Air Force on ground against South Alabama in Arizona Bowl
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) South Alabama faces the same task as every team that plays Air Force: Find a way to stop the run.
The Falcons are annually one of the nation's best running teams, and that was the case this season. Trying to plan for all their options is difficult, particularly for a team that was one of the worst in FBS against the run.
If the Jaguars are going to win their first bowl game Friday in the Arizona Bowl, they know exactly what they'll have to do.
''They're a tough, physical, well-disciplined team that knows exactly what they want to do, and they run their offense to perfection,'' South Alabama defensive coordinator Kane Wommack said.
Air Force (9-3) was fourth nationally in rushing yards, averaging 322.8 per game. Their triple option is difficult defend, not just because so few teams have an offense like it, but because of their discipline running it.
The Falcons have four players who rushed for at least 600 yards, led by Jacobi Owens with 785 and three touchdowns.
South Alabama (6-6) struggled against the run this season, finishing 98th in the FBS after allowing 212.1 yards per game.
''I know that Air Force is going to be a disciplined team and they are going to pay attention to detail, because that's who they are,'' South Alabama coach Joey Jones said. ''We have to match that attention to detail in order to have a chance to win the game.''
Making South Alabama's task even more difficult is Air Force's cache of seniors.
The Falcons' senior class of 32 players is the largest in history, a group that's played in three bowl games and has a chance for its second 10-win season in three years.
The discipline it takes to play at Air Force has been ingrained for at least four years for most of them.
''I think this is probably the oldest team that we've had,'' Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. ''I think maybe we've had squads that perhaps were more talented, but we have 32 seniors and as you go through each one of those guys, there are some major and significant contributors in a variety of roles.''
A few more things to look for when Air Force faces South Alabama in the Arizona Bowl Friday at Arizona Stadium:
INCONSISTENCIES: Both teams were perplexingly inconsistent this season. South Alabama opened with a win over Mississippi State and beat the eventual Mountain West Conference champion San Diego State by 18 points, yet stumbled in its own conference to barely become bowl eligible. Air Force opened with four straight wins and closed with five straight, including the regular-season finale against then-No. 19 Boise State. But the Falcons lost three in a row to teams they were favored to beat by at least seven points. What happens Friday will depend on which versions of these teams show up.
FINDING EVERETT: One player Air Force will certainly have to keep track of is tight end Gerald Everett. He's considered a likely NFL draft pick and is the only South Alabama player to be a two-time, first-team all-Sun Belt selection. He led the Jaguars for the second straight season with 49 receptions for 717 yards and scored four touchdowns.
PASSING FALCONS? Air Force is known for its running game and has nearly three times as many rushing TDs (35) as passing scores (13). But South Alabama can't afford to overlook receiver Jalen Robinette. With teams so focused on stopping the run, the senior receiver was able to thrive, catching 33 passes for 835 yards and scored five touchdowns.