It’s safe to expect a good deal of offensive production from both teams when Washington State faces No. 24 Air Force in the Cheez-It Bowl on Friday night at Chase Field in downtown Phoenix.
Only that production should come in two distinct forms. The Cougars of the Pac-12 bring coach Mike Leach’s prolific Air Raid passing style, which produced this year’s leader in passing yards, quarterback Anthony Gordon. The Falcons of the Mountain West counter with a run-oriented attack that relies on options and misdirection.
The two teams will meet for the first time.
The Cougars are in a bowl game for a school-record fifth straight year. They are 8-7 all-time in bowl games.
Leach said the Air Force offense is tough to completely shut down.
“The only negative that I can see is if they get behind, it’s tough to drop back and throw,” Leach said.
“Other than this bowl game … I always rooted for Air Force,” Leach told the Spokesman-Review. “But the opportunity to play a great rushing team like them, an option team, we’re excited about that.”
Air Force (10-2, 7-1 in the Mountain West Conference) became bowl eligible for the first time since 2016 thanks to a second-place finish the conference’s Mountain Division. Washington State (6-6, 3-6 Pac-12) finished fifth in the six-team Pac-12 North, but earned a bowl bid with six wins.
The Falcons, under 13th-year head coach Troy Calhoun, won seven straight games to close out the season. It’s Air Force’s longest streak in a season since 1998.
Air Force arrived in the Phoenix area on Saturday. There, the Falcons will be tasked with slowing down an offense that had seven players gain more than 500 receiving yards and a passing offense that averaged 444 yards per game.
“It is going to be a gigantic challenge,” Calhoun told The Gazette in Colorado Springs, Colo. “You’ve heard me say it before, I think our guys embrace challenges. And this is going to be one unlike we’ve ever encountered.”
The Falcons rushed for an average of 292.5 yards per game and totaled 3,867 yards on the ground this season. One of their top rushers, Timothy Jackson, could miss the game with a lower-body injury.
Jackson rushed for 745 yards and six touchdowns this season.
“I think everyone on the team is excited to have the opportunity to go out and play a very solid opponent and show what we can do,” offensive lineman Scott Hattok told The Gazette.
Cougars senior wide receiver Brandon Arconado, a former walk-on who led the team in receiving yards with 942 despite missing two games, is also iffy for the bowl game due to a wrist injury.
“He’s incredibly coachable,” Leach said of Arconado. “Anything you tell him route-wise or release-wise, he executes it. It’s really elevated his career. He’s developed here.”
–Field Level Media