Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl: Game Preview, How To Watch, Odds, Prediction
The Air Force Falcons will do battle with the Baylor Bears in their sixth Armed Force Bowl appearance. Here’s how to watch and what to watch for.
Bolts vs. Bears.
LOCKHEED MARTIN ARMED FORCES BOWL: Baylor Bears (6-6, 4-5 Big 12) vs. Air Force Falcons (9-3, 5-3 Mountain West)
WHEN: Thursday, December 22 — 5:30 PM MT/4:30 PM PT
WHERE: Amon G. Carter Stadium; Fort Worth, TX
WEATHER: Mostly sunny and windy, estimated temperature of 23 degrees near kickoff
STREAMING: Fans can sign up to receive a free one-week trial of Fubo, which includes ESPN, by following this link.
RADIO: The Baylor broadcast can be found on the affiliates of the Baylor Sports Network, including flagship 1660 AM and 92.3 FM (KZRI) in Waco. The Air Force broadcast can be found on 740 AM (KVOR) in Colorado Springs and 104.3 FM The Fan in Denver.
SERIES RECORD: Baylor leads the all-time series, 3-0. In the last meeting on October 22, 1977, the Bears defeated the Falcons, 28-7, in Waco.
LAST GAME: Baylor lost to Texas on the road, 38-27, while Air Force defeated San Diego State on the road, 13-3.
ODDS: Baylor -3.5
SP+ PROJECTION: Baylor by 7.6 (67% win probability)
FEI PROJECTION: Baylor by 5.3
PARKER FLEMING PROJECTION: Baylor 64.94% win probability (27.90-22.60)
— LM Armed Forces Bowl (@ArmedForcesBowl) December 5, 2022
The Air Force Falcons have a chance to wrap up their fifth ten-win season in the last ten years in the Armed Forces Bowl, where they will face the Baylor Bears.
Fresh off of a Big 12 championship game appearance in 2021, Dave Aranda’s Bears had its fair share of trials throughout this fall and couldn’t quite put together a repeat performance. Though they may benefit from appearing in a bowl game not too far away from home, the elements and a motivated Falcons team should make for a great chess match.
Here’s how the Falcons and Bears can wrap up their season with a bowl game victory.
Three Keys to an Air Force Victory
1. Stick to business as usual.
It shouldn’t shock anyone too much if the Falcons decide not to throw more than a handful of times because they may find staying on schedule with their punishing ground game a very palatable plan. That’s because this bowl game features a very good third-down offense against one of college football’s worst third-down defenses: Air Force has converted 44.38% of such opportunities, good enough to rank second in the Mountain West, while Baylor has allowed opponents to convert 45.3% of the time, 120th overall among FBS teams.
The Falcons haven’t been shy about rolling the dice on fourth downs, either, as their 79.2% conversion rate is third in the country. If Air Force can press that advantage, it could be a very long night for the Bears.
2. Limit Siaki Ika’s influence.
When you draw comparisons to the likes of Viti Vea, you know you’ve got a behemoth on your defensive line. That’s certainly the case for Ika, a first-team all-Big 12 selection who checks in at 6-foot-4 and 358 pounds and can eat up space and attention from offensive linemen.
Needless to say, Brad Roberts may find it a little tougher than usual to break a big play on the fullback dive. The interior trio of Wesley Ndago, Thor Paglialong, and Isaac Cochran are plenty talented, but it may take two of them on any given play to keep the offense moving. They won’t want to bail on that element of their attack, though, because it’s not a coincidence that the Falcons lost both games this season in which Roberts failed to clear 100 rushing yards.
3. Keep the pass rush hot.
It’ll be interesting to see how much Baylor chooses to pass since wind seems like it’ll be a factor, but the Falcons must keep up their recent string of performances and make the Bears pay for that decision as often as they can. After notching just six sacks in the team’s first eight games, Air Force put up 16 in the last four. Vince Sanford took over against Colorado State with four sacks while Payton Zdroik’s return from injury helped him notch 3.5 sacks down the stretch, and it’s that team effort they’ll need to frustrate the opposition one more time.
Three Keys to a bAYLOR Victory
1. Use Blake Shapen judiciously.
After being diagnosed with a concussion against West Virginia in mid-October, Shapen’s performance suffered down the stretch against the best of the Big 12. He failed to crack six yards per attempt in three of four November games against Oklahoma, Kansas State, TCU, and Texas and had just three passing touchdowns against a 3.9% interception rate. With strong gusts of wind in the forecast, Baylor may find themselves at a disadvantage against an Air Force team that won’t be inclined to throw any more than is necessary.
That’s not to say the Bears should abandon the pass entirely, but it’ll be interesting to see if Shapen can hang onto his form on early downs in particular. On 138 first down throws, the sophomore had a 67.4% completion rate and averaged 7.5 yards per attempt, figures which could put Baylor in great shape if nature doesn’t derail those plans.
2. Get Richard Reese back on track.
After a pair of monster October performances against Kansas and Texas Tech, the Big 12’s offensive freshman of the year had a quiet November by comparison. He averaged just 9.5 carries per game in the regular season’s final month and saw his yards per carry fall to 4.5, scoring just twice in four games.
Baylor will have a substantial size advantage in the trenches over Air Force that could enable them to do so. Center Jacob Gall is the only Bears starter under 300 pounds (and even he’s listed at 299) while the Falcons’ defensive line starters top out at 265, but one key angle to watch is how much havoc the Bears allow in spite of that difference. Baylor’s 14.6% stuff rate allowed ranks 25th in the FBS, while Air Force’s 19.9% rate on defense is 39th.
3. Sure tackling on the outside is paramount.
Should Air Force elect to attack the edges of the line of scrimmage with Haaziq Daniels, John Lee Eldridge III, and others, it’ll be incumbent on Baylor’s defensive backfield to close ranks and limit the damage. However, according to Pro Football Focus, the secondary’s top-graded run defender during the season was Devin Neal… who has already transferred to Louisville.
The remaining safety tandem of Christian Morgan and Devin Lemear posted run-defense grades of 77.8 and 73.1, respectively, but it may be noteworthy that Baylor also has two of the Big 12’s lowest graded cornerbacks, Mark Milton and A.J. McCarty, on that front. How well they match up with Air Force wide receivers Ben Jefferson and David Cormier will be a narrative to watch.
Baylor comes into the Armed Forces Bowl on their back foot after taking several lumps and much of their fortunes in the game will come down to how disciplined they are against the offensive backfield trio of Roberts, Daniels, and Eldridge III. My guess is that both offenses will be able to assert themselves, especially on the ground, but I trust the Falcons defense just a little bit more to make the one critical play that will likely make the difference.
Air Force 34, Baylor 31