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MSU vs. Air Force: Falcons have big weapons

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Matt Charboneau of The Detroit News breaks down Saturday's Michigan State-Air Force game at Spartan Stadium (noon, ABC / WJR 760).

Falcons to watch

D.J. Johnson, FB: The junior was named Mountain West offensive player of the week after 103 yards rushing and three TDs in a victory over San Jose State. Johnson did most of his damage in the fourth quarter, scoring all three TDs (and 82 yards) in the final 15 minutes. His numbers were all career highs.

Weston Steelhammer, S: The junior had six tackles, including a career-best three for loss, in the victory over San Jose State. He also had an INT in earning Mountain West defensive player of the week honors. Steelhammer is the leader of the defense that has allowed 23 points in two games.

Garrett Brown, WR: The senior does just about everything for the Falcons, piling up 180 all-purpose yards in the opening victory over Morgan State (39 rushing, 58 receiving, 83 punt return, 75-yard TD). In the victory over San Jose State, Brown scored on a career-long 63-yard run and caught one pass to extend his reception streak to 20 straight dating to 2013.

Detroit News predictions: Michigan State vs. Air Force


Intangibles

Ups … and down: A week ago, Michigan State was playing in a top-10 matchup in front of a prime-time audience with ESPN’s “College GameDay” on hand. This matchup doesn’t have near the buzz and will be the first time the Spartans kick off at noon.

Change of pace: The first two weeks, Michigan State’s defense was forced to defend up-tempo offenses that focused on passing the ball. Now it will take on a triple-option attack that is heavy on assignments and will test the discipline of the individual defenders.

First time: It will be a new look as Michigan State and Air Force never have faced each other, and it’s only the third time Michigan State will be playing one of the service academies. The only other meetings came against Army in the 1984 Cherry Bowl (a 10-6 Army win) and in 1931 (20-7 Army victory).

Memories: Defensive line coach Ron Burton spent 10 seasons at Air Force before joining Michigan State in 2013. He will, no doubt, have a deep understanding of the Air Force attack, but it will also be personal for him. It could provide even more motivation to a defensive line that will be playing for its coach.

Searching for offense: The Michigan State offense has scored more than 30 points in each of its first two games, but feels like it hasn’t quite hit on all cylinders. Late against Oregon, the offense had the chance to put the game away but produced two straight three-and-outs.

Facts and figures

* While Michigan State has been one of the best rushing defenses in the nation, Air Force was sixth in the country in rushing offense last season, averaging 273.1 yards. The Falcons, however, have struggled through the air, ranking 124th last year at 71.5 yards.

Michigan State linebacker Riley Bullough had 14 tackles in the victory over Oregon last weekend.

* Michigan State has scored 30 or more in 10 straight games, bettering the previous record by two weeks. The Spartans have also scored 30 or more in 13 of their last 15 games. The last time Michigan State didn’t reach 30 was in a 27-22 victory over Nebraska last season.

* Michigan State MLB Riley Bullough had a career-high 14 tackles in the victory over Oregon. It was the most by a Michigan State player since William Gholston had 15 against Nebraska in 2011.

* Spartans QB Connor Cook has 25 wins as a starter and is two behind career leader Kirk Cousins. At 25-3, Cook is tied for the most wins by an active FBS quarterback and has the best winning percentage (.893) among active FBS quarterbacks.

* Air Force is 5-10-2 against teams from the Big Ten, and is playing its first such game since losing to Michigan, 31-25, in 2012. Air Force also is 17-71-4 against ranked teams, earning a victory over No. 21 Colorado State last year.