Armed Forces Bowl – a Bowl review; breaking down the predicted “keys to the game”

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After the excitement of last night’s Alamo Bowl, I’m still unsure whether that was an actual game or a simulation from NCAA College Football 12. Regardless, it was one of the most incredible offensive performances you will ever see. It was like playground football and each defense was apparently stuck in “two-hand touch” mode.

Today’s early match-up, the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl, is greatly overshadowed by last night’s barn-burner and featurs two teams in Tulsa and BYU who are very much the opposite of Washington and Baylor. BYU boasts one of the better overall defenses in the country – giving up only 316 yards total per game, while Tulsa averages 204 yards rushing per game and 454 total, that’s nearly 50 percent more yards that what BYU allows on average.

If you read any analysis of this matchup prior to kickoff, you would have seen analysts torn between which team has the upper hand. Hell, Bovada.lv listed Tulsa as only 2.5 point favorites so if you were in a bowl pick-em this year, I imagine you didn’t lay many confidence points on either team. Since this is the Armed Forces Bowl, I thought I’d stay with an Armed Forces-type theme – assess the damage after the fact. Unlike other bowl games, which all had SaturdayBlitz previews, I wanted to use the Armed Forces Bowl to provide the first bowl review. How did the goals and keys to the game stand up through 4 quarters of action?

There were two specific sets of keys to the game for each team which I’d like to review. ESPN.com posted three for each team as did Fox Sports. In addition, the Bleacher Report published five key match ups to the game which I’ll break down as well. Before we begin, let’s give a quick recap of what took place between the white lines at Gerald Ford Stadium on the campus of Southern Methodist University.


As the last team to score, BYU went out 24-21 winners in its first bowl game as an independent. It took a late rally and a two-yard touchdown pass from Riley Nelson to Cody Hoffman – their third scoring connection of the game – for BYU to secure the win in a game that featured just enough offense to captivate the attention of those early-risers and enough late-game drama to draw in those who slept in.

From Andrea Adelson via ESPN.com:

"BYU1. Slow down G.J. Kinne. There is no question that Kinne is the most valuable player on the Tulsa offense because he can do a variety of things. Kinne leads the team with an average of 273.4 yards of total offense per game and is always a threat to run out of the backfield.2. Stop the run. Tulsa averages more than 200 yards on the ground per game, so making sure the Golden Hurricane are not running at will and chewing up clock will be a huge part of this game.3. Keep Nelson healthy. BYU goes into this game with no experience behind Nelson, so it is going to be extremely important to protect the starting quarterback. Nelson can run, and he is not afraid to give up his body — that already led to one injury this season in which he missed several games.Tulsa1. Run it. Just as BYU has to make an effort to stop the run, Tulsa is going to try to run the football effectively. The Golden Hurricane failed to rush for more than 100 yards just once all season — against North Texas. They also have rushed for 200 or more yards five times this season.2. Force third-and-long. Third-down defense is going to be important for Tulsa in this game. BYU ranks No. 3 in the nation in third-down conversions at 52.94 percent. Tulsa has not been the best in this category, ranking No. 83 in third-down defense while allowing opponents to convert 42.7 percent of the time.3. Limit the mistakes. Neither team has been great in turnover margin. In fact, both teams are in negative territory here."

From Anthony Andro via FoxSportsSouthwest.com:

"Tulsa1. Establish the run — The Golden Hurricane have a standout quarterback in Texan G.J. Kinne, but the key to them winning seven of their final eight games was the running attack. Sophomore Trey Watts and former Arlington Lamar standout Ja’Terian Douglas each rushed for more than 800 yards this season.2. Shake off the rust — When the ball is kicked off, it will mark the first time Tulsa has played in a game since getting thumped by Houston 48-16 on Nov. 25. Blankenship has tried to take it easy on his team in practice to limit injuries, but that all changes once the game begins.3. Send G.J. out a winner — Kinne needs just 124 yards to surpass 3,000 for the second consecutive season… Friday’s game will be special for the native Texan, who has family coming in from Mesquite, Sherman and Gilmer to watch the former prep standout play his final game.BYU1. Take advantage of its size — BYU has a deep and experienced offensive line, with three of the starters seniors and two others juniors… All five of the BYU starters weigh in at more than 300 pounds, with center Terence Brown tipping the scales at 318.2. Get Riley going — Inconsistency at quarterback early helped lead to a 1-2 start for the Mustangs. But junior Riley Nelson has solidified the spot with his play… He should be able to take advantage of a Tulsa secondary… that ranks 118th nationally in pass defense, allowing 289.33 yards a game.3. Control the clock — While Tulsa has won eight games despite having the ball for fewer than 28 minutes a game, that’s not what works for the Cougars. BYU averages more than 31 minutes of possession a game."

And finally, from Austin Fox via BleacherReport.com

"1. Cougar Rush Offense vs. Tulsa2. Cougar Passing Attack vs. Tulsa3. How Will Tulsa Rebound?4. G.J. Kinne vs. Cougar Defense5. Tulsa Rush Attack vs. Cougar Defense"

Wow, Bleacher Report really pulled out all the stops to come up with some unique matchups to watch. Apparently the key matchups were the BYU rushing and passing attack, the Tulsa rushing and passing attack, and Tulsa rebounding from their most-recent game November 25 which was a 48-16 shellacking to Houston. I feel like any analysis of the game will cover those five areas so we’ll forget about them for now. Okay, on to the analysis.

