Thursday, Dec. 31
Some are writing this off as Houston will run away with it. But do not count out the Falcons.
Houston has been a great story this season, returning to the high-powered offenses of the days of the Southwest Conference (first in total yards per game). Junior QB and one time Heisman hopeful Case Keenum (pictured) played out of his mind this year—5,449 yards and 43 touchdowns on 71 percent passing!
He exceeded 300 yards in 12 of 13 games, seven times went over 400 yards, and topped 500 yards four times!!!
Keenum had five receivers top 500 yards, four of those caught over 60 passes, and three went over 900 yards! James Cleveland is the leader, catching 101 passes for 1,182 yards and 14 TDs, but Tyron Carrier (998 yards, 7 TDs) and Patrick Edwards (985 yards, 5 TDs) are also quite good.
And given how much they throw, they run the ball admirably. Bryce Beall and Charles Sims both topped 600 yards rushing, with seven and nine touchdowns respectively. Sims contributes heavily in the passing game, catching 64 passes for 702 yards. Beall added 31 receptions for 302 yards.
Air Force is the exact opposite of the Cougars—third in the country rushing the ball, but 118th passing. As usual, there are many different ball carriers, with seven players going over 200 yards rushing, and two topping 700 yards. Fullback Jared Tew is the team’s league rusher with just a shade under 800 yards. Sophomore wideout Jonathan Warzeka is more important in the running game (42 carries for 232 yards, 2 TDs) than the passing game (15 catches for 201 yards, 1 TD). Sophomore Tim Jefferson runs the triple option for the Falcons.
But it is Air Force’s defense that will make this interesting. Air Force has the tenth best defense, and the number one pass defense in the country. The Falcons use a 3-4 defense that does not get a lot of attacks, but can be disruptive in the passing game.
Air Force picked the ball off 14 times (tied for 28th) and the defensive backfield is led by corner backs Anthony Wright, Jr. (four interceptions, 51 tackles) and Mountain West first teamer Reggie Rembert (three interceptions, 41 tackles). Jonathan Falgout is also worth watching at linebacker.
And before you write off Air Force’s pass defense, they faced some good passing offense—BYU (12th), San Diego State (31st), UNLV (49th), and Utah (55th). They shut down the latter two, contained the Aztecs, and BYU…well, Max Hall had a big day.
Air Force can also control the clock and keep Keenum and the Cougars offense off the field. The Falcons are 20th in time of possession. And while the Cougars can be quick strike, they tend to put drives together rather than go for the killshot. So, keeping Keenum off of the field is crucial.
Plus, Houston is 112th against the run, allowing 213.1 yards per game! In the Cougars’ three losses, they gave up over 300 yards to UTEP (57th in rushing yards per game), over 150 to UCF (73rd running the ball), and 151 yards to East Carolina (59th)!
Thus, knowing that Houston probably will not stop the Air Force running game, this game should be yet another entertaining bowl. And, it will be interesting to see if the top passing defense can stop, or at least contain, the top passing offense.