Cal and Air Force bring different offensive philosophies to bear in Armed Forces Bowl

Armed Forces Bowl will feature two contrasting styles on offense, between the pass-happy Golden Bears and the triple-option Air Force attack.

Last time Cal played the Air Force Academy in the Armed Forces Bowl, quarterback Kevin Riley took home MVP honors, for leading a comeback and giving the Bears a 42-36 win after they fell behind, 21-0, in the first quarter.

This year, Jared Goff said, he'd settle for a win.

After 12 games this season, he's tallied 4,252 passing yards (second in the Pac-12, fourth in the NCAA), 37 passing touchdowns (first in the Pac-12, third in the NCAA) and has completed 316 of 492 passes. He's the ninth Pac-12 quarterback with 4,000 passing yards in a season, and his 90 career passing touchdowns and 11,733 career passing yards are both school records -- two of his 26 program records.

He's a finalist for the Manning Award and a semifinalist for the Davey O'Brien Award. O'Brien, coincidentally, starred for TCU, whose home field -- Amon G. Carter Stadium -- is where the Bears (7-5) and the Falcons (8-5) will play the Armed Forces Bowl.

Cal's passing attack -- with 4,425 yards out of 6,293 total yards of offense, and 368.8 yards per game through the air -- is fifth in the nation. "I've had a chance, fortunately, to work in the National Football League and, during our time here at the Air Force, I've seen various quarterbacks. Played against Andy Dalton. Played against Connor Cook earlier this year at Michigan State. Jared Goff is as talented a quarterback as you're going to see in college football," said Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun. "Very quick release, extremely accurate, tremendous velocity. He knows exactly where he wants to go with the ball. He knows who is number two, three and four in a progression. He gets to them and gets balls completed. Excellent, excellent player. And I know that he was just named first team All-Pac-12, and you certainly see why. Very deserving, especially in a league that has a bunch of great quarterbacks."

Air Force is the complete opposite of the Cal offense, averaging 321.8 yards per game on the ground -- third in the nation -- and average 5.48 yards per carry, with 42 touchdowns on the ground -- fourth in the nation.

The only thing Goff knew about the Falcons?

"I know on offense, they run the option," he said.    

Ah, yes, the triple option. The Falcons' offense has changed little since the Bears last faced it in the 2007 game. Air Force is third in the nation in fewest tackles for loss allowed per game (3.69), and running back Jacobi Owens leads the way with 1,009 yards on the ground this season. But, Owens is just 52nd in the nation in rushing yards. The Falcons get their production from a variety of sources, with Owens, quarterback Karson Roberts (674 rushing yards) and D.J. Johnson (425 rushing yards). In fact, Air Force has seven players with at least 300 rushing yards.

"I think a team like Air Force are going to be physical," Goff said. "They have to be. I think that's the type of team that they are. And the type of football that they play is very physical. We've played physical teams, though. And we're a very physical team as well. So I think we're up to the challenge, and it will be a fun game all around."

Cal's defense allowed a program-record 478 rushing yards against Oregon this season, and Stanford ran for 260 in the Big Game, with 192 of those coming from Christian McCaffrey

This is most certainly going to be a ball-control game, at least on the part of Air Force, which ranks 23rd in the nation in time of possession with an average of over 32 minutes per game. For comparison, the Cardinal are first with over 35 minutes of possession per game.

"Sometimes you have to stay on the sideline for a little while and let them control the ball. And then when you get out there, it kind of makes you have to take advantage of your opportunities a little bit more," Goff said. "When you go into a game similar to when we play a team like Stanford who likes to control the ball, you kind of have to go into the game knowing that you have to really take advantage of every opportunity on the field and go out there and score as much as you can because you know, like you said, they're going to try to possess ball. We don't know how many opportunities we're going to get."

With two more weeks to heal, running back Daniel Lasco could very well be a factor, but if not, the Bears have found quite a weapon in sophomore Tre Watson. Over his final three games of the regular season, Watson averaged 96.3 yards per game, and 7.4 yards per carry, as the offensive line has progressively gotten better down the stretch.

"You know, I don't think we're going to change our approach really at all," said Goff, whose offense is 81st in the nation in time of possession. "I think we're going to run what we run and play fast and do what we do all year and do what we've done for the past three years. Play fast and run the ball, if we have to, throw the ball, if we have to. "Sometimes we like to run the ball to set the pass," Goff said. "Sometimes we like to throw the ball to set the run. We've done it differently over the years, and I'm sure coaches will come up with a different game plan for that. It's so far away we haven't really thought about it. But we'll definitely have a good mixture of running and pass and just be fast and run plays as quickly as we can, which is what we normally do."

The Falcons' passing defense has certainly improved throughout the season, and they started out with a very tough test. Against Connor Cook and Michigan State 10 weeks ago, Air Force went 15-of-23 for 247 yards and four touchdowns in a 35-21 win.

"That was a great game," said Air Force athletic director Tim Knowlton. "We really felt like we played them pretty even. We put the ball on the turf a couple times. And that really hurt us. But they're a great team and you know, it was really a good game for us. If you listen to coach Calhoun, he doesn't like moral victories. So, we didn't do anything but lose that game. But our kids really played their hearts out, and we couldn't be prouder."

Over the course of the season, the Falcons are 23rd in the nation in fewest passing yards allowed (190.4), but, they've never faced an offense like this one.

"That's one area we're going to get stretched," Calhoun said. "You look at some of the games not just this year, but, as you go back to the last season, too, and you see some of the numbers that Cal puts up, unbelievable. Just a production of the passing game. It's unlike maybe anybody in college football. So we're going to have to come up with a tremendous plan. And, certainly, we're going to get stretched, especially in regards to our pass coverage.

"Frankly, if you're playing this time of year in the post season, the squad you're going to play against is probably going to be pretty darn good. It just so happens what we're going to do is make them play against the best quarterback in all the college football." Top Stories