SERVPRO First Responder Bowl Preview: Air Force Falcons vs Louisville Cardinals

The Air Force Falcons plan to spread their wings with a devastating ground game against the Louisville Cardinals in the SERVPRO First Responder Bowl. Photo Courtesy: Lisa Ferdinando

By Kelly Reed

Game Info 
Air Force Falcons vs Louisville Cardinals
Tuesday – December 28 – 2:15 p.m.
Gerald J. Ford Stadium – Dallas, Texas

Records Before the Game
Air Force Falcons (9-3)
Louisville Cardinals (6-6)

Back in the day (circa 2011) the Servpro First Responder Bowl was originally slated to be called the Dallas Football Classic. Since then the bowl has had several name changes mainly due to a variety of sponsors. The venue for the game has changed as well from the Cotton Bowl in its early days to the home of the SMU Mustangs at Gerald J. Ford Stadium. Here we are wrapping up 2021 with an exciting match up between the Falcons and the Cardinals. Let’s see how these teams look on paper… ok, a web page!

Air Force Falcons
Air Force runs a Flexbone Triple Option offense which as you might guess, is a run heavy type of attack. This offense allowed the Falcons to have a strong showing in the Mountain West Conference tying with Utah State for first place in the Mountain Division. Their three losses were all within one score. This speaks volumes of the type of team they have. The Falcons will play you tough and have no quit in them. They average over 340 yards per contest on the ground making them the best in the country for total yards per game on the ground. QB Haaziq Daniels is the field general who leads by example with his 705 yards on the ground and 9 TDs. He will take his downfield shots here and there, but I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for him to bust out an “air raid” approach against the Cardinals defense. He does have five touchdowns through the air to go with 932 yards. Daniels isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. Junior RB Brad Roberts will get the bulk of the carries and for good reason, he has found pay dirt consistently (13 touchdowns) and accumulated over 1,200 rushing yards this season. I expect the Falcons to have long, time consuming drives. The Cardinals defense won’t hold up. Guessing which Falcon has the ball and facing that battering ram over and over will take its toll on the Cardinals defense. 

Louisville Cardinals 
For Louisville, the weight of the world will be on the shoulders of QB Malik Cunningham. How he responds to the pressure will immediately effect the Cardinals offense. The Falcons will focus on Cunningham every play because he is a huge dual-threat QB, probably the best the Falcons will see this season. Look for RB Jalen Mitchell to help out with some of the backfield duties. Although he’s a freshman, he has put up over 700 yards on the ground with 5 TDs. Look for their big tight end Marshon Ford to be the safety valve that Cunningham will seek. At 6’2″ and 240 pounds Ford is a large man who can catch passes over the middle. When the Cardinals need to stretch the field they’ll look to Ahmari Huggins-Bruce and Tyler Harrell to get the job done. The Cardinals will more than likely be facing a well-rested Falcons defense on most possessions. It’s by design that the Falcons offense consumes time every time they touch the ball. The Cardinals o-line will have its hands full dealing with an aggressive defense so timing routes will be key.

The Air Force Falcons will win the time of possession battle as well as yards on the ground in this contest. The Louisville Cardinals have a more balanced and explosive offense than the Falcons have seen this season due to Cunningham being able to buy time for long throws and rushing for first downs. It’ll be a close game. I’m thinking within four points. I’m going with Air Force and their ability to grind it out and play keep away.

Final Score
Air Force Falcons – 28
Louisville Cardinals – 24