Friday, December 07, 2007

Daily Cal: Cal Meets High-Flying Air Force in Texas Tilt

BY Gerald Nicdao

Tailback Justin Forsett was probably the most excited member of the Cal football team when he heard that the Bears were going to go bowling in Fort Worth, Texas.   The senior hails from Arlington, Texas, a mere 10 minutes away from Amon G. Carter Stadium on the campus of TCU.  That’s where Cal will play Air Force in the Armed Forced Bowl on New Year’s Eve at 9:30 a.m. PST.  But Forsett wasn’t the only one who will be welcoming his homecoming.  “They were excited,” said Forsett of his parents. “They didn’t know if we were going to make it to a bowl either. It’s right in our backyard, so we’re going to get a lot of people together to come out and enjoy my last game.”  Forsett’s parents were right to be concerned that their son may not have had a chance to play in the postseason.  The Bears (6-6) finished the year losing six of their last seven games—most of them nail-biters, losing only two games by double-digit margins. The team needed Arizona State to defeat Arizona to ensure a bowl bid.

The losing skid coupled with losing the Big Game to Stanford for the first time in his four-year career with Cal, Forsett is ready to at least leave his college career on a high note.  “We definitely want to go out get another opportunity,” Forsett said. “We deserve to be as high as we were in the beginning of the season. We had a lot of ups and downs, it hasn’t worked out as well.”  Air Force has seen a resurgence under first-year coach Troy Calhoun.  The Falcons (9-3) have won six of their last seven games after going 4-8 in 2006. Calhoun was able to lead his new team to five more wins and a second place finish in the Mountain West Conference—second only to perennial conference power BYU.  Calhoun said he will not be underestimating his reeling opponent in the bowl game.  He expects the Cal team that defeated Tennessee and Oregon at the beginning of the year to be the squad that shows up in Fort Worth.

“From a national standpoint, it absolutely does that,” said Calhoun of getting tested by the Bears. “You’re talking about a team talent-wise that was a top-five team in the country. We’re going to get big-time tested.  “We’re going to get a great team to play against. Certainly one that played quite well against us three years ago and a team earlier this year that was the best team in all of college football.”  That option scheme is the same one that the Falcons still employ today, and they have used it to obtain a winning record this year.  Air Force is ranked second only to Navy in the country in rushing yards per game, averaging about 298.5 on the ground during the regular season.  The quarterback running the option is the same gunslinger that played against Cal three years ago.  Senior Shaun Carney has thrown for just 1,423 yards and eight touchdowns.  The Falcons’ passing attack ranks near the bottom of the MWC. But Carney has rushed for 529 yards and five touchdowns, as part of that efficient Air Force ground game.

The Falcons’ leading rusher—Chad Hall—has 1,414 yards and has scored 14 touchdowns.  This may pose a problem for Cal, which has given up 175 yards per game on the ground in its last seven matches and is ranked seventh in the Pac-10 in rush defense.  “In our experience with Air Force, they’re always a disciplined football team,” Tedford said. “They work very hard. With the option that they used to run, it was very difficult to stop. Going 9-3, they’ve obviously done something right.” Tedford said that his team will use the extra time of practice to get younger players more reps.  It will also allow players like quarterback Nate Longshore—who has been suffering from a bone chip in his ankle the last seven weeks of the season—to rest.  All of this is in hopes of giving the program a boost, especially after the kind of stretch the Bears underwent in the second half of the season.  “I definitely think that it would give a little bit of momentum going into the offseason,” Tedford said. “Either way, there’s going to be a real strong evaluation of everything we do in the program. Obviously, you’d feel better if you won, mainly for the seniors to leave here to feel good about their last game.”

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