All signs point to another nail-biter for the BYU Cougars this weekend in Colorado Springs. The Air Force Falcons haven’t been winning with many style points this season on their way to compiling a solid 8-2 record, and yet they’re only 15 points shy of registering a perfect record.

BYU absolutely must execute better in every phase of its game than it has previously this year. As always, the Falcons are a disciplined squad. They make few mistakes and are quick to capitalize on any capitulation by their opponents.

The Falcon formula for success is perfectly designed to pierce the Cougars’ Achilles heel. They are the leading defenders against the pass in the MWC and 10th-ranked in the nation, yielding just 167 yards per game. On offense, they lead the MWC and are third-ranked in the nation, averaging 275 yards on the ground. None of the top five Falcon ballcarriers average under 4.0 yards per carry.

So, it’s no secret the Falcons aim to clamp down on the BYU passing attack and chew up huge chunks of time and turf with lengthy, methodical possessions.

Three keys to defeat Air Force

1. Zero turnovers. It’s not enough to win the turnover margin against the Falcons — the key is to commit none. Zero. The Flyboys excel in cashing their opponents’ turnovers into paydirt.

Need evidence? Earlier this season, Houston racked up 534 total yards (362 through the air) but turned the ball over twice. The Falcons converted a Houston fumble into a touchdown in the first half and then quashed a sure Houston go-ahead score in the fourth quarter when they intercepted Case Keenum inside the Air Force red zone. The Falcons won the game, 31-28.

Last week, the Falcons intercepted Colorado State’s Billy Farris twice within less than three minutes in the second half and turned each miscue into a TD to expand their close 21-17 halftime lead into an insurmountable 35-17 advantage.

In the two contests the Falcons lost this season (to Utah, 30-23, and to Navy, 33-27), they were able to convert only one of three Ute turnovers into a score, and none against the Midshipmen.

2. Limit the Falcons to 250 total yards. This sounds rather improbable, if not downright impossible, but keep in mind that Utah held AF to 191 total yards (53 rushing, 138 passing) and the Utes still had to gut out the winning touchdown at the 1:08 mark of the fourth quarter to avoid an overtime-dictated finish.

The Utes compiled 440 total yards against the Falcons and turned the ball over three times, but as pointed out above, Air Force failed to cash in on the Utah turnovers.

Behind the stellar play of freshman quarterback Tim Jefferson, AFA has added even more complexity to its multi-option attack. Last week against Colorado State, Jefferson surgically threaded six completions in eight attempts for 171 yards and two touchdowns (a whopping 21.4 yards per pass) to lead the Falcons to a solid three-touchdown margin over the Rams.

It will be very difficult for the Cougars to achieve this key. The only way to overcome the Falcons piling up the yardage will be by forcing a plus-3 turnover margin complemented with several quick-strike touchdowns.

3. Build a two-touchdown halftime lead. Remarkably, the only team Air Force has trailed heading into halftime was the MWC’s last-place San Diego State. And that didn’t last long. The Falcons quickly erased a three-point deficit in the second half and finished on top, 35-10.

Sure, the Cougars could win this game if they trail at halftime, but it would play right into the Falcons’ strength and their ability to eat up clock time. Already well ahead of Colorado State in the fourth quarter last week, the Falcons controlled the ball the remaining nine minutes and 21 seconds of the game.

In a contest where both teams might only get five or six possessions in the final two quarters, a two-TD halftime lead for the Cougars could be necessary to come out on top. Max Hall and his array of offensive weaponry (Collie, Pitta, Reed, Unga or Vakapuna) will need to put together a huge game this Saturday.

Prediction

The Air Force Academy’s only two losses this season both occurred in the friendly confines of Falcon Stadium. However, both setbacks were decided within the final five minutes of regulation playing time. This is also the final home game of the season for the Academy. Add in the revenge factor for three straight losses to the Cougars, and this nationally televised game figures to be a proverbial dogfight. I’m not convinced this BYU team is battle-hardened enough to pull off a road win against the hungry Falcons. Air Force 34, BYU 30