PROVO — Fortunate to have staved off a win-starved New Mexico team for a 24-19 victory Saturday in Albuquerque, BYU, which jumped from No. 22 to No. 19 in the Associated Press poll, returns home this week to face another hungry team — Air Force.
Saturday's game at LaVell Edwards Stadium (1:30 p.m., The mtn.) marks the Falcons' regular-season finale. AFA (7-4, 5-2) is generally regarded as the fourth-best team in the Mountain West Conference and is looking to break into top-three tier of the league.
The Falcons, who pounded UNLV, 45-17, last Saturday, is getting closer — this season, they fell to No. 4 TCU by just three points, 20-17, and dropped a 23-16 overtime decision at No. 23 Utah.
Air Force has lost five consecutive games to BYU and would love nothing more than to halt that streak.
Quarterback Max Hall said struggling to defeat the winless Lobos should serve as a wake-up call for the Cougars.
"Air Force is a better team (than New Mexico). Now, this might be good for us. It might be good for us to wake up and to realize we've got to come to play every week. There's a few guys that need to practice better and we need to get better."
Asked if the close game against the Lobos hurt his team's confidence, Hall replied, "If anything, it's motivating. It's kind of a kick in the butt to say we've got to come to play and we've got to come to practice every single day and we've got to get better. We can't take plays, days, games off. We'll get better from it. I'm actually kind of happy because I think we're going to learn from it and we're going to finish off strong."
BYU defensive lineman Jan Jorgensen said Air Force and its triple-option attack pose a difficult test.
"They're a completely different team (from New Mexico). We've got to come in this week, put that game behind us. What (Air Force) runs is completely different from what anybody else runs. Especially as a defense, we need to get ready to get out there and be able to battle for 60 minutes against those guys."
The Cougars' uneven performance against the Lobos came a week after an almost flawless 52-0 beating of Wyoming. Against New Mexico, BYU lost the turnover battle, 2-0, and were outgained by the Lobos.
"Execution-wise, we sputtered at times, but then we made great plays at times," said tight end Andrew George, who scored on a 27-yard touchdown pass from Hall in the second quarter. "We need to put it together to where we need to execute all the time, that's when we play our best football."
While the Cougar defense tallied five sacks, it allowed quarterback Donovan Porterie to throw for 272 yards and two touchdowns.
Still, BYU yielded only 88 yards on the ground to the Lobos and the Cougars are now ranked No. 18 in the country in rushing defense (103.5 yards per game). Air Force, meanwhile, is No. 4 nationally in rushing offense (279 ypg).
In its win over UNLV, Air Force accumulated 557 yards of total offense, including 431 rushing yards, while the defense limited UNLV to just 282 total yards.
"I think so far this season, this was our best complete game as a unit overall, everybody," quarterback Tim Jefferson told the Colorado Springs Gazette. "Offense was clicking, and the defense made the stops whenever they needed them."
Colorado Springs Gazette columnist David Ramsey, in previewing the BYU-Air Force showdown, called BYU "vulnerable" in the wake of its narrow win over New Mexico.
"Against quality and semi-quality teams, BYU has been atrocious. Florida State and TCU all but devoured the Cougars ... No doubt, the Cougars are vulnerable," Ramsey wrote. "They even struggled Saturday to beat the ultra-lowly New Mexico Lobos. Last season, I suggested BYU was the most overrated No. 17 in football history, and that might have been a trifle strong. So let's try again. This season, BYU was the most overrated No. 7 team in my lifetime. The Cougars beat a crippled Oklahoma squad and everyone got excited before BYU revealed its true self."
Cougars on the air
Air Force (7-4, 5-2)
at No. 19 BYU (8-2, 5-1)
Saturday, 1:30 p.m. MT
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM