2019 Cheez-It Bowl Game Preview: Keys to an Air Force Win vs. Washington State
Can Air Force ground the Air Raid?
A bowl game with true parity.
2019 CHEEZ-IT BOWL: Washington State Cougars (6-6, 3-6 Pac-12) vs. Air Force Falcons (10-2, 7-1 Mountain West)
WHEN: Friday, December 27, 2019 — 8:15 PM MT/7:15 PM PT
WHERE: Chase Field; Phoenix, Arizona (48,686)
PAYOUT: $1,625,550 per team
STREAMING: You can get a free seven-day trial of FuboTV by clicking here.
RADIO: The Air Force broadcast can be found in and around Colorado Springs on 740 AM (KVOR), on 104.3 FM in Denver, and elsewhere on the American Forces Network. The Washington State broadcast can be found throughout the Pacific Northwest on the affiliates of the Washington State Sports Network, which includes flagships 104.3 FM (KHTR) and 920 AM (KXLY) in Pullman and Spokane, respectively.
Alternatively, the radio broadcast can be streamed online via TuneIn.
SERIES RECORD: This is the first meeting between Air Force and Washington State.
ODDS (via OddsShark): Air Force -3
SP+ PROJECTION: Washington State by 0.2 (50% win probability)
FEI PROJECTION: Air Force by 9.7
As the sun is about to set on another college football season, there is still one last mission in front of the Falcons: Defeat the Washington State Cougars. For Air Force to reach the 11-win mark for the first time (they have won 10 and 12 in a season), they must be prepared to defend the pass, early and often.
Likewise, if Wazzu would like to end the 2019 campaign with a winning record, they had better be prepared to not only defend the run, but remain disciplined at all levels of their defense.
With such contrasting styles of play, it’s understandable why the Cheez-It Bowl has garnered so much attention. Whatever your appetite is for offense, it will be on the menu.
Three Keys to an Air Force Victory
1. Pass Efficiency > Pass Yards
It is well documented that essentially anytime you play against a Mike Leach-coached team, your secondary will be tested. Facing the top passing offense in the country, the Falcon secondary will have to be sharp. Healthy disruption of Anthony Gordon’s pocket by all-conference standouts Mosese Fifita, Kyle Johnson and Demonte Meeks will go a long way. And, oh yeah, there is also that Jordan Jackson fellow.
It’s really important to understand, too, that the Cougars pass game isn’t the only one that will be on display Friday. As accomplished as their offense is, Air Force showcases the most efficient passing offense in the country. Consider that they will match up against a Cougar pass defense which is one of the worst (statistically) in all of FBS.
And in case you’re wondering, the Falcon defense ranks in the top 40 when it comes to stopping the pass. It’s prudent to also point out that the Air Force ranks 16th in overall defense. Both are monumental strides from last year.
2. Do What You Do
I know we just exhausted some effort in outlining the importance of Air Force’s offensive pass efficiency. But the reality is that success is widely predicated on the success of their ground attack. That’s their bread and butter, if you will.
The general nature and success of the Falcon football team goes as the run game does. It can chew up clock, limiting possessions for the opposing offense. All the while, it can completely wear down and outright demoralize the defense.
This is who Air Force is. They showcase the third-most productive rushing attack in the country. If you haven’t watched this team play, don’t expect to see straight designed pass plays to support that highly efficient passing offense. What you can expect is to see a physically and mentally fatigued defense from the running attack have a lapse a few times through the game, which the Falcons have made a living on exposing with the big pass play.
3. Think Hawai’i
Now, I realize that the run-and-shoot offense of Hawai’i is not the same as the Air Raid that Wazzu deploys. However, by volume of passes they will have to defend, it’s a pretty fair benchmark. And even though Cole McDonald racked up over 400 yards, it was in a losing effort. More than that, it was in a completely dominant Air Force win.
The Falcon defense forced two turnovers, one of which being one of the highlights of the NCAA season in another Zane Lewis 99 yard INT returned for a touchdown. Air Force doesn’t have to have a defensive score to win (though it certainly would help), they just need to stay the course and impose their will offensively.
The first read (Fullback Dive) is the catalyst to the Triple Option offense. When, that aspect of the attack is going, it makes for a very long day for the defense. From there, the Falcons can unleash a litany of weapons. Get the dive going, get the offense going.
Like many, I am really excited to see how these contrasting styles play out. Wazzu has had extra time to prepare for the triple option, which should certainly be an advantage over conventional prep time.
I believe that the Falcons defense could and may surrender another 400 yard passing game. And frankly, that may be fine based on how they want to dictate the game. The defense could allow this type of yardage and still have a good showing, ask Nick Rolovich.
In the end, D.J. Hammond III is in command of a lethal offensive attack. The Coug’s are and I believe will be a formidable opponent for the Falcons on Friday. But I don’t think Washington State is going to be able to have any sustained success at staving off a relentless assault from the Hammond led offense.
Air Force earns their first 11-win season.