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Cal v. Air Force: Q & A with Mountain West Connection

A top junior QB prospect, a 5-0 start, a mid-season skid, and an Armed Forces Bowl matchup against Air Force. Is a 2007-style victory pending as well? For some insight into Air Force football, we talk to Duane Grasmick of Mountain West Connection.

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

1. Has Air Force played any teams this year that throw the ball like Cal, and if so, how did the Falcons fare? Do you think Air Force has the horses to slow down Cal's passing attack?

For the most part, the Mountain West has balanced or run heavy offensive teams. And for the non-conference games, Army and Navy are option teams and Michigan State is a balanced leaning towards the run game type of team. But, Air Force has been hurt by teams through the air because they focus on completely taking the running game away from the opponent. Connor Cook had a really successful day against the Falcons and Utah State nearly came back and won a game Air Force kind of dominated for a good portion because of the passing game. The Falcons will definitely have their hands full but I would expect a pass defense heavy game plan versus Cal and Jared Goff.

2. Cal's defensive line has struggled at the point of attack - how big of an issue will this be against the triple option?

That will be huge for Air Force if they can dominate the line of scrimmage and run all of their various triple option plays. Air Force guts teams when they can establish the fullback dive. If Cal can't stop that they will be set up for the veer, the pitch game, the sweep game and the power red zone attack Air Force will implement. San Diego State has a really good defense and Air Force got over 300 yards rushing against them, in large part because of Jacobi Owens getting good yards on the dive play. He had a 65 yard burst right up the gut and if he can do that to the Bears they can play keep away from the Cal offense.

3. Air Force doesn't pass often, but when they do it seems like the result is either a huge pass play or an interception. When and how does Air Force like to throw the ball?

Air Force's passing game is completely based off the opposing defense bringing up their safeties to help stop the run and then hit the huge play action bomb over the top. Jalen Robinette, who is as good of a receiver as any in the conference, is the big play guy. He had 210 yards receiving on just seven catches versus Utah State because of the play action passing game. San Diego State choose to keep two deep safeties most of the game and really took away the passing option for the Falcons. The Bears will have to pick their poison as to what they take away.

4. Cal badly struggles on special teams. Is Air Force in position to take advantage of Cal's struggles, particular in regards to kickoff returns?

The Falcons play it very conservative in the return game. Garrett Brown has returned a punt for a touchdown this year, but he is usually a fair catch machine most of the time. And playing in altitude, most kicks are touch backs in Falcons games. But, Tyler Williams and Bryan Driskall have the ability to take one to the house if given the opportunity. They both are involved in the offense running the ball at times so they have the capability to make a play in the special teams, they just haven't shown it this season.

5. Air Force has a long history of playing in this bowl under Coach Calhoun, including a really exciting (from our perspective!) game in 2007 vs Cal. How do Air Force players and fans feel about this bowl given how many times they've gone recently?

This will be Air Force's fifth time playing in the Armed Forces Bowl, so it feels like home to them. I think this bowl will take Air Force every time it is bowl eligible if it can. They tried to steal the Falcons away last year but the conference, in its mighty wisdom, made the Falcons go to the always inspiring Potato Bowl in Boise and play in cold and rainy conditions. The Falcons like this bowl game so everyone is happy in Colorado Springs.

6. Air Force has been remarkably consistent under Coach Calhoun, with one glaring exception: 2013. What went wrong, and how has Coach Calhoun so quickly righted

That was the year of the injured and ineffective quarterbacks. The Falcons started with Jaleel Awini at quarterback, but he got himself in trouble and eventually transferred that year to the University of Colorado where he played for the Buffaloes this year. Kale Pearson, last year's starter and the big reason Air Force was successful last year, got hurt as did this year's starter Karson Roberts. Nate Romine as a freshman started some games, but it was just a bad year with quarterbacks.

On top of that, the Falcons experimented with co-defensive coordinators and it was a disaster. They gave up over 40 points a game. Last year, Steve Russ took over as the only coordinator for defense and he has done a masterful job taking away the rushing attack of other teams.

7. Whose one under the radar player on offense and defense that Cal fans should know about?

Offensively, and no he was not involved in the Oklahoma City bombing, is running back Timothy McVey. He has been a late season wonder child in helping overcome all the injuries in the backfield this year for Air Force. In his last two games he has scored eight touchdowns. He is good as a receiver and runner.

Defensively, Roland Ladipo really made a name for himself at cornerback, joining safety Weston Steelhammer and defensive lineman Alex Hansen on the Mountain West All-conference team. Air Force really puts their cornerbacks on an island and Ladipo really responded well to that pressure.

8. Whom do you want to punch in the face? Why?

Is it bad that I have to eliminate people off a list to get you an answer? In the end I decided I want to judo chop Donald Trump in the throat so that he will just shut up for about five minutes.

9. Cal fans have a long memory - and we sit around and talk about inconsequential bowl games that happened almost a decade ago. Do you guys sit around and curse Kevin Riley and Desean Jackson and say things like "we were rolling them until our QB got hurt?"

You know, we are a pretty laid back sort out here in Colorado, and that was even before the 420 friendly marijuana laws were passed. Air Force, and really most college teams in Colorado, takes a back seat to the Broncos. So most Falcons fans would probably tell you they were more upset the Broncos didn't make the playoffs that year because of a bad defense than they would that Air Force lost to Cal in the bowl game. Sorry we don't fascinate on inconsequential bowls, we are just happy to get there or we are in search of a 7-11 for munchies.