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GAME BLOG: Utah 30, Air Force 23

GAME BLOG: Utah 30, Air Force 23

Estimated read time: 12-13 minutes

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Score: Utah 30, Air Force 23The last time Utah Safety Joe Dale intercepted a pass on a possible game winning drive in a big game, he ended up winning the Defensive Most Valuable Player in the Poinsettia Bowl. Not to be outdone, Dale intercepted Air Force QB Shea Smith's pass with under a minute remaining to give the Utah Utes (4-0, 2-0 MWC) the 30 - 23 victory over the Air Force Falcons (3-1, 1-1 MWC).

Historically, the Utes-Falcons games have always been close, and this year's edition was no different. Utah broke a 23 point tie late in the 4th quarter on a 9 yard run by Darrell Mack to give the Utes a 7 point lead.

Brian Johnson and the rest of the Utes were turnover free in the second half, after the Air Force defense forced 3 turnovers in the first half. Johnson finished the day 16-23 for 243 yards with a touchdown and interception.

Two Utah running backs finished the day with over 100 yards rushing. Matt Asiata ran the ball 19 times for 116 yards, and Darrell Mack ran 18 times for 101 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Utah's defense held Air Force, the nation's 2nd ranked rushing offense, to 53 yards rushing. Air Force was able to move the ball in the air, racking up over 130 passing yards, but the lack of the ground game allowed Utah to control the time of possession (37 minutes for the Utes, 23 for the Falcons).

Next up for the Utes: vs. Weber State
Next up for the Falcons: vs. Navy

0:58 4th Quarter
Forced to a third and long, Brian Johnson threads the needle with a perfect pass to Freddie Brown for the first down. The Utes definitely needed that play regain some of the momentum from the Falcons.

It has become 'Matt Asiata' time for the Utes. Facing a third and short, Asiata runs for a 13 yard gain toward the right sideline. Asiata has now rushed for over 100 yards in the game, while Darrell Mack has over 70 yards so far.

Utah now has the ball on the Falcon 25 yard line. Now the Utes are looking to set up the short Louie Sakoda field goal.

Darrell Mack runs right up the middle on 3rd and 5, all the way down to the AF 9 yard line. Now the Utes can run the clock out and kick a field goal for the win.

But why stop there? Mack runs right up the middle for nine yards for the touchdown, giving Utah the 7 point lead.

Score: Utah 30, Air Force 23

5:06 4th Quarter
Air Force is still playing option football, which is a great decision by Head Coach Troy Calhoun. There is still plenty of time left and there is no need to get away from the strength of your team.

Shea Smith throws a beautiful 37 yard roll out pass to WR Kevin Folger. Now the Falcons have great field position, and are in prime position to tie this game up.

Shea Smith follows his long pass up with another beautiful pass, this time 29 yards to Josh Cousins to give the Falcons the ball inside the Utah 5. AF RB Savie Stevens then punches it in from 1 yard out to tie up the game.

Score: Utah 23, Air Force 23

13:09 4th Quarter
Matt Asiata is showing why he is such an offensive weapon, singlehandedly running the Utes down into Falcon territory. Brian Johnson is then sacked 2 consecutive plays, forcing a 55 yard field goal attempt by Louie Sakoda. Sakoda misses again, this time wide left. Utah misses another opportunity to put points on the board.

The Falcons go 3-out with the great field position. They appeared to want to go for it on 4th down, but a delay of game forces the Falcons to punt the ball.

Utah is doing exactly what they need to do. They have controlled the game since half-time. Utah had the ball for 11:32 in the 3rd quarter, while Air Force only had the ball 3:28.

After driving down to the Air Force 1 yard line, Brian Johnson loses a yard, forcing a key 4th down decision. Utah goes for it, with Brian Johnson and Darrell Mack running the option to perfection. Mack runs in from 2 yards out untouched, giving Utah the lead.

Score: Utah 23, Air Force 16

9:20 3rd Quarter
Utah has come out of the break pounding the football up the middle. The Utes went on a 69 yard drive in 8 plays to tie the game up on a 8 yard TD run by Darrell Mack. On the drive, Brian Johnson went 2-2, with the key play being a 28 yard completion to Brent Casteel.

