It has been almost ten months since the Wildcats walked off the field in Colorado with a bitter taste in their mouths after a 40-36 loss to Northern Colorado. ACU will get a shot at redemption Sept. 10, but before it can even think about that game, a triple-option and Mountain West powerhouse awaits them in Colorado Springs.
In 20 games Air Force has never lost against an FCS-opponent. Over the last nine seasons, the Falcons have only missed a bowl game once. And among all the FBS schools in the nation last year, Air Force finished fourth in rushing, averaging an incredible 319.4 ypg.
Needless to say, ACU who will enter the game a 16-point underdog, will have its work cut out for it. However, head football coach Ken Collums is well aware of the stage this game is being played, and he knows the level of energy his team will have to bring to have a chance.
“This will be the toughest team we play all year, that’s a fact,” said Collums. “Defensively they’re going to come after you. At times they are going to blitz more than you can pick up. And so At that time we’ve got to be able to have to put bodies on the right bodies.”
Meanwhile as the Wildcats begin their 95th season as a football program, they will be well acclimated to the Mountain West environment, having opened last season at Fresno State.
“Our guys are going to have to show some poise and some discipline and not be too passionate in that type of moment,” said Collums.
Although it was only able to muster a 3-8 record a year ago, ACU will be able to put playmakers on both sides of the ball. One of those playmakers is junior running back De’Andre Brown, who just two seasons ago eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark, but struggled last year with an injured offensive line.
“I’m ready to get back to that 1,000-yard mark,” said Brown. “Of course my goal is to exceed way beyond 1,000 yards, but I’m just glad the offensive line is healthy, and that I have a great quarterback and great wide receiving core that will help me get to that 1,000-yard mark.”
Not only will the offensive line be crucial in helping Brown and the offense keep pace with Air Force, but Collums stressed the importance of the defensive line in stopping the triple-option attack.
“The number one thing you better have against Air Force is a solid defensive line,” Collums said. “If you’re not compressing gaps, then they’re just going to give the ball to the fullback and he’s going to run for five yards here, six yards here, four yards here, and they are going to get first down after first down.”
Despite having never met throughout the long history of each program, the Wildcats do have a point of reference from their game last year against Fresno State. Air Force played the Bulldogs a month and a half after ACU fell 34-13. Fresno State jumped out to a 14-0 lead in that matchup, but the Falcons scored 42 unanswered points en route to a 42-14 thumping of the Bulldogs.
However, if the Wildcats can start fast, Brown thinks they’ll be able to make it a game.
“We’re really going to be up to the test, and I just think at the end if we play really hard and 100 percent and give it our all, at the end of the game, around the fourth quarter we should have a chance to win,” said Brown.
Another key component to the Wildcat’s success will be redshirt sophomore Dallas Sealey. Sealey was given the starting job after a strong spring and impressive fall camp. Although this won’t be the first start of his career, Air Force is a different type of team than he will have seen before.
In his two previous starts, Sealey showed potential, especially against the eventual Southland Conference champion McNeese State. Sealey kept the Wildcats in the game until the very end, but ACU came up just short of the upset.
During the spring, Collums implemented a no huddle tempo that if Sealey and the offense can execute, could catch the Falcons off guard.
“In the spring we were running a little faster than we used to, but I feel like now we have got it down and it’s moving real fast so it’s like second nature to go fast,” said Sealey.
Saturday will be the 45th time ACU has squared off against and FBS opponent, and 11 of those times it has come away with a victory. The Wildcats last win against an FBS-caliber team came against Troy in 2014.