Game: NOVA Arizona Bowl
Date: December 30th, 2016
Time: 3:30 p.m. Mountain Time
Site: Arizona Stadium (Tuscon, AZ)
TV: Game will be broadcast on American Sports Network, Campus Insiders, Armed Forces Network. It will be available in Colorado and other regional areas on Altitude Sports 2.
Air Force South Alabama Overall Record 9-3 6-6 Head Coach Troy Calhoun (10th year) Joey Jones (8th year) Career Record 76-53 48-41
Troy Calhoun (10th year)
Joey Jones (8th year)
It seems like a lifetime ago when the Air Force Falcons held up on the goalline to defeat Boise State in the finale of the 2016 regular season. On Friday, it will be 35 days since the Falcons forced a fumble that turned out to be the game saving play. The Falcons will be excited to lace up for the 26th bowl game in team history when they face the South Alabama Jaguars in the NOVA Arizona Bowl. While it seems like an eternity, the Falcons will look to continue their current five game winning streak with some definite keys that favor them in the matchup versus the 6-6 Jaguars from the Sun Belt Conference.
Since he took over for an injured Nate Romine late in the third quarter versus Fresno State, Arion Worthman has been a monster in the triple option attack for Air Force. The sophomore from Normal, IL has been a spark to the Falcons, rushing for 603 yards and six touchdowns during his productive playing time. Worthman has not been a liability in the passing game either, completing 16 of 29 passes for 339 yards and three touchdowns. More importantly, he is 4-0 as a starter and the Falcons have rebounded from a stretch in the middle of the year that saw three losses to Wyoming, New Mexico and Hawaii. He is perceived as the unquestioned answer to the quarterback question entering next year, even with Romine having one year of eligibility remaining despite his status as a senior this year. Worthman has been better in the option game with more accuracy on his pitches and he has forced teams to account for him making the fullback dives and other aspects of the offense more dangerous.
It will be the final game for two of Air Force's best offensive weapons as well. Running back Jacobi Owens and wide receiver Jalen Robinette have been stalwarts for Air Force over the past three years, and they leave as two of the most decorated Falcons in football history. Owens is currently fourth in Air Force history with 2,931 yards rushing. That mark is second among all tailbacks. For Robinette, he currently is first in Falcons history with 2,573 yards receiving and second in receptions with 118 and receiving touchdowns with 17. Robinette is largely considered the Falcon that has the best chance to be drafted in the upcoming NFL draft and it would not surprise people close to the Falcons program if Owens got some sort of chance with an NFL team as a college free agent. They leave a legacy of good play for Air Force, and will look to leave the program with the Commander-in-Chief trophy and a bowl victory.
A Senior Dominated Defense
Air Force will be starting 10 seniors on their defense Friday afternoon versus South Alabama. It is a group of players that have been very prominent for the Falcons the past three years, headlined by three-time All-Mountain West player Weston Steelhammer. It is a group that had four players named to the All-Conference team this season, with defensive end Ryan Watson joining Steelhammer on the first team. Brodie Hicks made second team honors, while Haji Dunn Jr. was honorable mention. Throw in last year first teamer Roland Ladipo and this talented Air Force group will be looking to place their final mark in the history of Falcons football.
Air Force is facing a balanced but overall average South Alabama offense. The Jaguars come into the contest averaging 25.8 points per game and just under 400 yards of offense a game. South Alabama is led by quarterback Dallas Davis, who has thrown for 2,461 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. However, he has thrown 11 interceptions, and while the Falcons have given up yards in bunches this season, they are ball hawks who can create turnovers, as evidenced by the squad's 14 interceptions and six forced fumbles. Steelhammer led the team with six interceptions, and he is the man that the Jaguars will have to account for all day when they face the senior-dominated Falcons.
This is a passing of the guard moment in the history of Air Force football. The senior class will leave a huge hole in the depth chart after this game, yet the Falcons have young talent on the depth chart and the promise of Worthman to ease the transition for 2017. For the senior class, they look for a repeat of the 2014 season when they as sophomores won the Commander-in-Chief trophy and their bowl game over Western Michigan. That Western Michigan team has a lot of the same talent that faced Air Force that day in Boise at the Potato Bowl, and while it hasn't been as meteoric of a rise for Air Force as it was the Broncos, this Air Force senior class could leave the program with 2 CIC trophies, 2 bowl games and 28 victories if they defeat South Alabama Friday, which I predict they will do by a score of Air Force 42 South Alabama 20.