It’s bowl time, and Cal has been waiting for this opportunity. Cal’s seniors look to go out with a bowl victory in the Armed Forces Bowl, where they will take on Mountain West Conference runner-up Air Force. The contrasting offensive styles will take the field with Cal looking for big plays through the air and Air Force content to run the ball on the ground and maybe work the clock in their favor. Here is a quick look at Cal’s bowl opponent, Air Force.
Air Force Head Coach: Troy Calhoun (9th year, 67-49)
Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun appeared to be close to losing his job at Air Force just two years ago following a dismal 1-10 season and a third straight season with a decreasing win total. Calhoun survived and stormed back with a 10-3 season in 2014 and took the Falcons to the Mountain West Conference championship this season, where they fell short against San Diego State. The 2007 MWC Coach of the Year played quarterback at Air Force in the mid-1980s and it was with Air Force he got his start in coaching as a graduate assistant under Fisher DeBerry.
Under Calhoun, Air Force is 3-4 in postseason bowl games, which includes a 1-3 mark in the Armed Forces Bowl. Air Force won last season’s Famous Idaho Potato Bowl for the first win for the Falcons since winning the 2010 Independence Bowl. Calhoun’s first bowl game at Air Force was a loss in the Armed Forces Bowl, to Cal, in 2007.
Air Force At a Glance
Air Force proved to be a worthy opponent this season. The Falcons, en route to capturing the Mountain Division in the Mountain West Conference, gave eventual Big Ten champion a respectable battle in East Lansing and lost on the road against Navy the following week back in September. Despite being topped by Colorado State in conference play, Air Force took control of the division with back-to-back wins against Utah State and Boise State.
Air Force will be expected to run the football a lot against Cal’s defense. The Falcons, like their fellow service academy programs at Army and Navy, are built more to run the football and utilize an option attack on the ground. It is somewhat ironic the Air Force relies so heavily on the running game rather than the passing game, but the size limitations Air Force players must adhere to in the academy, like at Army and Navy, make it difficult to stack up against most power conference programs. Cal may not be built like Stanford or USC, but the Golden Bears do figure to have an advantage in talent. It will be up to Cal’s defense to be conditioned well enough to battle Air Force’s running game, which is led by 1,000-yard rusher Jacobi Owens.
Air Force ranks second in the nation in rushing offense, and Owens is a big reason why. Owens averages 5.4 yards per carry, but it is quarterback Karson Roberts who leads the team in rushing touchdowns with nine (tied with Timothy McVey). Roberts does have to throw a pass from time to time, and that can tend to be a risky venture for Air Force. This season Roberts has completed just 52.2 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions on his stat line. Karson attempted just 11 pass attempts in the Mountain West Conference championship game against San Diego State, he only completed five for 35 yards. In Air Force’s regular season finale, a loss at New Mexico, Karson was picked off three times, but he also tossed three touchdowns in a 47-35 setback.
Cal will want to look to establish a presence through the air against Air Force, and they have the ingredients needed to do that with Jared Goff and Kenny Lawler, who is expected to play. Air Force’s defense ranks 23rd in the nation in passing yards allowed, which is highly respectable, but the Falcons give up an average of 7.1 yards per pass attempt, which is significantly lower in the stat rankings (67th). Air Force may not give up much in bunches, but they can be worn down by an offense like Cal’s over time if Cal sticks to the game plan.
Beating Air Force will not be easy for Cal though. Cal’s offense may not get a ton of time on the field if Air Force gets the ground game in motion. Cal will also be playing a very well-disciplined team, with just 49 penalties called against them in 13 games (Cal had 62 called in 12 games). If Cal’s defense can get off the field, then the offense should be able to hold up their end of the bargain and score a win in the postseason for the first time since 2008.
Kevin McGuire is a Philadelphia area sports writer covering the Philadelphia Eagles and college football. McGuire is a member of the FWAA and National Football Foundation. Follow McGuire on Twitter @KevinOnCFB. His work can be found on Examiner.com.