The Independence Bowl won’t be an exercise in throwing the ball. Instead, let’s call it a nationally televised clinic in how to the run the ball—and do it often.
Not too many teams ignore the forward pass more than Georgia Tech and Air Force, so putting the two on the same field together seems like an ideal fit for starving football purists.
But what about those of us who prefer the modern game, one in which aerial attacks cause scoreboards to malfunction? We won’t be left hanging, will we?
Nah. This is bowl season! Who cares if this game is played in under three hours? There’s plenty to look forward to in Shreveport, La., Monday evening.
“Run” the Offense
Quite literally, the Falcons and Yellow Jackets throw the ball less than some quarterbacks do in less than half a season. Combined, the two teams attempted 299 passes in 2010. Neither team completed more than 53 percent of its passes. In fact, Georgia Tech, ranked 119th nationally in pass offense, completed just 38 percent.
Then again, with these two, passing the ball is an afterthought, simply a bit of trickeration thrown into the run-heavy game plan on an intermittent basis. The only team in the country that runs the ball more than Georgia Tech (696 attempts) is Air Force, which is first in the nation with 699 rushes. Conversely, the only team more effective on the ground than the Falcons (317.9 yards per game) is the Yellow Jackets, who averaged 327.
Of course, the triple-option offense is to blame. Air Force’s Troy Calhoun and Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson are two of the best out there at executing the antiquated scheme—Air Force uses the option within varying formations, while Tech uses a “flexbone” alignment—and when their teams run it correctly, few defenses in the country are equipped to slow it down, let alone stop it.
The coach whose team best executes the option, which is so predicated on timing, angles, and decision-making, will likely leave Shreveport victorious.
Dropping Like Flies
When kickoff arrives at 5 PM ET, the Yellow Jackets will be without seven players, three of which will be required to sit the first two quarters.
Johnson announced on Sunday that defensive end Anthony Egbuniwe and defensive backs Michael Peterson and Louis Young will not be allowed to play in the first half of the Independence Bowl for recently missing a team curfew.
That came four days after the school ruled four players ineligible due to various academic issues, including two starters. Sophomore Stephen Hill, Tech’s leading receiver, and senior starting safety Mario Edwards were ruled ineligible for failing to meet school academic standards. Reserve defensive end Robert Hall and backup linebacker Anthony Barnes, both of whom have already graduated, will not be allowed to play because of failing to meet NCAA academic requirements.
Of the lot, the losses of Egbuniwe, Hill, and Edwards figure to impact Tech the most, though it never hurts to have as many fresh bodies as possible for a bowl game, particularly against an offense like Air Force’s.
Egbuniwe started all 12 games during the regular season at end, and Hill’s 15 receptions, 291 yards and three receiving touchdowns were all team-highs. Edwards was one of the defense’s more active performers, registering 68 tackles in 12 games, the third-highest total on the team.
Shedding the Academy Stigma
Hamstrung by fewer available scholarships and a considerable lack of across-the-board talent, the teams from the three service academies—Air Force, Army and Navy—will likely always be seen as a notch below schools from BCS conferences.
Still, recent history suggests the trio has fared well against the big boys, most notably Navy’s success against Notre Dame. But Air Force is right up there.
The last of which was a win over Notre Dame in 2007, the Falcons have upended five BCS opponents over the past nine seasons, and done so convincingly, winning by an average of more than 14 points.
Often times, the X factor for the service academies against BCS foes has been the triple option offense, to which the bigger, stronger and more athletic players from larger programs are seldom accustomed. But against Georgia Tech, a team that incorporates an academy-like scheme but with superior athletes, does that factor disappear?
Thanks Be To the Scout Team
Or should I say the offenses. Undoubtedly, each defense in the Independence Bowl will be familiar with the offensive alignment that sits across from it, having seen it in practice an infinite number of times. But it’s been a month since either of these teams last played a game, and, oddly enough, neither defense is used to preparing for an opponent that runs the triple-option.
Georgia Tech and Air Force are ranked 79th and 100th, respectively, in run defense nationally, so it’s obvious each defensive unit struggles against running games from more conventional offenses, such as the spread and pro-style.
It will be interesting to see which of these defenses has better used the extra time to prepare for the option. Ultimately, the game may be decided by which offense has provided the most thorough blueprint in practice.
How’s the Forearm, Josh?
Apparently not good, because Johnson has pretty much ruled out any chance that Josh Nesbitt, the Yellow Jackets’ leading passer and second-leading rusher, will be able to go with a broken forearm suffered on Nov. 4.
That leaves the controls of the option in the hands of redshirt sophomore Tevin Washington, who has averaged more than 180 yards running and throwing in his three starts this season, including career-highs in both categories in a lopsided loss to Miami a week after Nesbitt went down.
Washington’s experience may seem minimal, but Johnson insists his young quarterback is ready.
"He's been taking the snaps with the ones for six weeks now," he said recently. "He's no longer the backup; he's the starter now."
He may be the starter, but we’ll see how ready Washington is come Monday evening.