2008 Armed Forces Preview - Houston vs. AF
Houston's Case Keenum & Air Force's Travis Dekker
Houston's Case Keenum & Air Force's Travis Dekker
Posted Dec 29, 2008

Houston vs. Air Force - The 2008 Armed Forces Bowl Preview & Prediction

2008 Bell Armed Forces Bowl

Air Force (8-4) vs. Houston (7-5)

Dec. 31, 12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN

$750,000   Location: Amon G. Carter Stadium, Fort Worth TX

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National Rankings
Air Force Houston
Total Offense
71st  348.83 ypg  1st  575.08 ypg
Total Defense
45th  335.33 ypg 102nd  418.58 ypg
Scoring Offense
54th  26.67 ppg  10th  41.17 ppg
Scoring Defense
33rd  21.25 ppg 92nd  31.17 ppg
Run Offense
5th  268.92 ypg 49th  161 ypg
Run Defense
57th  139.75 ypg 90th  169.50 ypg
Pass Offense
117th  79.92 ypg 2nd  414.08 ypg
Pass Defense
43rd  195.58 ypg 95th  249.08 ypg
Turnover Margin
10th 1.00 85th  -0.42
Air Force
So Utah W 41-7
at Wyoming W 23-3
at Houston W 31-28
Utah L 30-23
Navy L 33-27
at SDSU W 35-10
at UNLV W 29-28
N Mexico W 23-10
at Army W 16-7
Col St W 38-17
BYU L 38-24
at TCU L 44-10
Southern W 55
at Okla St L 56-37
Air Force L 31-28
at Col St L 28-25
at E Carolina W 41-24
UAB W 45-20
at SMU W 44-38
at Marshall L 37-23
Tulane W 42-14
Tulsa W 70-30
UTEP W 42-37
at Rice L 56-42
Position Ratings
relative to each other
AF 5 highest
1 lowest
3.5 Quarterbacks 5
4.5 RBs 4
1.5 Receivers 5
4 O Line 3
3.5 D Line 2
3.5 Linebackers 2.5
3 Secondary 2
3.5 Spec Teams 2
5 Coaching 4

By Richard Cirminiello 

Is it true that it’s tough to beat a second time in the same year, or just some urban legend? Having already beaten a Houston team that was displaced by Hurricane Ike, Air Force will test that old adage in Fort Worth.

Both the Cougars and Falcons are very different teams than when they met back on Sept. 13 in Dallas. After starting slowly, Houston has come around under first-year head coach Kevin Sumlin, winning six of the last eight games and scoring at least 40 points in all but one. Many of the underclassmen, who looked lost three months ago, are now key contributors, especially at wide receiver. Sumlin almost delivered immediately on his vow to bring championships to Houston before losing the regular season finale to Rice. To get over the hump, he’ll need to get a little more out of a defense that routinely disappeared at the worst possible time. Oh, it would also help to finally win a bowl game. The Cougs have lost eight straight in the postseason, dating back to 1980.    

Houston has a different look since September, but it’s not alone. Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun made a bold mid-season move when he turned his backfield over to a pair of true freshmen, QB Tim Jefferson and RB Asher Clark. While there’s been a typical learning curve for both rookies, the moves have to be hailed as successes. The Falcons invested in their future without sacrificing the present. No matter what happens in December, the month will be a success if Calhoun is still with the Academy. After leading Air Force to 17 wins in his first two seasons, he’s made it to the short of many athletic directors looking for new head coaches. The Falcons are appearing in back-to-back bowl games for the first time in a decade, but still have a way to go before catching Mountain West bullies, Utah, TCU and BYU.

Players to watch: A tweak or two in the starting lineup is not the only thing to change at Air Force. The Falcons have also welcomed back two keys offensive players that weren’t available in the first meeting TE Travis Dekker and Z receiver Ty Paffett. Dekker is an outstanding pass-catching tight end, who’ll enjoy an edge over the Houston linebackers. Paffett is one of those undersized, versatile Falcon players, who can be used as a receiver or as a back taking handoffs on misdirection plays. The additional options will benefit Jefferson in the first start of his career. He’ll find plenty of empty space against a Cougar team that can’t stop the run and is 102nd nationally in total defense. Houston’s prize on that side of the ball, Conference USA sack leader Phillip Hunt, will be neutralized by Air Force’s commitment to the run.

Houston QB Case Keenum spent 12 games showing the new coaching staff that he was an ideal fit for Sumlin’s wide-open offense. He flourished at the expense of Conference USA defenses, accounting for 48 touchdowns and just under 5,000 yards of total offense. He’s gotten an assist from a couple of freshmen, leading rusher Bryce Beall and leading receiver Tyron Carrier. Beall has added a new dimension to the attack, running for more than 1,000 yards, despite not becoming the feature back until the fourth game. Carrier is a little guy with a knack for getting lost in the creases of a defense. He takes 75 catches and a streak of three straight 100-yard receiving games into the postseason.

Keenum’s biggest challenges will be avoiding the rush of DE Jake Paulson and the chests of DBs Reggie Rembert and Chris Thomas. Paulson leads an underrated and unheralded defense with 14 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. Thomas and Rembert are a couple of terrific athletes, who’ll have their hands trying to control the wave of Cougar receivers who’ll be running patterns.  

Air Force will win if... it rushes for more than 250 yards. The Falcons did it seven times last fall and won six of those games. Air Force is not going to shut down the Houston offense the old-fashioned way. The Cougars are just playing too well on that side of the ball. Instead, the Falcons must play keep-away, running Jefferson, Clark, and Todd Newell at a Houston D that’s soft on the interior and prone to getting blown off the ball by opponents that commit to the run. If Air Force can slow down the tempo of the game and control the clock, it’ll completely take the Cougars out of their rhythm.     

Houston will win if... it can lure the Falcons into a track meet. The Cougars are at their most dangerous when the scoreboard is changing like a pinball machine. Heck, it’s the Armed Forces Bowl, and few schools are armed with more heavy artillery than Houston, which leads the nation in total offense. Keenum needs to have the ball in his hands as often as possible, which means the defense will have to make a stop or two along the way. If Keenum is allowed to operate and get the ball in the hands of his playmakers, Air Force won’t be able to keep pace in that type of a game.    

What will happen: It’s true. It is difficult beating the same team twice in the same year. At least that’s what Houston will prove for one afternoon in Fort Worth. Both teams will move the ball liberally, but in a game that’ll be dictated by the offenses, the Cougars have the edge by a wide margin, especially behind center. Keenum will shine with four more touchdown passes, two to Mark Hafner, while getting a big assist from Beall in the running game.
Line: Houston -2.5 ... CFN Prediction: Houston 38 ... Air Force 33 

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