Welcome to our continuing preview coverage of the 2010 Bowl Season! The matchup of the day is…
The Independence Bowl is one of the older bowl games still in existence. It was given its name because the first game was played during the bicentennial year – 1976. The game is played in Independence Stadium, though why that facility is in Shreveport, Louisiana as opposed to, say, Philidelphia is beyond me.
The Independence Bowl started out as a matchup between teams from the Southland Conference playing against any at-large team of the Bowl’s choice. Big Ten teams that have played the game include Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan State. The Buckeyes have never accepted an offer to visit Shreveport.
In 1995, the Independence Bowl switched it’s affiliation to the Southeastern Conference which it would match against at-large teams. In 1998, the Bowl began to take Big 12 teams as its at-large choice, making the Independence Bowl an ad-hoc Big 12 tie-in. In the case that there were no available teams from those conferences to fill its tie-ins, the Independence Bowl would take at-large teams from any conference. In 2008, there were no teams from either conference available, resulting in a game between Louisiana Tech and Northern Illinois – a game that Lousiana Tech won 17-10.
Starting with this year’s game, the Independence Bowl has set up a deal with the Mountain West and the ACC to match up teams from those conferences. That deal will remain through 2013. If one of those conferences is unable to fill their slot, the Sun Belt gets the opportunity to play.
The Independence Bowl’s first sponsor was Poulan – a company specializing in weedwhackers. In fact, this was one of the earliest cases of bowl sponsorship. The name was changed to the Poulan Weed-Eater Independence Bowl for the 6 years that Poulan sponsored them. However, the Bowl was more popularly known as the “Weedwhacker Bowl” – and still is by some. In some circles, it has become common to refer to lower quality bowl matchups as “Weedwhacker” bowls in honor of this game.
The Bowl has gone through several other sponsors – including an attempt by the Deja Vu chain of adult entertainment in 2005 (it was refused). The game has now settled with Advocare, a “multilevel-marking” company specializing in energy drinks and nutritional supplements.
Yup, the Independence Bowl is sponsored by a pyramid scheme. Hurrah!
The Falcons had a particularly fine year this season, finishing 8-4 against a reasonably difficult schedule. A close loss in the third week of the season to eventual Big 12 champion Oklahoma (27-24) made people sit up and take notice. Unfortunately, despite a gritty win over Navy (14-6), a three game losing streak to the top three teams in the MWC killed Air Force’s ranking and any hope of winning the confererence. The murderer’s row went: at San Diego State (27-25 loss), at TCU (38-7 drubbing), vs. Utah (28-23 loss). Whoever put together that schedule was a really bad person.
After the losing streak, however, Air Force managed to get back to their winning ways. A 42-22 win at Army secured the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy for the Fighting Falcons – the first time the Air Force has held the trophy since 2002. During that time, Navy has controlled the trophy the whole way – 7 wins in a row. Incidentally, from 1982 through 2002, the Air Force single-handedly dominated the three-way rivalry
The Falcons secured 16 outright wins in 21 seasons of play, with a single tie that saw the trophy remain with Air Force.
Air Force prefers to run an option style offense. It is not the triple option that Navy and Georgia Tech prefer, though it is still a very effective game plan. In fact, junior quarterback Tim Jefferson (6-1, 200) has only thrown the ball 136 times on the season with 71 completions – 11 throws per game. That’s almost precisely 50% of the plays he’s made in the season, as he’s carried for 769 yards on 142 carries. His scoring, however, is ludicrious. He has punched the ball into the endzone 15 times – nearly three times more than the next highest running back. Comparatively, he’s only thrown 10 touchdowns with 6 interceptions. Clearly, this guy is not going to beat you with his arm – but you still have to keep an eye out for it.
Jefferson’s partners in crime in the backfield are junior runningback Asher Clarke (5-8, 185) and senior runningback Jared Tew (6-1, 210). Both have combined for 284 carries for 1541 yards and 8 touchdowns. The carrying is not balanced though, as Clarke gets the lion’s share of carries on the team and has picked up 1,001 yards on the ground for the season. Before you get to thinking that Georgia Tech has only to account for these three, Air Force has run the ball with 19 different players this season, and 9 of them are averaging at least a carry per game. The Falcons aren’t afraid to mix things up a little bit.
