game in the world of service academy football this past weekend was Air Force’s game against Boise State, a significant clash in the Mountain West’s Mountain Division race and in the Group of Five.
With UCF losing to Pittsburgh on Saturday, this game became bigger in retrospect, but even before UCF’s loss, both Air Force and Boise State knew this was high-stakes poker on blue turf in the state of Idaho.
Air Force stayed at the poker table for a long time, but eventually ran into bad luck… and lost the ability to play its cards right on offense.
The Air Force defense was terrific, but the offense ran out of solutions midway through the third quarter. The Falcons played Boise State on even terms for the game’s first 50 minutes but were clearly outplayed in the final 10, losing 30-19.
This was a physical, intense slugfest. Hard-nosed defense and ferocious hitting defined the first three quarters, with Boise State carving out a small and very tenuous 17-13 edge heading into the fourth. The game could have remained close down to the wire, but then came the bad break which Air Force couldn’t overcome.
On third down and 11 for Boise State deep in Air Force territory, midway through the fourth quarter, Bronco quarterback Hank Bachmeier threw a pass which deflected off the hands of his receiver and onto the fingertips of the Air Force defender who was providing coverage. The pass figured to at least be incomplete, and there was a chance it could be intercepted, but the ball wasn’t gathered in for a pick. The ball instead deflected back to the ground, where the Boise State receiver was able to re-catch the ball he initially dropped. The play converted a first down, and Boise State scored in the red zone moments later to forge a 23-13 lead.
Air Force can never trail by two scores with a relatively small amount of time left in a game. That is never a situation in which Air Force can run its normal offense and display the balance it needs to keep the opposing defense guessing. The Falcons had to take chances and get out of their regular plan of attack. An interception by Boise State promptly followed. The 50-yard interception return set up the Broncos with a short field. They punched in a TD for a 30-13 lead, and the game was essentially over after being even-steven for 50 minutes.
Air Force’s defense spilled its guts, but the offense was stymied by Boise State’s physical defensive line, which has been one of the Broncos’ foremost strengths for a long time, dating back 10 years ago to the height of the Chris Petersen glory years.
This level of performance was inadequate against a team as good as Boise State – the Broncos are currently the favorite for the Group of Five championship and a New Year’s Six bowl bid – but Air Force’s flinty defense, which pounded Bachmeier a lot in the first two and a half quarters, played well enough to beat every other team in the Mountain West, and probably Navy as well when the Falcons face the Midshipmen.
The Falcons should not be discouraged by this effort, but their offense needs to find ways to make adjustments – and more big plays – against opponents with a strong defensive line.
Air Force plays San Jose State (which won at Arkansas in Week 4) this Friday night.
The other academy team to play in Week 4 was Army. The Black Knights faced Morgan State of the FCS, and the team played as though it knew it could coast through a game and not pay a scoreboard price. Army won by 31 points, but allowing 21 points to an FCS team represented a level of defensive vigilance far below what coach Jeff Monken rightly expects.
Monken was interviewed on the field by CBS Sports Network after the game. He was not pleased at all with his team’s performance, and rightly so. Army took parts of the afternoon off; that can’t remain in place in future weeks. Army now has an off week before playing Tulane (which defeated Houston last Thursday) on October 5.
Navy was idle this past week. The Midshipmen are preparing for a huge AAC West game against Memphis on Thursday night.
In 2015 and 2016, Navy’s offense clicked on all cylinders against Memphis’s defense, but in 2017 and 2018, Navy’s offense has gotten stuck against the Tigers. With nearly two weeks to prepare, Ken Niumatalolo and offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper need to once again crack the code of the UM defense. Navy is unlikely to win a game played in the 20s; the Mids need to score in the mid-to-high 30s if they want to have a good chance to prevail.