SQ Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl Preview
The 2015 Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl is a rematch of the 2007 Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl in which a Kevin Riley led California Golden Bears team defeated the Air Force Falcons 42-36 in one of the more exciting Armed Forces Bowl games in recent memory. The game is on Dec. 29 at 2:00 p.m. EST and can be seen on ESPN.
Armed Forces Rematch: Cal and Air Force have not faced each other since the 2007 Armed Forces Bowl in which a star-laden Cal roster containing the likes of Desean Jackson, Marshawn Lynch, Thomas DeCoud, and Justin Forsett emerged victorious. Air Force has been back to the Armed Forces Bowl twice since 2007 and lost both times, so they will be out for revenge and a little bit of redemption in 2015.
The Last We See Of Goff?: If Jared Goff declares for the NFL draft, and it looks like he will, he is projected to be a top-five pick, according to Todd McShay. Goff has had an illustrious career at Cal and owns many of the passing records, surpassing the numbers of even the great Aaron Rodgers.
However, this season, there have been some doubts about how ready he is for the NFL after Cal tanked following a 5-0 start. Goff will be looking to leave a statement for NFL scouts if this is indeed the final game of his collegiate career.
Who Can Find Motivation?: Cal comes into this game at 7-5, looking for their first eight-win season since 2009. With the exception of some fifth-year seniors, no one on this Cal roster has played in a postseason bowl game.
That being said, there is no doubt that after a flying start to the season, Cal has fallen flat, going 2-5 to end the year, and they may still be ruing what could have been.
Similarly, Air Force is coming off a tough to swallow defeat at the hands of San Diego State. Down three late in the game, Air Force squandered multiple chances to tie or take the lead, and a victory in that game would have given them the Mountain West Title. With the taste of defeat still fresh, Air Force should be fired up for this one.
5 - All five of Air Force's losses came on the road. The Armed Forces bowl will be played at a neutral site in Fort Worth, Texas--not close to either Air Force or Cal. However, Cal fans tend to travel well and should fill up Amon G. Carter stadium. Air Force will need to overcome their road travel woes and find some home cooking so they can emulate Fort Worth.
368.8 - Passing yards per game for the Cal offense. This number puts them at fifth in the nation in passing yards per game. Their running game pales in comparison; they only average 155.7 yards per game, placing 88th in the nation. While a lot of the credit goes to gunslinger Goff, Cal had six different receivers with over 35 catches, including Kenny Lawler, who has a penchant for the spectacular, especially around the end zone.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=blyI4HjwBxA
42 - Number of rushing touchdowns for Air Force this season, compared to only 13 passing touchdowns. Air Force had 10 players punch the ball into the end zone this season via the ground. Led by Jacobi Owens and Karson Roberts, the Falcons' running game carried the offense, accounting for 4,138 of the offense's 5,836 total yards.
Kenny Lawler, WR, Cal - Although it would be very easy to put Goff here, Kenny Lawler needs to have a good game for Cal to win. Lawler started the season off incredibly hot with eight touchdowns and over 400 yards receiving in Cal's first five games, all of which were victories.
In Cal's five losses, Lawler has been held to 180 yards and only one score. He is a big-time player and Goff's favorite target, but big-time players need to show up in big-time moments, and now is the time for Lawler to shine.
Weston Steelhammer, DB, Air Force - Aptly named, Steelhammer does it all for the Falcons, including bringing the boom on defense. He leads the team with 80 tackles, 10.5 of which were for a loss. Air Force will rely on him to read Goff's eyes all day and be wherever the ball is. He has five interceptions on the season and seven pass breakups and will need to have a major impact on the game to keep Air Force in it.
Why California Wins
Cal is the better team--it's as simple as that. All five of their losses came to a team that was ranked in the AP Top 15 at some point this season. When they played teams at their level or worse, they took care of business. They have the best player on the field in Goff, and he recently showed against Arizona State that if the game is on the line late, you want the ball in his hands.
This season, Cal has been able to maintain a relative balance between running and passing, only throwing 55% of the time. If they can establish the ground game early and prevent Air Force from dropping seven or eight guys into coverage, they will win this game.
Why Air Force Wins
Air Force brings an offense in the triple option that Cal rarely faces. No Pac-12 team operates using this offense, and even with the extra weeks to prepare, there is nothing quite like seeing the triple option live for the first time. Cal's already porous defense, which ranked 103rd in the nation against the run, giving up 203 yards per game, will have its hands full with the well-oiled machine that is the Air Force ground attack.
Even though they play in the Mountain West, Air Force is battle-tested, having faced Michigan State, Navy, and Boise State this season. They will be playing with a chip on their shoulder after just missing out on a conference title and should come out guns blazing from the opening kickoff.
If you're a fan of good defense, shield your eyes--this is probably not the bowl game for you. However, if you are like the majority of college football fans, this one should be a doozy with plenty of fireworks. Goff and Co. will be putting up points just as fast as their defense gives them up. The balanced triple option attack of Air Force should wear down the Cal defense and keep pace.
This game will come down to whether or not Daniel Lasco and Khalfani Muhammad can find enough holes to force Air Force to respect the Cal running game and open up the aerial attack for Goff and his arsenal of receivers. In the end, in what is likely his last game, expect Goff to will his team to victory.
Final Score: California 45 - Air Force 31