Falcons soar into Boise to take on fifth-ranked Broncos

The very first Mountain West Conference home game ranked Boise State Broncos takes place this Saturday, as the flying squad entertains the Air Force Falcons.

Boise State, which is already bowl eligible and is slotted fifth in the initial BCS rankings which came out this week, posted its highest scoring output of 2011 last Saturday when it crushed Colorado State in the MWC opener, 63-13, in Fort Collins. The win was the eighth in a row for the Broncos, which has them tied for the third-longest win streak in the nation. Despite having jumped over to the MWC after spending the last decade in the Western Athletic Conference, BSU has also strung together 34 consecutive conference wins as well, which is among the longest streaks in the country. The Broncos, who recently have been mentioned as potential future members of the Big East Conference, have also captured 46 straight conference home games, the last loss coming against Idaho back in 1998.

As for the Falcons, this is their second ranked opponent of the season, the team already having battled 25th-ranked TCU and falling in a 35-19 decision last month. Last Thursday, the academy was taken down by San Diego State at home in a 41-27 decision, the team's second straight loss overall. Combined with the loss to the Horned Frogs, Air Force is now 0-2 in MWC play for the first time ever.

Just 16-70-4 all-time against nationally-ranked teams, the last time the Falcons defeated a ranked program on the road was in 2002 when they slipped by 23rd-ranked California by a score of 23-21. This is the first meeting between these two teams on the gridiron.

Against the Aztecs last week, Air Force quarterback Tim Jefferson again showed why he must be taken seriously as a passer these days as he converted 22-of-36 attempts for 224 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but still the academy had to accept the fact that they were overmatched. Jefferson was picked off twice and sacked four times along the way as the Air Force rushing attack was limited to 195 yards and a single score which is far below their typical output.

"We played a pretty good football team tonight," said Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun after the SDSU meeting. "I thought we'd have to play exceptionally well. There were stretches where we did play well, but not nearly the way that you have to for a full 60 minutes...I was pleased with the way we were able to get points at the end of the first half to tie it up and the second half to go down and drive and score."

Unfortunately for the Falcons, a team which is used to producing big numbers by running the ball, they were again caught off guard by an opponent that could pose a similar threat as SDSU running back Ronnie Hillman exploded for 172 yards and two touchdowns. The pass defense also surrendered another 209 yards and two TDs, so Air Force succumbed to attacks from all sides. Brady Amack and Jon Davis recorded 11 and 10 tackles, respectively, but the unit didn't have nearly as many impact plays on that side of the ball to make a difference in the outcome.

Ironically, for a program that emphasizes running the ball as much as the Falcons do, averaging 336.0 ypg to rank first in the MWC and third in the nation overall this week, the team has just as much trouble slowing down the competition which is producing 229.5 ypg on the ground, a number that has the academy ranked 119th in the country. Because they are undersized for the most part, the Falcons also have trouble making big plays in the backfield and are currently averaging just 4.3 tackles for loss per game (108th in the country).

Everyone knows that Air Force is a team that opts to run the ball almost as much as any other team in the nation, but now with Jefferson asserting himself in the pocket and proving that he too can be a threat with his arm, the Falcons are moving slightly away from their planned attack as they average a solid 170.3 ypg through the air. Again, it is nothing earth-shattering by any means, but for one of the service academies to adopt such a stance is a huge step in the opposite direction.

Unlike Air Force, throwing the ball is by no means anything new for the Broncos who are averaging 307.2 passing ypg to rank 12th in the country and first in the MWC in that department. Considering quarterback Kellen Moore has taken a seat on the bench in the third quarter in each of the last two blowout victories, it is conceivable that BSU could be even higher up the chart than it is right now.

While deemed undersized by many in the national media, Moore has simply gone out every week and put on a aerial show that few in his position can match. Ranked fourth in the nation in passing efficiency with a rating of 179.67, Moore is more of a game manager than anything else after missing on just four of his 30 pass attempts, en route to 338 yards and four touchdowns before heading to the bench last week.

Directing a total of six scoring drives of under two minutes in duration Moore, who is one win shy of tying Colt McCoy's record for wins as a starter thanks to his mark of 44-2 with the Broncos, has now thrown multiple TDs in 19 consecutive games and has a total of 120 for his career, which is second among active QBs behind Houston's Case Keenum (124).

But just as important as Moore putting the ball on a line to his receivers, is the ability of the running backs to shake up the action and make huge advances for the BSU offense. A primary example of that was Doug Martin who, on his way to being named the MWC Offensive Player of the Week, rolled up 200 yards and three touchdowns on just 20 rushing attempts in the lopsided win against the Rams.

"He set the tone in the first couple drives but it started up front with the offensive line," Boise State head coach Chris Petersen said of Martin's early runs. "We are starting to get into more of a rhythm each week. If we can run the ball like that, good things are going to happen for us."

Good things might be an understatement to say the least because at the moment the Broncos are 35th in the country in rushing with 191.7 ypg and when you combine that with Moore's pinpoint accuracy the offense is almost impossible to stop.

Slighting the efforts of the BSU defense would be a huge mistake again this year as well, the team having allowed a combined 30 points in the last three games and the unit is ranked first in the MWC and eighth nationally with just 14.5 ppg surrendered for the year. Against the Rams, defensive end Tyrone Crawford stepped up and grabbed some of the spotlight as he registered five tackles, two sacks and recovered a fumble. Like Martin, Crawford earned player of the week honors on his side of the ball in the Mountain West.