Aztecs at Air Force: 3 Keys to Victory

What SDSU has to do to get a loooong-awaited win as a Top-25 team

December 3, 1977 is an important day in Aztecs football history. That was the last time San Diego State won a game as a Top-25 team.

The 16th-ranked Aztecs beat San Jose State 37-34 to finish their season 10-1 under head coach Claude Gilbert. Since then SDSU has not won a college football game with a number next to its name.

They had two chances to do it last year. SDSU jumped into the national rankings after a 3-and-0 start … then went to South Alabama and lost 42-24. In November they worked their way back into the Top-25 … and lost at Wyoming 34-33 in one of the most exciting football games of the season. Entering both of those games the Aztecs didn’t think they would have an emotional letdown after entering the rankings.

“I was wrong at this point last year,” said head coach Rocky Long. “We had a very veteran football team and I didn’t think they would fall into that and they did. I don’t think this year’s team will.”

And now here we are again.

Last week’s win over a very good Stanford team vaulted San Diego State up to 22nd in the AP poll and 25th in the Coaches poll and they get another shot at ending their nearly 40-year streak of not winning as a ranked team. Long wants his team to know that just because people across the country are starting to pay attention to the gutty little Aztecs, they haven’t done anything yet.

“Well, I don’t really worry about what other people think,” said Long. “Speaking as a coach, no, it’s never enough. It’s never enough until you win every game. Great players are such good competitors. That’s the way they think. Olympic athletes aren’t satisfied until they win the gold medal. We’re not satisfied until we win every game and I don’t worry about what the people watching think.”

This monumental win will have to come over a team that can give anyone fits. Air Force is one of those teams that plays such an unorthodox style that it’s difficult to prepare for. And that brings us to the three keys to the game:

Know Your Options

The Falcons run that triple option offense and they run it extremely well. A week ago at Michigan (a game that the Falcons were only down 16-13 in the 4th quarter against the 8th-ranked Wolverines) they ran the ball 49 times and only threw it nine times, completing just one … but that one went for a 64-yard touchdown. Air Force can lull you into thinking EVERY play is a rush and then catch you off guard for a big play through the air so on those rare occasions that they do throw the SDSU secondary that had a pair of interceptions against Stanford will have to make sure they’re in the right spots to avoid getting burned.


Playing in the Mountain West Conference the Aztecs have to make a lot of trips to altitude so they know what it’s like. After taking a flight and landing 7,258 feet above sea level in Colorado Springs the body can dehydrate incredibly quickly and when you’re playing against a team that’s conditioned to the elements and likes to run the ball a ton, you can get worn out awfully fast. Adding a few gallons of water to the diet on trips like this will help avoid getting gassed and becoming susceptible to a late-game collapse.

Stay In Control

San Diego State’s offense is run-based, as well, a big reason they lead the nation in time of possession. The Aztecs keep the ball an average of 37:31, meaning they extend drives on offense and get off the field quickly on defense. One would think the reason for the long offensive possessions is all-universe running back Rashaad Penny but junior quarterback Christian Chapman has been really good at extending drives. This year on 3rd down plays of nine yards or less Chapman is 11-for-15 for 116 yards, with nine of those completions earning 1st downs. Balance on offense is a darn good thing.

Derek’s Prediction

The Aztecs have won six straight meetings against Air Force. Rocky Long has tremendous respect for the Falcons and understands the threat they pose and that’s exactly why SDSU is going to win this game handily.

Final score: Aztecs 30, Air Force 16

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