Air Force is in the “”others receiving votes” category in the media poll, which… well, it’s probably out of the realm of likelihood for a Titans upset, especially on the road. However, there are some interesting mismatches to exploit.
Air Force has a pretty interesting resume so far this year (“interesting” is a word which here means “mostly quite bad”). The Falcons started the year with a one-goal upset of Duke, but their only other wins are a close-ish defeat of Canisius and a blowout over new program Cleveland State.
Meanwhile, USAFA has lost to No. 5 Denver (hardly something to be ashamed of), and a pair of surprisingly-good teams in Marist and Boston University… whose resumes are primarily based upon their wins over Air Force. There’s jut not enough evidence at this point in the season to know how good the Falcons are.
Two Falcons stand above the rest as the keys to this offense: miniature (5-7, 175) junior attackman Chris Walsch has 12 goals and seven assists, while attack/mid Nick Hruby has 14 goals and four assists. Hruby has been playing mostly midfielder (at least that’s where he’s earning starts), but is versatile enough to line up in either spot. Junior attack Andrew Tien has seven goals and three assists to round out double-digit scorers so far this year.
In case you weren’t sure about this junior class, Grant Gould starts at midfield, and has scored eight goals without yet recording an assist. Marcus Ward, a senior (the first non-junior!) has seven goals without an assist from the midfield, as well. These midfielders – outside of Hruby, at least – are finishers first, foremost, and only.
The offense overall is not particularly notable, No. 31 in adjusted efficiency. There’s a bit of noise in those numbers – playing a huge standard deviation of opposition in one of the country’s worst (Cleveland State) and a couple good ones (Marist and Boston U) will make it tough to determine how they are against the middle of the pack – but they’re pretty good, not elite so far.
If UDM can slow down a couple of the key performers, the rest of the offense may have a tough time picking up the slack.
Senior Nick Accardi is the team’s leading GB-acquirer outside of faceoff specialists, with 19 on the year. Sophomore Brandon Jones and junior Sean LaVine get the majority of time alongside him. They form a decent unit, No. 17 nationally overall. It’s not particularly reliant on caused turnovers, either, with Air Force below-average nationally in that regard.
Sophomore LSM Christian Pung has six ground balls on the year – and no shots yet. Stephen Parker and Daniel Pagano also get a pretty fair amount of time. There’s rotation at this spot that is pretty interesting (with some filtering through the close D, as well). None of them have launched a shot yet.
Freshman Paxton Boyer has played just about every meaningful minute this year, but his numbers are bordering on terrible. He’s saving just .457 so far on the season, and has al six decisions of the 3-3 record. If you can put the ball on-cage (unfortunately a very well known shortcoming of the Titans), you can score on him.
Air Force is just over .500 on faceoffs, with sophomore Trent Harper (.588) and junior Josh Radjenovich (.433) getting about equal time despite a pretty wide gap in their performances. Harper is very solid at collecting his own ground balls – which I take to be a sign of better faceoff play without any evidence to support it – and should get the majority of the time as long as he doesn’t struggle.
Air force is a pretty heavy riding team, with opponents making it into the offensive zone at just a .786 clip. Against a traditionally poor clearing team like Detroit – though to be fair, they’re performing much better this year – that could spell trouble (and more so on a day that should be in the low 50s temperature-wise).
Air Force and opponents have had plenty of EMO opportunities, and both are around .400 converting. Detroit is a pretty good man-up team, so if they get chances, they will be able to get some goals.
Air Force is a pretty good team, but one whose resume is basically built upon one win, with five games’ evidence os mediocrity in between. The problem is that Detroit hasn’t proven to be particularly good yet this year, and a team on the fringe of the rankings is a tall task.
Pulling the upset would really position the Titans well to make a run going into conference play. Given the results of the rest of the non-conference schedule, this one is more about getting ready for MAAC play than needing a win for RPI or other purposes.
Air Force is a decent team, though one that has some serious flaws. However, UDM is probably at a lower level than that.
- This Air Force offense has enough weapons that they should be able to get some easy looks on the Titans. With a scheme that sees half their goals assisted (a pretty good number), they should be able to beat Jason Weber based on open looks, rather than needing to bomb away. That’s a fit that should see them do well, despite the quality of UDM’s netminder.
- Air Force has a chance to do pretty well on faceoffs, with the mercurial play of Ben Gjokaj (and to a lesser extent Alex Jastrzembski) an X-factor. The Titans have the pieces to be a good faceoff team, but relying on them to do it consistently is a fool’s errand.
- I’m not sold on the quality of this Air Force defense. Especially given their weakness in goal, Detroit should have chances to put the ball in the back of the net. That, of course, requires pointing the ball toward the net, which has been a consistent problem for UDM.
- The EMO battle should be pretty even, with the Titans getting a chance to equalize the game a bit by getting man-up goals.
Detroit seems to be playing quite a bit better in the past couple games than they did to start the year, but Air Force is a task that is on another level. In a true road game (halfway across the country), that’s a tough ask. Air Force takes the win, 15-9.