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September 8, 2011

Week 2 in the Mountain West

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Because he was focusing on his own team's game the following day, Air Force running back Asher Clark didn't spend his Friday night watching TCU's 50-48 loss to Baylor.

Nor did he take much comfort in the result.

"I guess it gives them more motivation to be ready for us," Clark said. "Of course you don't want to lose two back-to-back games."

San Diego State at Army, noon
Northern Colorado at Colorado State, 2 p.m.
TCU at Air Force, 3:30 p.m.
UNLV at Washington State, 5 p.m.
Texas State at Wyoming, 6 p.m.
New Mexico vs. Arkansas in Little Rock, 7 p.m.
The end of TCU's FBS-leading 25-game regular-season winning streak offers even more intrigue to what already was one of the most anticipated games in the Mountain West Conference's early-season schedule.

Saturday's game at Colorado Springs was supposed to show whether Air Force could turn the anticipated Boise State-TCU tussle for the conference title into a legitimate three-team race (San Diego State will get its shots at the two MWC heavyweights later).

Now it also may serve as a referendum as to whether TCU's defense really has slipped a notch.

TCU had led the nation in total defense each of the past three seasons, which made it all the more surprising to see Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin exploit the inexperience of TCU's secondary all night.

Baylor scored more points and gained more yards (564) than any TCU opponent since BYU piled up 614 yards in a 51-50 overtime loss to the Horned Frogs in 2005.

"I've always said that older and more mature players do a better job with takeaways and tackling because the game slows down," TCU coach Gary Patterson said. "Younger players, or guys who haven't played as much, don't do that.

"We have to gain experience and do it a lot faster than what we did [Friday]. We got better defensively as the night went on. I think a couple guys got a little shell-shocked because the game went a lot faster than what they thought it would."

Air Force coach Troy Calhoun expects TCU's defense to play much better this week. If the results of the Baylor-TCU game made him more confident about his own team's chances against the Frogs, he certainly isn't letting it show.

"One game in any sport, you have to be careful to read too much into it," he said.

The other issue is whether Air Force's option attack can allow the Falcons to take similar advantage of TCU's youth in the secondary. Baylor threw the ball on 29 of its 65 plays from scrimmage last week. Air Force averaged about 13 pass attempts per game last season.

Air Force's run-oriented attack would seem to play to the strengths of TCU's defense, a front seven that features All-America candidates Tank Carder and Tanner Brock at linebacker. In last season's meeting with TCU, Air Force drove 89 yards for a touchdown on its opening drive but gained just 142 more yards the rest of the day as the Frogs rolled to a 38-7 victory.

Then again, Air Force's offense certainly looked more impressive than TCU's defense last week. Air Force rushed for 391 yards and gained 6.4 yards per carry in a season-opening 37-20 victory over FCS program South Dakota.

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Although TCU has won seven of its past eight meetings with Air Force, each team has eked out a 20-17 victory in the past two games at Falcon Stadium.

"I've watched Air Force play a lot of ballgames," Patterson said. "It will be just like this past week. We'll be like Custer going over the hill, so we better get ready."

Best matchup: Army run offense vs. San Diego State run defense. Army returns its two leading rushers (RB Jared Hassin and QB Trent Steelman) from a team that used its triple-option attack last season to earn its first bowl win in a quarter-century. Army ran 63 times - more than any other FBS program - for 303 yards last week in a season-opening 49-26 loss to Northern Illinois. San Diego State allowed less than three yards per carry last week against a Cal Poly team that also likes to run the option, but Army should offer a tougher test. Army needs to run effectively Saturday because its best hope for beating San Diego State is to keep 2010 MWC rushing leader Ronnie Hillman off the field as much as possible. Hillman ran for 189 yards and two touchdowns in the Aztecs' 49-21 victory over Cal Poly, while Army allowed 289 rushing yards on 47 carries against Northern Illinois.

Players on the spot: New Mexico CBs Destry Berry and Anthony Hooks. New Mexico's starting cornerbacks have the unpleasant assignment of covering Arkansas' Greg Childs and Joe Adams, one of the nation's top receiving tandems. Childs caught 46 passes for 659 yards and six touchdowns last season despite missing nearly half the campaign with an injured patellar tendon. Adams had 50 receptions for 813 yards and six touchdowns a year ago, and he showed off his tremendous speed last week by scoring on two punt returns in a 51-7 blowout of Missouri State. Although Hooks is entering his third season as a starter for New Mexico, Berry made his Lobos debut last week after playing at Erie (N.Y.) CC last season. Childs is 6 feet 3, making him 4 inches taller than Hooks and 6 inches taller than Berry.