The receiving corps for Air Force isn’t as prolific as you might hope for a team whose name includes the word “air”. They do like to spread the ball out a bit, hitting 4 receivers on a regular basis. Though, by regular I mean they each have more than 10 catches on the season. And their top receiver, junior Jonathan Warzeka (5-9, 175) has only 17 receptions on the year – for 394 yards and three touchdowns. When they use their receivers, Jefferson is good at finding the open guy, but that’s not going to be often. Consider that the Falcons have run the ball 699 times compared to throwing it a mere 145 times. Not exactly the paradigm of offensive balance.
Of course, neither are the Yellow Jackets. The only way this bowl game could have been any more run oriented is if Georgia Tech were playing Navy. We’ll get to the stats in a moment, but allow me to say that Georgia Tech is becoming the place for terrible passing quarterbacks to call home. Oh Reggie Ball, we have not yet forgotten you.
The Yellow Jackets did not have what one might call a “good” season this year. In fact, I’m not even certain they’re happy about being bowl eligibile. Their numerous losses include: at 3-9 Kansas (28-25), NC State (45-28), at Clemson (27-13), at Virginia Tech (28-21), vs. Miami (Fl) (35-10), and at Georgia (42-34). That game with Georgia could have been tied at 35 with 4 minutes left, except the GT extra point after their last touchdown was pulled wide left. Perhaps it wasn’t crucial, since the Jackets lost by 8, but it was still likely a back breaker.
The only “quality” wins came against North Carolina (a 7-5 team) and Middle Tennessee State (6-6). We are claiming “quality” to be “bowl eligibility” in this analysis. Their other 4 wins came against an FCS school (South Carolina State) and three teams whose combined wins would have just made it to double digits. Yes, two 3-9 programs and a 4-8 Virginia squad.
The Yellow Jackets run Paul Johnson’s preferred style of offense – the triple option. It is the same offense that Johnson ran at Navy, and that is still run at Navy, to great success. Unfortunately, it’s clear that he’s not having much success with it at Georgia Tech – depending on how you choose to view success. Functionally, Johnson’s offense is the best running team in the nation – first in yards per game with 327 yards on average. Those are ludicrous running stats, but it’s made even more so when you realize that they are the 119th ranked passing offense in the nation! They’re so bad in the passing game that they don’t even break 100 yards per game.
Now, usually that wouldn’t matter very much, but in this day and age with defenses looking to stop plays in space, having a horrendously unbalanced offense is not a good thing. Worse yet, being entirely unable to throw the ball in any way shape or form is particularly bad. Senior Joshua Nesbitt (6-1, 217) completed a mere 39 passes all season long. He attempted 105. That is a 37.1% completion percentage for 674 yards, 7 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. That, my friends, is a team that doesn’t like to pass the ball. Now, of course, Nesbitt did break his arm with three games left to go in the season. He is supposed to be back for the bowl game.
Here’s my question for the crowd. Compare the two quarterbacks – Nesbitt and his backup Sophomore Tevin Washington (6-0, 205). Tevin played the last three games against Miami (FL), Duke and Georgia – so an easy game and a couple not so easy one – along with some mop-up duty here and there during the season.
I ask you, who is honestly the best option here? At least Washington has never picked up a negative quarterback rating. Nesbitt has 2 to his name – and one of those was to an FCS school!
Georgia Tech fans can console themselves by having two very good runningbacks to fill their backfield. Senior Anthony Allen (6-0, 229) has picked up 1,225 yards on 217 carries for 6 touchdowns so far this season. That’s a respectable 5.6 yards per carry, but he’s not really a big play threat, only netting a 48 yard long, and scoring 3 of his touchdowns against Virginia. His counterpart, Sophomore Orwin Smith (6-0, 202) is substantially more dangerous for his touches. While he’s only carried 49 times for the season, he’s picked up 476 yards and 4 touchdowns – including a 73 yard strike. For those keeping score, that’s a 9.4 yard per carry average. Clearly Smith is a dangerous weapon that needs to be accounted for at all times.
It is clear that the run defenses are going to be critical in this game. In fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if neither team threw the ball all game long – though don’t expect it. The long and the short of this game will likely be the choice of quarterback for Georgia Tech. If Nesbitt plays, I honestly believe Air Force will win this game handily. If, however, Washington plays for the Jackets, it’s not so clear.
There’s only one thing to take away from this game. You could very likely forget to field a secondary against Josh Nesbitt and do just as well on defense. He’s even more of a glorified halfback than Shoelace Robinson.
Ultimately, if you love the running game, if you’re a fan of three yards and a cloud of dust, and if you hate throwing the football, watch this game. If, however, you don’t fit that profile, watch the game anyway. It’s a dying breed, and you’d hate to miss the last chance to see it.