It is not often that a college bowl game provides a rematch of a regular season game. But such is the case with the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl, held December 31 in Fort Worth, Texas.
The initial game was played back on September 13. It was highly memorable for several reasons. First, instead of a true home game for the Cougars, there was a late shift in venue to Dallas as Hurricane Ike was set to pound Houston.
That’s pretty much what the Falcons did to the Cougars for the first two-thirds of the contest. Houston took a 7-0 lead but Air Force senior quarterback Shea Smith scored his third rushing touchdown of the game to give the Falcons a 31-7 lead with 4:25 left in the third quarter. The Cougars valiantly pulled within three with 3:38 left in the game, but that’s how it ended. The Falcons, who rushed for a whopping 380 yards in the contest, ran out the clock.
At that point in the season, Coach Troy Calhoun’s Falcons were 3-0 while Coach Kevin Sumlin’s Cougars were but 1-2 and on their way to a 1-3 start, not looking much like a bowl team. Air Force finished the season 5-3 in the Mountain West Conference and 8-4 overall. Houston was 6-2 in Conference U.S.A. with a 7-5 record.
Like most seasons, Houston supports a big time passing offense. After throwing for 2,259 yards and 14 touchdowns as a freshman, QB Case Keenum put up Big 12 Conference like numbers this season. He was 375-of-556 passing (67.4%) for an incredible 4,768 yards and 43 TDs with only 10 interceptions. Keenum sported a lofty 161.41 rating.
Keenum’s two biggest pass catchers were senior Mark Hafner with 892 yards on 85 catches, and freshman Tyron Carrier with 977 yards on 75 receptions. Freshman running back Bryce Beall took full advantage of opposing squad’s attention to the Cougars passing game by gaining 1,112 yards on just 176 carries. Houston has a very good punter in junior Chase Turner, who averaged 45.6 yards per boot.
The big man defensively for Houston is senior defensive end Phillip Hunt, who enjoyed 12 sacks. A pair of cornerbacks, junior Brandon Brinkley and sophomore Loyce Means, had four interceptions apiece.
Despite representing the Air Force Academy, the Falcons rarely put the ball in the air. As a team, they attempted just 120 passes the entire season, completing 66 for 959 yards and nine TDs. Heck! That’s a two-game stretch for half of the Big 12 QBs!
Ball control is the Falcons game. As a team, they ran for 3,227 yards for a 4.5 average per carry. Even there, senior Todd Newell and freshman Asher Clark posted mere human numbers of 594 and 531 yards, respectively. The Falcon’s ace in the hole is senior place kicker Ryan Harrison, who not only converted all 34 PATD attempts, but was 22-of-24 on field goal attempts under 50 yards.
Defensively, senior defensive end Jake Paulson was the sack master with 8.5 for the season. But sophomore inside linebacker Ken Lamendola was by far the most active Falcon by being part of 112 tackles.
It would appear that Air Force must once again have great ball possession and ball security in order to duplicate the early season win over Houston.
Sources for this story were Sports.espn.go.com, uhcougars.cstv.com, goairforcefalcons.cstv.com.