Happy holidays everyone! This Thursday, Baylor travels ninety miles north on I-35 to Amon G. Carter Stadium to face off against the Air Force Falcons in the Armed Forces Bowl. While many Baylor fans may be disappointed in how the regular season ended, having the opportunity to win a bowl game should not be taken for granted. This will be Baylor’s 27th bowl game in its history, and if they win, only their 15th ever bowl victory!
Air Force is a unique opponent that presents many challenges for Baylor on offense and defense. Read on for a detailed statistical breakdown of Air Force.
When Air Force is on Offense
Air Force is a triple-option team that averages 61.25 (!) rushing attempts and 6.67 (!!!) passing attempts per game. Unsurprisingly, they lead all FBS teams with 330.9 rushing yards per game and trail all FBS teams with 67.8 passing yards per game.
Air Force’s leading rusher, and the third leading rusher in the FBS, is senior Brad Roberts. Roberts has an impressive 1,612 yards on 308 carries with 15 touchdowns. Following Roberts are QB Haaziq Daniels, with 614 yards on 123 carries, RB John Eldridge III with 701 yards on 80 carries, and FB (yes, FB) Emmanuel Michel with 252 yards on 52 carries.
It’s not everyday that you see a QB run 94 yards for a touchdown! Air Force QB,— CAMPUS (@campusunlocks) June 27, 2022
Haaziq Daniels, takes the QB keeper to the house for the Falcons! Watch out for the dangerous senior duel-threat in 2022 @AF_Football @ziiqq3 #FlyFightWin #BoltBrotherhood pic.twitter.com/d58FXUXIun
While teams know that Air Force wants to run the ball, their opponents still struggle to stop it. Credit the offensive line. AF’s line is ranked 5th in the country with 3.10 average line yards per carry, and this value hardly changes between standard downs and passing downs (as a reminder, the offensive line is credited with the first three yards per run, half of yards 4-8, and none of yards 9+). The line only allows their backs to get stopped for zero or negative yards on 10.4% of attempts, good for 2nd in the country.
Where AF struggles is dropping back to pass. Their line is horrid at avoiding pressure, giving up a 13.5% sack rate (129th in the country). It’s even worse on standard downs, where AF is bottom in all of FBS with a 16.3% sack rate allowed. That said, their opponents get so focused on stopping the run they are prone to giving up big gains through the air, and Daniel’s 9.6 yards per attempts would lead the country...if he had enough passing attempts to qualify!
Overall their uncommon scheme is moderately successful. Air Force averages 27.7 points per game, which is just below average and 72nd in the country. FEI thinks they are a little better, rating them 57th on offense, but SP+ thinks they are A LOT worse, rating them 114th on offense. I can’t tell you exactly why SP+ is so down on Air Force, but it probably has a lot to do with their lack of explosiveness. Their FEI rating is likely bolstered by their ability to maintain long drives.
On paper, this looks like a horrible matchup for Baylor. The Bears rank 100th in average line yards allowed, 128th in power success rate allowed, and 92nd in stuff rate. To disrupt Air Force, Baylor’s defense is going to have to play with a lot of gap integrity and do their, as Aranda likes to say, 1/11th job. Pay close attention to Baylor’s tackling on outside runs — almost half of Air Force’s rushing attempts, and over half of their rushing yards, are to the outside of the TE.
When Air Force is on Defense
Air Force’s defense is stout, at worst, and elite, at best. They allow only 256.4 yards per game, the fewest among FBS teams, and they do a good job limiting both passing and rushing plays. They also allow only 13.3 points per game, the third fewest among FBS teams. SP+ really likes Air Force’s defense, giving them the 10th best defensive rating in the country. FEI is a little cooler on them, rating them the 45th best defense.
The difference between the raw stats and advanced stats is interesting because the advanced stats are opponent and tempo adjusted. Air Force’s offense does a great job staying on the field, so it’s no surprise their defense allows fewer yards and points — their opponents simply have fewer possessions. Despite that, they still rate well.
Let’s start with their defenders up front. Air Force allows only 2.39 line yards per play, 20th best in the country. They have an excellent 50% power success rate allowed, good for 7th best in the country, and respectable 19.9% stuff rate, good for 39th in the country. Setting the tone is LB TD Blackmon, who leads the team with 35 tackles and 20 stops per PFF. Just behind him is safety Trey Taylor with 31 tackles and 19 stops.
Air Force’s pass rush is pretty impressive as well, despite not being as dominant as their run defense. AF has an 8.2% sack rate, which is 25th in the country. Two players stand out here: OLB Vince Sanford and DL Peyton Zdroik lead the team with 6 and 5 sacks, respectively, and 20+ QB hurries each, per PFF.
If Air Force has a weakness on defense, it’s in the defensive backfield. AF has registered only 9 interceptions this season, which is in the bottom third of the country; however, they’ve also allowed (only) a country-leading 8 touchdowns through the air. It’s not much of a weakness! CB Camby Goff is unarguably their best man coverage guy; per PFF he leads the team in interceptions (3), NFL passer rating allowed (26.1), and reception percentage (45.5%).
That’ll do it! Jemel Jones picked off by Camby Goff on 4th down. Air Force one knee from victory. pic.twitter.com/YtOrdNd3i6— Jacob Richman (@JacobHRichman) November 5, 2022
There’s a noticeable drop-off after Goff in the corner back room, but Baylor might not have the depth at WR to consistently test the other corners. Typically I believe Baylor’s best bet is to sustain drives on the ground while picking up big chunk plays through the air, but I think Baylor needs Shapen to win this game with a short and medium-range passing attack.
FEI predicts a 33-27 Baylor victory. SP+ likes the Bears even more with a 27-19 win. I think both are overly optimistic of Baylor’s chances, and Air Force should be favored to win. Baylor hasn’t shown they can consistently stop a team who is committed to running the ball all game, and if Baylor can’t disrupt the AF offense, they won’t be able to keep up in their limited opportunities with the ball. However, the Bears have the higher ceiling, and if both teams execute at their best, Baylor leaves Fort Worth with their 15th bowl win. For the last time this season, Sic ‘em, Bears!