Air Force is trying to catch the Ute defense off guard by running the full-back dive, but Utah's linebackers are playing very assignment sound. Mike Wright and Stevenson Sylvester are leading the way for the Utes. The Utes force the Falcons to a 3-out.

Score: Utah 16, Air Force 16

After a sluggish first quarter, the Falcons are doing an excellent job of controlling the game. AF QB Shea Smith has used the play-action pass to perfection in the 2nd quarter, throwing passes of 42 and 8 yards with a touchdown.

Utah has shown glimpses of the dominant offense seen in the first half against Michigan, however they have squandered multiple scoring opportunities with costly turnovers. Brian Johnson threw a beautiful 47 yard TD pass to David Reed, followed on the next drive by an interception. He has gone on to fumble the ball twice, with one going all the way for a TD.

Utah's defense has been playing solid, with the exception of the 42 yard pass they gave up.

In the second half, Utah needs to control the ball and not give Air Force short fields to work with. Costly turnovers are haunting the Utes right now.

Score: Air Force 16, Utah 9

3:32 2nd Quarter
The Falcons are doing an excellent job in pressuring Brian Johnson. Already, they have forced an interception and recovered two fumbles, this time for a TD. Brian Johnson was scrambling away from AF DE Rick Ricketts, and on the tackle Ricketts is able to knock the ball loose. Jake Paulson picks up the ball and runs it in from 25 yards out for the TD.

Score: Air Force 16, Utah 9

5:53 2nd Quarter
Utah is able to move the ball with relative ease down the field, as Johnson is throwing the ball right on target. However, the Utes are unable to get the offense going deep in Air Force territory, forcing a Louie Sakoda field goal attempt. For the first time this season, Sakoda misses the field goal. That is another missed scoring opportunity for the Utes.

The momentum has switched over to the Falcons with the missed field goal. Air Force QB Shea Smith completes a 42 yard pass play to Kyle Lumpkin on an excellent play-action fake. 3 plays later, Smith goes back to Lumpkin out on the flat for an 8 yard TD pass to put the Falcons out on top. Missed scoring opportunities are now haunting the Utes as the Falcons now have total control of the momentum in the game.

Score: Air Force 10, Utah 9

11:06 2nd Quarter
Air Force goes for it on a critical 4th down, and after a quick snap, Utah gets caught off guard with 12 players on the field. The penalty gives Air Force its 1st first down of the game.

Air Force is able to drive down to the Utah 27 yard line, where Ryan Harrison hits a 44 yard field goal to put the Falcons on the board.

Score: Utah 9, Air Force 3

End First Quarter
Johnson throws a beautiful pass to David Reed for a 26 yard gain, after which the Utes squander the great field position with Johnson throwing an interception in the end zone (Air Force CB Reggie Rembert with the pick).

Air Force returns the favor as QB Shea Smith tries to throw a deep ball off his back foot, which is easily intercepted by Brice McCain.

After all that, Brian Johnson tries to run on 3rd down and fumbles the ball. Air Force recovers with great field position near mid-field.

Score: Utah 9, Air Force 0

4:00 First Quarter
Utes hold Air Force to a quick 3-out, aided by a Shea Smith fumble on 2nd down.

With the ball on their own 19, Johnson hits Bradon Godfrey for a 20 yard gain, followed by runs by Louks, Asiata and Mack to move into Air Force territory.

After Hunter Altman (OLB) for Air Force hits Darrell Mack in the backfield forcing a 3rd and 7, Brian Johnson hits David Reed for a 47 yard TD strike for the first score in the game.

Air Force tries a reverse on 2nd down and the Utes are all over it. The play nets -13 yards on the run by Jonathan Warzeka.

Air Force punter Ryan Harrison fumbles the ball in the end zone. After hesitating for a brief moment, he smartly decides to throw the ball out the back of the end zone for a safety.

Score: Utah 9, Air Force 0

11:17 First Quarter
Utah won the toss and elected to kickoff. Air Force called an early timeout on 2nd down... looked like miscommunication with the offensive coordinator. Air Force tried a play-action pass, but the ball was overthrown, although the receiver had the defense beat out on the flat.

Utah is going with Terrell Cole on punt returns. After one good option run by Brian Johnson, the Utes' offense stalls. A gutsy call to go for it on 4th down in Air Force territory fails, and Air Force has great field position near mid-field.

