Instant Analysis - Armed
Air Force 47 ... Houston 20
Alright, my bad.
I ignored the obvious and didn't believe that the Air Force pass defense
was the real deal. After all, what great passing attack did the Falcons
have to stop? BYU's Max Hall threw for 377 yards and five scores and
TCU's Andy Dalton had an efficient and effective 198-yard day, so I
simply assumed that Case Keenum and the high-powered Houston attack
would rip apart and expose the nation's No. 1 pass defense. After all,
Air Force didn't have much of a pass rush and Keenum should've been able
to pick apart the defense with his great decision-making ability and
accuracy. Instead, the Falcons stepped in front of every other
short-to-midrange throw and never let the Cougars get into any sort of a
However, I didn't ignore the Air Force running game. Houston couldn't
stop anyone's offense this year, and I assumed that this was going to be
a fun and wild shootout. Air Force held up its end of the bargain, but
Houston decided that tackling was optional and that allowing third down
conversions might be fun.
Houston will be fine, will put up a bazillion yards next year, and
probably are closer to really being special than it is to being an
also-ran, while Air Force has to now show that it can take a game like
this and a performance like this and apply it to Mountain West play
against the top teams. If the Falcons can play this well, then it's time
to do the same thing against TCU, BYU, and/or Utah.
A message to Houston and head coach Kevin Sumlin: This is still football, where those little things, like tackling and blocking matter.
The Cougars didn't lose a bowl game on Thursday. They were trucked by an Air Force team that went into the Armed Forces Bowl infinitely better prepared and able to slap around the Cougs without repercussions. It also played with far more intensity and precision, especially in the first half. The Falcons went old school on Houston's high-powered bells-and-whistles offense, knocking around Case Keenum and picking him off six times with a feisty, vastly underrated pass defense. And when the Academy had the ball, you would have thought this was the first time the Cougars had ever seen the triple-option. In fact, the schools played each other twice in 2008, but all of that film and experience wound up providing zero assistance.
Air Force simply rammed the ball down Houston's throat, with a nice mix of Asher Clark and Jared Tew. On multiple occasions, it became embarrassing for the Cougars, which time and time again this season were ambushed on defense, lacking the toughness and physicality to stand up to run-oriented opponents. Keenum is a real nice player and that offense is ideal for breaking records and bringing national attention to a program. However, if Sumlin wants to aim higher in the future, he ought to hire a new coordinator and begin diligently scouring the state for a different breed of athlete on defense ... ideally, the kind that doesn't buckle at the knees when the other team wants to move a pile. In this sport, no matter how many points you score or passes you complete, if you can't make stops, it'll eventually catch up to you. Air Force drove that missive home to the tune of more than 400 rushing yards and yet another impressive upset win for the surging Mountain West.
1) Case Keenum got body-snatched on Thursday in Fort Worth, Tex. The train-wreck performance for the best quarterback of the 2009 college football regular season shows that this machine-like man is mortal just like the rest of us. Keenum – who carried Houston to a C-USA West Division title – should be able to shrug off this loss without too much of a problem. He and the rest of the Cougars simply need to make sure that they don't fall off the high wire when they play conference games in 2010.
This season's wins over Oklahoma State and Texas Tech were nice, but if UH had been able to beat both UTEP and Central Florida, the "Coogs" would have hosted the C-USA Championship Game and possibly punched a ticket to the Liberty Bowl against Arkansas. Playing Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl for the second straight season felt like a stale situation and a chore for Houston. Bigger challenges – and prizes – await a returning Case Keenum in eight months' time. There's no reason to dwell on this loss, as ugly as it turned out to be.
2) If Houston felt it hard to get up for this game after dusting Air Force in the 2008 Armed Forces Bowl, coach Troy Calhoun's Falcons felt the fueling force of the fires of revenge. Whacking and smacking the tissue-soft Cougars from start to finish, the fourth-best team in the Mountain West Conference – yeah, the same team that played TCU closer than any other Horned Frog opponent in 2009 – just made it that much harder to deny the Mountain West the benefit of a BCS bowl lock-in. C'mon, BCS honchos: The MWC deserves its place at the big-boy table.