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Preview, How to Watch: Air Force vs. Louisville in First Responder Bowl

The Falcons have a chance to secure a 10-3 record with a win over the Louisville Cardinals.

NCAA Football: UNLV at Air Force Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

It’s hard to believe it, but another college football season is coming to a close.

By all accounts, Air Force has had a solid season sitting at 9-3, but it hasn’t brought a trophy back to Colorado Springs yet. A crushing loss to Army kept the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy out of reach, while the Falcons just barely missed out on a chance to play in the Mountain West championship game.

Now, Air Force has one more chance.

The Falcons will head to Dallas, Texas, for an all-birds showdown against the Louisville Cardinals in the ServPro First Responder Bowl on Dec. 28. Beyond the chance at silverware, there’s a lot on the line for Air Force when Tuesday rolls around. The Falcons could finish with double-digit wins for the second time in three years, win their third-straight bowl game, and notch a third-straight win against Power 5 opposition.

It won’t be easy, at least not if Cardinals head coach Scott Satterfield has anything to say about it. His team sits at 6-6, yet Louisville has put up its fair share of points this season. They will be looking to avenge their loss against Kentucky in the season finale, much like they were two years ago in the Music City Bowl. The Cardinals emerged victorious that day, and they’ll be hoping that history can repeat itself.

Let’s see how the two sides stack up.

Air Force Offense vs. Louisville Defense

If you’ve seen any Air Force football this season, you already know how the Falcons will approach this game. They’ve boasted the nation’s top rushing offense for 10 straight weeks, and the bowl game won’t be any different. After all, this is an Air Force offense that put up more than 120 combined points across its final three contests.

Just a few key stats include 511 yards rushing against Nevada, six rushing touchdowns against UNLV, and seven 100-yard performances from Brad Roberts. All of these factors contribute into the multi-headed beast of an offense that’s averaging 340 yards per-game on the ground.

Luckily for Air Force, the Cardinals boast a defense that is allowing an average of 150 yards rushing each week. It’s safe to expect that a combination of Brad Roberts and DeAndre Hughes will see the lion’s share of the carries on Tuesday, though Haaziq Daniels will probably keep a few for himself. Roberts is only the fifth fullback in Air Force history to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark in a season, and his 1,275 stands as the seventh most for a Falcon ever.

Although Air Force doesn’t turn to its air attack very often, the Cardinals present a golden opportunity to do so. Louisville has allowed 245 yards through the air on average, which could open Haaziq Daniels up to find Brandon Lewis, his favorite target. Lewis has just 15 receptions on the year, but he’s turned them into 428 yards for a 28.5-yard average.

Leading the charge against Air Force will be Cardinals linebacker CJ Avery and defensive back Qwynterrio Cole. Avery has 87 tackles on the year, while Cole is hot on his heels with 79. The two have combined for 11.5 tackles for loss, too.

Air Force Defense vs. Louisville Offense

The Louisville offense begins and ends with signal-caller Malik Cunningham. He’s passed his way to 2,634 yards through the air along with 18 touchdowns to just six interceptions. That’s not all, though — Cunningham is the Cardinals’ leading rusher with 968 yards on the ground and 19 touchdowns.

Cunningham’s leading running back, Jalen Mitchell, has just six fewer attempts on the season, yet he’s collected 200 fewer yards. The bright spot for Louisville is that leading receiver Marshon Ford will be available for the contest. Ford, a tight end, has turned 47 receptions into 530 yards and a pair of scores. It comes out to just over 44 yards per game, but the Cardinals have nowhere else to turn in the air attack.

Receivers Jordan Watkins and Justin Marshall have left from the program, as has graduate transfer Shai Werts. In their place, the Cardinals have had to elevate walk-ons and bring freshmen in as starters. Of course, Louisville has had time to get practices in, so it remains to be seen just how badly the passing attack is impacted.

As always, the Falcons will call on the tandem of Tre Bugg III and Corvan Taylor to ground the Louisville passing attack. The two share 15 total pass breakups, along with five total interceptions. Taylor also has 52 tackles while Bugg has 61 of his own.

Vince Sanford can’t be ignored along the defensive line, with 17 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks on the season.

How To Watch

  • Bowl: ServPro First Responder Bowl
  • When: 3:15 p.m. EST | Tuesday, Dec. 28
  • Where: Gerald J. Ford Stadium in Dallas, Texas
  • TV: Tiffany Greene, Jay Walker and Kris Budden will have the call for ESPN.

Odds via Draft Kings

  • Spread: Louisville -1.5
  • Over-Under: 55 points

Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.