Louisville braces for Air Force option in First Responder Bowl

Field Level Media

December 24, 2021 at 11:56 pm.

The game may be on a Tuesday, but Air Force coach Troy Calhoun is doing his best to structure the week of the First Responder Bowl like a normal game week.

“Today is like a Monday,” Calhoun said Thursday after his first practice in the Dallas area, where the Falcons meet Louisville on Dec. 28. “Then tomorrow (Friday) is a Tuesday and we will proceed from there.”

How Air Force (9-3) proceeds from there will probably depend on how the Cardinals (6-6) react to the Falcons’ triple-option ground game. The Falcons lead FBS in rushing yards per game with 341.4, while Louisville allows 156.7, but rarely faces the option.

Brad Roberts paces Air Force’s rushing attack with 1,279 yards and 13 touchdowns, averaging 4.6 yards a carry. Quarterback Hazziq Daniels has gained 705 yards and nine scores on 5.0 yards per carry, while Deandre Hughes has contributed 471 (8.6 ypc) and Emmanuel Michel 421 (6.1 ypc).

The Falcons came pretty close to going 12-0 and playing for the Mountain West Conference title. Their three losses were all one-possession defeats, by a total of 17 points. They’re coming off a 48-14 rout of UNLV in their regular-season finale on Nov. 26, when they rushed for 511 yards and did not have to throw a single pass.

Meanwhile, Louisville aims to secure a winning season after dropping its regular-season finale on Nov. 26 to in-state rival Kentucky 52-21. The Cardinals’ rushing defense allowed 362 yards in that one.

“It was a bad night for us,” Louisville coach Scott Satterfield said. “This night does not speak of what we’ve done this season. We’ve been in most every game we’ve played… I think we’re getting better as a football team.”

The Cardinals’ offense revolves around quarterback Malik Cunningham. He has thrown for 2,734 yards and 18 touchdowns and needs just 32 yards to reach 1,000 rushing. Having rushed for 19 touchdowns, he has been responsible for 37 scores.

Cunningham is the only player in the country who has both rushed and passed for more than 15 touchdowns.

This will be the first meeting of the two programs, which are both .500 all-time in bowl games: Louisville is 11-11-1 and Air Force is 13-13-1.