BYU

  • Slow down G.J. Kinnie – SUCCESS
  • Stop the run – SUCCESS
  • Keep Nelson healthy – PUSH
  • Take advantage of its size – PUSH
  • Get Riley going – FAIL
  • Control the clock – SUCCESS

BYU did a masterful job absolutely shutting down the potent Tulsa rushing attack that had only been held under 100 yards once all season. The Cougars limited the two-headed rushing attack of Ja’Terian Douglas and Trey Watts, each of whom rushed for more than 800 yards this season, to a combined 38 yards on just 14 carries. While Watts had 39 yards on 10 carries, Douglas’ long was five-yards and yet he finished the game with -1 yards total.

From the perspective of slowing G.J. Kinnie down in the running game, BYU also excelled. With 13 rushing attempts in the game, Kinnie had a long of 7 yards and totalled -1 yards total – just like Douglas. He did have some success throwing the ball, completing 17-of-31 passes and tossing three touchdowns, he still only threw for 215 yards.

On offense, the only key at which BYU totally failed was getting Riley Nelson going. Nelson entered the game averaging 175 total yards per game but passed for at least 200 yards in six of his final seven games, including a season-high 363 yards against Hawai’i in the last game of the season. It took Nelson only 17 completions to rack up 250 yards passing, but he needed 40 attempts to complete those 17 passes.

As far as keeping him healthy, BYU never did have to result to playing its backup, but looking at the stat-line Nelson was hit quite a bit. He was sacked five times, and with the exception of a 14-yard run, he gained just 2 yards on 12 carries. He also threw two interceptions which tell the story of a quarterback who was under pressure for much of the game. The pressure on the quarterback tells the story of an offensive line that couldn’t quite use its size and experience to push around an under-sized Tulsa defensive line. At the same time, however, Tulsa wasn’t as successful stopping the run as BYU was since the Cougars nearly tripled Tulsa’s rushing totals and with 98 yards on 40 carries.

Tulsa

  • Run it. – FAIL
  • Establish the run – FAIL
  • Force third-and-long – SUCCESS
  • Limit the mistakes – FAIL
  • Shake off the rust – PUSH
  • Send G.J. out a winner – FAIL

For Tulsa, let’s start at the bottom, sending G.J. Kinnie out a winner. Obviously this was not the case as the Tulsa defense couldn’t prevent Nelson and the Cougar offense from scoring the winning touchdown with 11 seconds remaining, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t put up a valiant effort. Despite the lack-of-success moving the ball, Kinnie was able to throw three touchdowns, connecting first with Ricky Johnson five minutes in to the game, and then later to Clay Sears in the second quarter and finally Bryan Burnham in the fourth.

The relatively quick first quarter touchdown should be looked at as evidence of Tulsa successfully shaking off the rust and coming out firing. On the opening drive, Tulsa capped an 11-play, 76-yard drive when Johnson hauled in an 8-yard pass for the score. Unfortunately, Tulsa failed to gain so much as a first down on its next three drives, gaining only six yards. After the second touchdown pass midway through the second quarter, Tulsa’s next five drives looked like this: 3 plays-19 yards, punt; 1-2, end of half; 3-(-4), punt; 4-6, missed FG; 4-11, punt. That took us all the way until Tulsa’s last drive of the game, which was 58 yards on nine plays and resulted in the go-ahead touchdown with 2:14 left. With the missed field goal and two lost fumbles, one of which came on a punt return and resulted in a BYU touchdown, it’s clear Tulsa couldn’t limit mistakes.

We already know the running game for Tulsa was abysmal, but let’s put it into perspective. BYU allowed just more than 100 yards rushing per game while Tulsa averaged more than 200, so you knew something had to give. After averaging exactly 5 yards per attempt during the regular season, Tulsa gained only 1.2 yards per rushing attempt. Only once all year was Tulsa held under 100 yards rushing, when they gained only 98 yards against North Texas. They surpassed 360 yards rushing twice – 365 against Oklahoma State and 380 against Marshall – and in all but two games had at least 155 yards rushing – surpassing the 200-yard mark five times. Not only was the 37 yards rushing 61 yards below their worst output of the season, the 27 carries were the second-fewest for Tulsa all year, only besting the North Texas game by three carries.

The biggest success for Tulsa came forcing third-and-long. Of the 21 third downs BYU attempted to convert, 15 of them had the Cougars needing gains of at least six yards. BYU ranked No. 3 in the nation with a 52.94 percent third-down conversion rate and on third-and-longs, the Cougars converted only four of the 15. Both times Tulsa forced 3rd-and-15, Riley Nelson threw interceptions. What hurt Tulsa however, was the the fourth-and-long conversion they allowed on the final drive when Nelson scrambled for 14 yards on 4th and 9 from the Tulsa 47-yard line. It was only the fourth play of the 12 play drive and a stop could have won Tulsa the game.

In the end, Tulsa failed on 4 of its 6 keys with one push while BYU succeeded on 3 of its 6 with two pushes. If we based the outcome of the game on who won more keys than BYU would come out a winner – and they did.