By Devon Black
Saturday?s game, Oct. 28, 2006, against Air Force lost a little bit of its luster when the Falcons stumbled last week against San Diego State.
The winner will still have the lead in the Mountain West Conference standings, but it?s not quite the marquee match up it was touted to be when both teams were undefeated in con-ference.
Even so, playing Air Force is always an adventure in its own right. Whether it?s the precise triple-option offense ? complete with cut blocks ? the unique special teams schemes, or stands packed with Air Force cadets and officers, the Falcons just aren?t like any other opponent.
If you?re BYU, that can be good or bad, depending on your perspective.
According to offensive lineman Jake Kuresa, playing Air Force always means one thing: BYU will have a far superior physical advantage up front.
?Air Force is a hard working group, but as far as speed, size and strength, they don?t match up with us,? Kuresa said. ?We?ve got running backs big-ger than their defensive linemen. We need to use the advantage we have. I anticipate us being very physical and moving the defensive line back.?
Of course, coach Bronco Mendenhall sees things a little diffe-ently.
?We have a different task ahead,? Mendenhall said. ?Everything they do has a unique twist to it. Very little they do is conventional. You have to play physical and you have to play with effort.?
The truth of the matter is probably somewhere in the middle of Kuresa?s and Mendenhall?s comments.
Air Force is undersized and undermanned against a big and physical team like BYU, but it has a scheme that plays to its own strengths and can give unprepared teams ? like Tennes-see ? headaches.
The last two seasons, BYU used its size and speed advantage to beat the Falcons by a combined 48 points.
The two seasons before that, Air Force soundly outplayed the Cougars and got two wins of its own by a combined 57 points.
For BYU, the biggest difference between the wins and the losses has been its running game.
In the wins, BYU averaged 236.5 yards on the ground, and a flat 46 yards in the two losses.
Last season, Curtis Brown alone rushed for 219 yards and four touch-downs.
With Fui Vakapuna still day-to-day with an ankle injury, the Cougars may need another big day from Brown to keep its offense rolling and beat Air Force.
On the other side of the ball, the Falcons have been even more one-dimensional this season than normal, only throwing the ball about 10 times per game.
That means the most important task for the BYU defense will be filling its assignments up front and containing the running game.
?The key is getting them in third and long situations,? BYU linebacker Markell Staffieri. ?I?m sure they?re fired up. I?m sure they?re not satis-fied with the way they played on Saturday (against SDSU).?
Leading the Falcons attack on Saturday will be junior quarterback Shaun Carney.
Carney is the team?s second-leading rusher behind Chad Hall. The two have combined for 924 of Air Force?s 1,678 yards rushing this season.
Air Force?s defense ranks near the middle of Division I-A teams in nearly every category. The Falcons? opponents are averaging 21 points and 321.3 yards of total offense per game.
BYU is 17-1 all-time against Air Force when it scores 24 or more points. Hitting their season average of 36 points should be more than enough offensive output for the Cougars to win.