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Keep an eye on: UNLV. Does Washington State QB Jeff Tuel's injury improve UNLV's chances of pulling an upset? Tuel, an honorable mention All-Pac-10 selection last season, won't play against UNLV after breaking his collarbone Saturday in a 64-21 victory over Idaho State. That leaves Washington State relying on Marshall Lobbestael, who replaced Tuel last week and threw for 230 yards and two touchdowns. Lobbestael is more experienced than the typical backup. He's a fifth-year senior who started three games each in 2008 and 2009. "Obviously when you have a senior coming off the bench to back up at that position, it's a little different than a freshman or redshirt freshman or somebody who hasn't played much," UNLV coach Bobby Hauck told the Las Vegas Review Journal. "So you just don't see the same amount of drop off that you do in the other situations."

Numbers game: Colorado State LB Mychal Sisson had 1.5 tackles for loss in a 14-10 victory over New Mexico last week and now has 40 career tackles for loss, the most of any active FBS player. Rounding out the top five are Southern Miss' Cordarro Law (35.5), Miami of Ohio's Jerrell Wedge (34.5), Miami's Sean Spence (32) and Nevada's James-Michael Johnson (32). San Diego State LB Miles Burris (29.5) ranks 10th and Boise State DT Billy Winn (29) is 11th.

Quotes of the week

"I can't really put into words how good it felt. It's kind of like getting your first kiss, times a thousand." - Boise State redshirt freshman WR Matt Miller, to the Idaho Statesman about scoring his first career touchdown Saturday in a 35-21 victory over Georgia

"One of the things I thought we did last year is we weren't a real confident team. When things would go bad, you'd see us hanging our heads. ... This team believed it was going to win the game." - Colorado State coach Steve Fairchild, to The Denver Post after the Rams' 14-10 victory over New Mexico

"No one really gives us a chance, so it gives us the opportunity to kind of come down, play the game loose, try to play smart football, play with great effort and give yourself a chance. With games like this, it has been my experience that you go and fire all your weapons. You pull out all the stops. And if you can find a way to get the game, or keep it close in the fourth quarter, that's when everything kind of becomes equal. Then it's a matter of executing." - New Mexico coach Mike Locksley, to the Arkansas News Bureau about the Lobos' game with Arkansas

"I've been dreaming about this for a long time. To win, especially like this, it's awesome. I couldn't ask for anything better." - Wyoming true freshman QB Brett Smith, to the Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, after capping his college debut by throwing the winning TD pass with 22 seconds left in a 35-32 victory over Weber State

Poll watch.: Boise State is ranked fourth by The Associated Press and fifth in the coaches' poll after beginning the season ranked fifth in the AP and seventh in the coaches' poll. Boise State picked up two first-place votes in the AP poll. After being in the top 15 in both polls to start the season, TCU tumbled all the way to 25th after its loss to Baylor.

Etc.: Air Force WR Mikel Hunter started seven games last season, yet gained only 168 rushing yards and 106 receiving yards. He could end up matching those totals by the second game of his junior season. Hunter rushed for 82 yards on two carries - including an 80-yard score - and caught a 55-yard touchdown pass in the Falcons' opener last week. ... Colorado State DE Broderick Sargent has a torn ACL in his right knee that likely will sideline him for the rest of the season. Nordly Capi stepped in for an injured Sargent last week and set an NCAA single-game record by forcing four fumbles. ... The Mountain West has two of the three leading FBS quarterbacks in career wins. Boise State's Kellen Moore has a commanding lead with his 39-2 career record. Air Force's Tim Jefferson is third with 22, putting him three behind Houston's Case Keenum. ... TCU played six true freshmen against Baylor. Never before in Patterson's 11-year tenure have the Horned Frogs used as many as six true freshmen in an entire season. ... TCU QB Casey Pachall's four touchdown passes last week in his first career start matched the highest single-game total of his predecessor, two-time MWC offensive player of the year Andy Dalton. In four years as TCU's starting quarterback, Dalton threw four touchdown passes in a game four times. The school record for touchdown passes in a game is five. ... UNLV's game with Washington State renews a former Big Sky rivalry between the two head coaches. Hauck and Washington State's Paul Wulff faced off every year from 2003-07 when Hauck was at Montana and Wulff was coaching Eastern Washington. Hauck's Montana team won four of those five meetings. ... Wyoming RB Alvester Alexander, who rushed for 792 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, might emerge as more of a factor in the Cowboys' passing attack this season. Alexander had six receptions for 62 yards against Weber State last week. He caught just 15 passes for 134 yards last season. ... San Diego State is looking for just its second 2-0 start since 1994. The other was last season. In addition, a victory at Army would give SDSU an 11-4 record in its past 15 games, its best 15-game stretch in nearly 33 years.

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Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.

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