SAN DIEGO • Jeremy Fejedelem was supposed to be focusing on class, but his mind — and eyes — wandered mid-lecture Tuesday to an article about Air Force and San Diego State football.
The Falcons junior safety had known of his team’s struggles in the series, but not the extent of them.
Not since 2009 has Air Force beaten the Aztecs, a streak of seven straight.
Fejedelem was stunned.
But he is also aware of something else. In his mind, Air Force (2-3, 0-2 Mountain West) has played better than its record suggests. If one or two plays had gone the other way in a six-point loss at Florida Atlantic or a three-point loss to Nevada, the Falcons could have emerged victorious. Same with a 42-32 loss at Utah State, where Air Force trailed by a field goal with 7 minutes remaining.
“Our season could look very different than it does right now,” said Fejedelem, team leader in tackles.
On Friday night, the Falcons can go a long way toward making the season look more like they’d prefer.
A victory at San Diego State (4-1, 1-0) in a 7 p.m. game on CBS Sports Network would end the long streak, even the Falcons’ record and, combined with last week’s 35-7 throttling of Navy, show that the Falcons would be hitting the midway point of the season on the right trajectory.
Problem is, how do they make that victory happen?
San Diego State has won four straight, including a 19-13 victory at Boise State last week. Injuries have them down to backups at quarterback and tailback, but Air Force coach Troy Calhoun sees no drop in productivity at those spots, particularly at tailback where true freshman Jordan Byrd ran for 76 yards on just three carries at Boise State.
The offensive line is again massive and talented (the starters average 6-foot-5, 312 pounds), and coach Rocky Long’s defense is ranked No. 2 in the nation vs. the run.
“When it comes to gifts and speed and size and ability,” Calhoun said, “they’re playing with some pretty good guys.”
But working in Air Force’s favor is a run defense that has been nearly the equal of San Diego State’s (ranking 13th nationally), and the Aztecs have displayed limited strength through the air to complement their potent ground game.
Also, the Falcons haven’t been far behind in this series. The past two meetings have been separated by just seven combined points. The Falcons led last year before future first-round NFL draft pick Rashaad Penny broke a 53-yard run with 5:39 left to put the Aztecs in front.
Three months later, Army used its triple-option offense to run up 440 rushing yards in a victory over San Diego State in the Armed Forces Bowl.
A short week also likely impacted San Diego State’s ability to fully prepare for an offense unlike any they see with regularity, and Long admitted his scout team offers only a slowed-down version for his defense to see in practice.
“That success is ancient history,” Long said of his past record against Air Force. “I’m hoping we’re mature enough to realize this is not the same situation.”
Air Force enters as 10.5-point underdogs, which is perfectly understandable given the track record between the teams and San Diego State’s recent surge and home-field advantage.
But don’t count out a statement from an Air Force team that showed last week that it’s capable of making one.
“It wouldn’t be a surprise for us, getting a win,” Air Force cornerback Robert Bullard said.