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December 26, 2010

Independence Bowl: Air Force vs. Ga. Tech

INDEPENDENCE BOWL

Air Force (8-4) vs. Georgia Tech (6-6)
WHEN: Dec. 27, 5 p.m.
WHERE: Independence Stadium, Shreveport, La.
TV: ESPN2 (Mark Jones will do play-by-play, with Bob Davie as the analyst).
THE LINE: Air Force by 3.
RECORDS VS. BOWL TEAMS: Air Force 3-4, Georgia Tech 2-5.
NCAA SCHEDULE STRENGTH: Air Force 50th, Georgia Tech T-96th.
BCS RANKINGS: Neither team is ranked.
OFFICIATING CREW: From the Sun Belt.
COACHES: Air Force - Troy Calhoun (1-2 in bowls); Georgia Tech - Paul Johnson (2-4 in bowls).
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: Aside from the annual Army-Navy, Air Force-Navy and Air Force-Army games, how often do you get a chance to see a matchup in which both teams run the option? And if you're worried about this potentially bleeding over into the start of "Monday Night Football," don't be; this should be the shortest bowl of the postseason.
KEY STATS: This game features the nation's two most prolific rushing attacks. Georgia Tech leads the nation with 327.0 rushing yards per game, while Air Force ranks second at 317.9 rushing yards per game. Neither is that proficient at stopping the run: Tech gives up 169.7 rushing yards per game (79th nationally) and Air Force allows 195.1 (100th nationally).

The Independence Bowl might not be the best game of the postseason, but a good guess would be that it will be the shortest.

Georgia Tech (6-6) ranks first in the nation in rushing and Air Force (8-4) is second. The two option attacks each average fewer than 15 pass attempts per game. Don't be surprised if this game is over in less than three hours.

"I don't think there will be a lot of passes thrown in this game," Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. "Maybe more than people think, but there won't be a lot."

This marks a rare opportunity for Georgia Tech to face a team that runs a similar offense, while Air Force is much more accustomed to this situation. Each season, Air Force faces the option attacks of Army and Navy.

Of course, that also means Johnson is familiar with Air Force from his stint as Navy's coach. Johnson led Navy to a 5-1 record against Air Force before taking over Georgia Tech's program in 2008.

"It might [help]," Johnson said, "but it helps them, as well, because they have a familiarity with me and the team."

Both teams are dealing with injuries to major players.

Georgia Tech quarterback Joshua Nesbitt hasn't played since breaking his right forearm midway through the season. He is hoping to return for the bowl, but his chances of playing appear slim. Air Force fullback Jared Tew has missed five games with a broken right fibula in his right leg. Tew has indicated he plans to play in the bowl, though Air Force coaches haven't been quite as optimistic about his availability.

Running back Asher Clark and quarterback Tim Jefferson have led Air Force's rushing attack in Tew's absence. Clark and Jefferson should have extra incentive for this game, since both are from Georgia.

"It's a neat chance for a bunch of those guys to get a chance to play against guys they probably played against in high school," Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said.

WHO GETS THE EDGE?

Air Force rush offense vs. Georgia Tech rush defense: RB Asher Clark leads the Falcons with 1,001 rushing yards, and he's one of four Falcons with at least 98 carries this season. QB Tim Jefferson has run for 769 yards and 15 touchdowns. Air Force also could get a boost from the potential return of FB Jared Tew, who missed the last five games of the regular season with a broken fibula in his right leg. Georgia Tech has allowed 4.6 yards per carry and has no standout in the defensive front seven. Edge: Air Force.

Air Force pass offense vs. Georgia Tech pass defense: Air Force only throws the ball about a dozen times per game, though the Falcons rank 15th nationally in passing efficiency. Jefferson has gone 71-of-136 for 1,342 yards with 10 touchdowns and six interceptions. Georgia Tech ranks just 71st in pass efficiency defense and hasn't supplied much of a pass rush all season. The Jackets get the advantage here only because Air Force rarely bothers to pass. Edge: Georgia Tech.

Georgia Tech rush offense vs. Air Force rush defense: Georgia Tech continued to run the ball effectively even after QB Joshua Nesbitt broke his right forearm midway through the season. RB Anthony Allen has rushed for 1,225 yards to pace the Yellow Jackets, while QB Tevin Washington has run for 383 yards on 88 carries since taking over. Nesbitt hasn't ruled out playing in the bowl, but that possibility seems unlikely. Air Force has given up 4.8 yards per carry and is undersized up front. Edge: Georgia Tech.

Georgia Tech pass offense vs. Air Force pass defense: Consider this a mismatch. Washington is 20-of-48 through the air for 376 yards with two touchdown passes and two interceptions. The Yellow Jackets desperately miss Demaryius Thomas, the talented receiver who went to the Denver Broncos in the first round of the 2010 NFL draft. Georgia Tech ranks 110th in pass efficiency, while Air Force is 14th in pass efficiency defense. CBs Reggie Rembert and Anthony Wright are a solid duo. Edge: Air Force.

Air Force special teams vs. Georgia Tech special teams: Air Force K Erik Soderberg has struggled mightily; he is only 5-of-10 on field goals and hasn't made one from beyond 30 yards. Kell Bartholomew averages 41.1 yards per punt to help the Falcons rank 18th in net punting. Air Force's Johnathan Warzeka is the nation's 10th-leading kickoff returner. Georgia Tech's Scott Blair is 15-of-17 on field goals with a long of 47, though he missed a critical extra-point attempt in a loss to Georgia. Sean Poole averages 39.3 yards per punt for the Jackets, whose return units are average at best. Air Force's coverage units have been good; Georgia Tech's kickoff coverage has been excellent, but its punt coverage has been poor. Edge: Georgia Tech.

Air Force coaches vs. Georgia Tech coaches: Troy Calhoun's staff undoubtedly has put together a better season, but Paul Johnson's staff has more experience and a slightly better overall track record. This game should be something of a litmus test for Johnson's staff, as Georgia Tech hasn't performed well in bowl losses the past two seasons. Edge: Georgia Tech.

X-factor: Don't be surprised if a fourth-down situation plays a critical role in this game. Georgia Tech leads the nation with 37 fourth-down conversion attempts. Air Force has gone for it on fourth down 25 times.

Air Force will win if: The Falcons will be in good shape if they can force Georgia Tech into third-and-long. While both these teams rely heavily on their running games, Air Force at least has some semblance of a passing attack. Georgia Tech can't throw the ball at all and will struggle in obvious passing situations.

Georgia Tech will win if: Tech must get off to a fast start. The Yellow Jackets fell way behind early in their past two bowl games and couldn't come all the way back.

EXPERT PICKS

Olin Buchanan: Air Force 31, Georgia Tech 24
Tom Dienhart: Air Force 35, Georgia Tech 27
David Fox: Air Force 24, Georgia Tech 20
Mike Huguenin: Air Force 27, Georgia Tech 23
Steve Megargee: Air Force 27, Georgia Tech 20

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.



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