Washington State vs. Air Force: Cheez-It Bowl fearless prediction and game preview.
Washington State vs. Air Force: Cheez-It Bowl Broadcast
Washington State (6-6) vs. Air Force (10-2) Game Preview
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Three Reasons Why You Should Watch The Cheez-It Bowl
– We can all only dream of the performance art of last year’s iconic nine-interception, 10-7 overtime TCU win over Cal – possibly the the ugliest sporting event, contest or gathering of competitors ever produced by this planet. This year’s version should be a whole lot stronger.
At least the 2018 game was competitive – four of the previous five were decided by more than seven points – and now it’s a dangerous Air Force team trying to carry the Group of Five flag against a mediocre Pac-12 squad. The contrast in styles is the best in the bowl season, with Washington State’s passing game trying to deal with the Falcon ground attack.
– Washington State has been okay in bowls under Mike Leach, but not special. It got by Iowa State in last year’s Alamo, but the O fell flat in bowl the three bowl losses as the Cougar head coach. A loss would make this the fourth losing season in his eight-year tenure.
As a program, this is just the 16th bowl for Wazzu and just the ninth since 2000. Win, and it would be the first time in the program’s history that it won a bowl two seasons in a row. Lose, and the program is .500 in bowls, but …
– An Air Force win gets it to .500 in bowl games. The program is 4-5 in bowls under head coach Troy Calhoun, and hasn’t been to win since beating South Alabama in the 2016 NOVA Home Loans Arizona. Win, and the 11-2 season would be the best campaign since going 12-1 in 1998.
CFN Podcast: Cheez-It Bowl discussion, picks
Why Washington State Will Win
– For all of the Minshew-mania last year, Anthony Gordon has been better this season. The nation’s leading passer by a mile, Gordon winged it around for 5,228 yards – over 70 more yards per game than Joe Burrow – with 45 touchdown passes while hitting 72% of his passes. He’s throwing a lot of picks – 16 in all – but he’s also having to press in too many tight games.
Can Air Force stop anyone’s passing attack? Sort of, but not really. It helps the overall pass defense stats when you face Colgate, Navy, Army and New Mexico.
The Falcons beat Hawaii and Colorado State – who were able to bomb away – but they’ve done a great job of controlling games to offset the bombers. Accurate quarterbacks have been able to move the ball, and that’s Gordon.
– The Wazzu D might not be anything special, but it gets behind the line and it’s been doing a great job of attacking. Get to the Air Force backfield before all the fun gets started, and the machine can be slowed down. The great Cougar pass rush doesn’t necessarily matter in this game, but the five tackles for loss per game are a big deal. The D will win its share of battles.
– Air Force doesn’t generate enough pressure. Again, the defense isn’t all that bad against the pass – at least in general – but it doesn’t get to the quarterback enough to make Gordon worry. There were seven sacks against Colorado State and four against Hawaii, but just 13 against everyone else.
Granted, those two big pass rushing games came against two of the better passing teams on the slate, but Gordon gets the ball out of his hands in a hurry. Giving up two sacks just isn’t going to matter.
Why Air Force Will Win
– Can Washington State stop the run? Sort of, but not really.
Most Pac-12 teams liked to get into shootouts with their passing games, but the Cougar run defense allowed close to five yards or more per carry in six of the last ten games, and gave up two touchdown runs or more to everyone but New Mexico State, Colorado and Stanford.
The Air Force ground attack is a machine, only getting slowed down to under 200 yards by Navy and Wyoming. Wazzu has been able to beat several of the teams that ran wild on its D, however, the biggest key is the …
– Time of possession. Washington State doesn’t control the clock with is passing game like it normally does. When everything is clicking, the Cougars are great at keeping the chains moving, going on marches, and keeping their defense off the field. To be fair, boo hoo, the Wazzu O is scoring too fast and it’s too efficient at times, but it’s going to be a problem if Air Force goes Air Force holds the ball for over 35 minutes.
– Anthony Gordon might be the star quarterback in this, but Air Force’s Donald Hammond is more efficient. The 6-2, 220-pounder is built like a big, tough running back – running for 491 yards and 11 picks – and he’s doing his part to connect on the big plays down the field.
Doing even more with the passing attack over the last few games, he’s averaging 13 yards per pass – he hit New Mexico for 327 yards and four scores on just nine completions – and should be able to find the big plays when they’re there against a Wazzu D that’s going to load up against the run.