The Air Force defense comes into Tuesday’s Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl with all kinds of shiny statistics.
The Falcons rank 23rd nationally in total defense and pass defense.
But Air Force hasn’t had to try and stop an offense led by a quarterback that has NFL scouts drooling like they will in California’s Jared Goff. If they can find a way to slow down Goff, who at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds is the size of the Air Force linebackers, they have a chance to win their second Armed Forces Bowl trophy.
If not, it could be a long afternoon for the Falcons at Amon G. Carter Stadium. Kickoff is at 1 p.m.
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“Our team really embraces the challenge,” said Air Force senior defensive end Alex Hansen. “We know what they’re capable of. Their running back is potent and we know how potent their quarterback is. [Goff] is unbelievable. He can step up in the pocket. His throws are accurate. His ability to scramble is also good.”
Cal beat Air Force 42-36 in the 2007 Armed Forces Bowl.
Air Force (8-5) comes into the game with a better record than Cal (7-5), but four of Cal’s losses have been by less than a touchdown and all five losses came to bowl teams.
Goff, a junior making his 37th straight start, holds 26 school records and has thrown for 4,252 yards and 37 touchdowns this season. The first team all-Pac 12 Conference performer has thrown for more than 300 yards nine times this season.
Cal started the season 5-0 before losing four consecutive games. Goff, who is likely to enter this year’s NFL Draft, would like to show that the Golden Bears are motivated to play in Fort Worth despite a season of near-misses.
Cal hasn’t won eight games in a season since 2009.
“There are a lot of games that could have gone the other way, but I think it’s the same way with the games we won,” Goff said. “We won a lot of close games as well. We could have won nine or 10 games. We were super excited to get here and we’re excited for the challenge.”
Two Air Force players have area ties: Backup quarterback Pate Davis is a junior from Aledo and backup offensive lineman Allen Caunitz went to Grapevine.
The best way for Air Force to slow down Cal is to keep the offense off the field. The Falcons have done a good job of that this season with their third-ranked rushing offense in the country. The Falcons average 322 yards a game on the ground and control the clock for more than 31 minutes a game behind senior quarterback Karson Roberts. Fullback Jacobi Owens leads the rushing attack with 1,013 yards, and Air Force has had six players rush for at least 100 yards in a game this season.
Cal coach Sonny Dykes knows it will be imperative for Goff and the offense to make the most of its possessions Tuesday as Air Force tries to control the offensive tempo.
“We need to execute at a very high level because Air Force will do a great job of limiting our possessions,” Dykes said. “We have to be really precise when we have the ball. That’s what makes college football unique. It’s game of extremes. You get to see a run and shoot team against a triple-option team or you get to see a spread-run team vs. a spread-pass team. You have two schools that go about doing things different ways, but it’s really the same thing.”
Armed Forces Bowl
Cal vs. Air Force
1 p.m. Tuesday, ESPN
Amon G. Carter Stadium