Score: Utah 0, Air Force 0

Pregame thoughts and Questions
Can the 8th ranked defense stop the nation's 2nd best rushing attack? That is the key matchup in today's MWC showdown between the No. 20 Utah Utes (3-0, 1-0 MWC) and the Air Force Falcons (3-0, 1-0 MWC) in Colorado Springs.

Historically, the Utes and Falcons have always had close games. Since 1999, only 1 contest has been decided by more than 9 points (2004, Utah 49, Air Force 35). In 2006, Louie Sakoda kicked a 37 yard field goal as time expired to give the Utes a 17-14 victory. Last year, the Falcons goal line defense stopped the Utes inside the 1 yard line, preserving a 20-12 Falcon victory in Salt Lake City.

My Prediction
I expect this to be a low scoring game with both offenses vying for time of possession. The Utes will be significantly better in the punt return games (4 dropped punts last week vs. Utah State). The Falcons will air it out more than their last game vs. Houston (0-7 for 0 yards). Air Force will live and die with the play-action pass, beating the Utes' secondary which will be focused on stopping the run. However, the Utes have too many weapons on offense, and Louie Sakoda is money on field goals. MY PREDICTION: Utah 29, Air Force 24. Let me know what you think. Post your predictions and questions in the comments section.

Keys to the Game for Utah

  • Generate long offensive drives that eat up the clock
  • Fast start - put a lot of points up on the board early in the game, forcing Air Force to throw the ball
  • No mental mistakes - the Utes can't turn the ball over. Last week against Utah State, the Utes fumbled 4 Aggie punts. That can't happen again.

Keys to the Game for Air Force

  • Play-action, play-action, and more play-action - force the Utes to watch the pass to open up the run
  • Blitz Brian Johnson - the more pressure you can put on him, the more chances you will have that he will make mistakes (interceptions, fumbles), which will provide Air Force with short field opportunities

Game Notes: Week 4 No. 20 Utah (3-0, 1-0 MWC) vs. Air Force (3-0, 1-0 MWC)
Date Saturday, Sept. 20
Time 2:00 p.m. Mountain Time
Site Colorado Springs, Colo. (Falcon Stadium (46,692/FieldTurf)
Radio KALL 700 Sports Radio (
Series History: 14-10 (Air Force)
Last Meeting (2007): 20-12 Air Force

Utah Injury Report Update

  • Zane Beadles (LT) will start after missing last week
  • Corbin Louks (QB) is expected to play
  • LB Matt Martinez is out for the season
  • DT Lei Talamaivao is out for the season
  • DT Kenape Eliapo is out 5-6 more weeks

Utah Miscellaneous Stats

  • Utah ranks in the top 10 nationally this week in these areas: No. 4 in opponent first downs (34), No. 5 in tackles for loss (9.33), No. 6 in time of possession (35:06), No. 8 in total defense (202.3), No. 9 in net punting (40.8).
  • The Utes have more wins against BCS schools since 2000 (14) than any other non-BCS team. Utah is 11-4 against BCS schools since 2003.
  • Utah is out-scoring its opponents by almost 24 points a game (41.7-18.0 ppg).
  • Brian Johnson's five touchdown passes this season gives him 35 for his career, which places him fifth all-time at Utah. He needs four more to move into a four-way tie for fourth place.
  • Johnson ranks second in the Mountain West Conference in pass efficiency (143.9), second in total offense (242.3) and fourth in passing yards (230.7).

Air Force Miscellaneous Stats

  • The Falcons rank 1st in the MWC and 2nd in the nation in rushing yards per game (358)
  • The Falcons are 2nd in the MWC for Scoring Defense (12.67 ppg)
  • DE Jake Paulson leads the nation in sacks, averaging 2 sacks a game
  • Air Force is undefeated (7-0) at home under head coach Troy Calhoun. The Falcons posted just the third undefeated home season in school history last year, joining the 1985 and 1998 squads as the only perfect teams at home. Air Force has been dominant in its seven home games with Calhoun at the helm. The Falcons have out-scored their opponents by 145 points which is an averaged scoring margin of 24.2 points per game. The team has scored 20 or more points in every game while allowing fewer than 20 in six of seven games.
  • Air Force is 9-1 under head coach Troy Calhoun in games when it has a player rush for 100 or more yards and 12-2 when they out-rushed opponents.

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