2008 Armed Forces Bowl Preview
by Josh Nagel - 12/18/2008
Air Force (8-4) vs. Houston (7-5)
Conference Matchup: Mountain West vs. Conference USA
Date: Dec. 31
Location: Amon G. Carter Stadium, Fort Worth, Texas
Spread: Houston -2.5, total 64
This bowl game is a bit unusual in that it pits two teams against each other who already have squared off once this season. But hey, if you go see a really good movie once, do you really mind seeing it again? Especially if there's a chance that the ending might be different? This likely is what the Armed Forces Bowl committee had in mind when it picked this matchup.
Sure, they already have met, but it was a dynamite game, with Air Force winning, 31-28. The win gave Air Force a 3-0 start and prolonged the early-season woes of Houston, which started 0-3 against Division I opponents. However, the Cougars recovered and went on to some impressive wins against eventual-Conference USA champion East Carolina and they put a 70-30 beatdown on a then-ranked Tulsa club that had been obliterating opponents by similar margins.
The appeal in a rematch between these two clubs lies in their distinctly different styles; Houston prefers a run-and-shoot attack that has resulted in the Cougars boasting the nation's top-ranked offense with 575.8 yards per game and the second-ranked pass offense at 413.5 yards per game. Of course, Air Force is noted for a complex option attack that gives headaches to all of its opponents, even those that are considerably more talented from top to bottom. They have the nation's fifth-ranked rushing offense at 268.8 yards per game. The Falcons stay competitive and, in some cases, win games in which they appear overmatched because of their ability to eat the clock with time-consuming drives and frustrating the opposition into submission. Air Force was respectable in all of its losses with the exception of a 44-10 loss to TCU in its last game of the season.
What's more, neither club exactly prides itself on defense. So given the contrast in styles and a posted total of 64 that might well be challenged. This New Year's Eve tilt should be, at the very least, a compelling and entertaining game.
Air Force can cover if: The Falcons can cover if they can duplicate their Sept. 13 performance in their 31-28 win over Houston, a game that was noted for being the first in recent memory in which the winner failed to complete a pass. Air Force wasn't complaining and wouldn't mind a repeat showing; it had five players who rushed for at least 50 yards as they piled up 380 yards on the ground. After falling behind 7-0, the Falcons put together several long, deflating scoring drives and took a commanding 31-7 lead in the third quarter before Houston finally responded with a furious comeback that came up just short.
In the Falcons' case, their best defense literally is a good offense. By chewing up the clock and frustrating Houston's defense, Air Force can keep QB Case Keenum and his 4,761 yards of passing offense off the field. Scoring early and often will also put pressure on Houston, as possessions will be at a premium and any empty trips could set the tone for another significant deficit.
Houston can cover if: Conversely, the Cougars need to get off to a fast start for their psychological well being more than anything. Rest assured they won't be deferring to the second half if they win the coin toss. A stop or two on defense in the early going would be a huge boost to their confidence, but it's a daunting task given that they finished ranked No. 92 in the country in rushing defense, yielding 169.5 yards per game and giving up more than twice that in their first meeting with the Falcons.
If this fails, they can rely on their backup plan -- which is simply outscoring the opposition -- a feat they are more than capable of achieving. Houston ranks 10th nationally with 41.2 points per game and has scored more than 40 in each of its past four games. Keenum has plenty of targets with whom to share the ball, as six Cougars have more than 30 receptions on the year. Tyron Carrier has 975 yards and nine touchdowns and Mark Hafner has 85 receptions and 11 scores.
General Notes: Houston is just 4-8 ATS this year and 8-16 over the past two seasons; Air Force is 16-7 ATS over the past two seasons. Both clubs reached a bowl last year but lost and failed to cover, with Air force blowing a huge lead against Cal and losing 42-36 and Houston dropping a 20-13 decision to TCU.