AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. >> As San Diego State prepares for Air Force and its triple-option offense, there’s another adversary to ward off — complacency.
Think the 22nd-ranked Aztecs will be caught looking past the Falcons (1-1) on Sept. 23 in the Mountain West opener for both teams? Don’t count on it.
Not after going through such a reality check last season. The Aztecs were in a similar spot — 3-0 and back in the rankings — only to stumble at South Alabama.
It’s in the back of their minds. After back-to-back wins over Arizona State and Stanford, the Aztecs are locked in on chasing their third straight conference championship.
“We need to keep this thing rolling,” San Diego State quarterback Christian Chapman said. “The guys here saw what happened last year and learned their lesson. You just can’t get complacent.”
Aztecs coach Rocky Long had that precise conversation with his staff earlier this week, just to ensure there wasn’t any sort of hangover effect following a 20-17 home win over the Cardinal.
“Olympic athletes aren’t satisfied until they win the gold medal,” said Long, whose team has won six straight over Air Force. “We’re not satisfied until we win every game and I don’t worry about what the people watching think.”
The Falcons and their young defense will be keeping a close watch on Rashaad Penny. The explosive Aztecs running back is 3-for-3 in winning Mountain West offensive player of the week honors this season.
It’s easy to see why: He leads the nation in yards rushing (588) and all-purpose yards (774). He’s also tied for second in touchdowns (6).
“He runs with speed and he runs with power,” said Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, whose team lost 29-13 at No. 8 Michigan last weekend. “He is a great, great back.”
Penny has one career rush against Air Force — a 28-yard TD scamper when the Aztecs beat the Falcons 27-24 in the 2015 conference championship game.
“I wasn’t supposed to be in the game when I scored the touchdown. They called the wrong personnel,” Penny said. “A lot of people thought it was a new play. I just got in there and ran it. … That’s the only thing I remember from Air Force.”
Things to know as San Diego State plays at Air Force for the first time since 2013:
>> Option threat: Long said Air Force’s triple option is “impossible to get ready for in three days.” The Falcons are averaging 320.5 yards rushing, which is seventh in the nation.
“I hated it as a defensive coach, but I think that it’s the best offense that has ever been designed,” Long said.
>> Respect: Sophomore cornerback Ron Smith hears more buzz around campus these days for the Aztecs. Even his teacher’s assistants talk to him about the games.
“We love that recognition but now it’s a point of keeping it rolling because you don’t want to have, ‘Oh, you guys did great against Stanford.’ And ‘Oh, you guys are losing now.’ So we have to keep it up for the rest of the season,” Smith said.
>> Fireworks: The last 21 meetings between the two teams have resulted in an average of 54.1 points and 805.1 total yards.
Asked how to beat the Aztecs, Calhoun simply said: “You have to be exact. This is our focus.”
>> Poll Position: The Falcons are 19-76-3 all-time against ranked teams, including 5-15 under Calhoun.
“This is our chance to show how good we are — that we can play with the best,” Air Force tailback Tim McVey said.
>> No place like home: Air Force has a 48-15 record at Falcon Stadium since Calhoun inherited the program.
“They win a lot at home, so it’s a big task at hand just like (Stanford),” Chapman said. “We’ve got to get after it.”