Air Force Falcons at Louisville Cardinals: 2021 Servpro First Responder Bowl Gambling Guide - Dec. 28
The Air Force Falcons (9-3) will look to complete a double-digit victory season with a win over the Lousiville Cardinals (6-6) in the First Responder Bowl.
After opening the season 3-1, the Cardinals went on to lose five of their next eight and barely squeaked into a bowl appearance. On the other side, Air Force finished the season strong as they scored an average of 41.3 points to finish the season with three straight wins.
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How do these teams match up, and who has the edge? Well, let's find out.
Why Louisville Can Cover:
- 2-3 ATS in last five games
- 6-6 ATS this season
- The total has gone OVER in three of the last four games
- 12-3 SU in last 15 games as the favorite
If you like offense, then all eyes should be on the Cardinals. On the season, Lousiville is 27th in scoring, 15th in total yards, and eighth in yards per play. They lost by 31 in their last game, but over the last three games for Lousiville, the Birds are averaging 41.3 points and 473.6 yards per game.
The Cardinals are not a great passing team, but quarterback Malik Cunningham is Lousiville's most dynamic quarterback since Lamar Jackson. It is hard to call yourself a great passing team when your starting quarterback has more rushing touchdowns (19) than passing touchdowns (18). However, Lousiville picked up 8.2 yards per pass, and they gained a respectful 234.8 passing yards per game.
Cunningham is also Louisville's leading rusher (968 yards), and he is picking up six yards per rush whenever he takes off. Although Air Force is among the best at stopping the run this season, stopping an athletic quarterback like Cunningham is a different task.
As a whole, Lousiville rushed for 2,536 yards and 27 touchdowns on 5.4 yards per carry. That is a very effective pace, and if the Cardinals can keep up with their averages, and possibly throw in a big pass every now and then, they will be in a good position to win this game.
Why Air Force Can Cover:
- 7-2 ATS in last nine games
- 8-4 ATS this season
- The total has gone UNDER in 10 of the last 15 games
- 5-12 SU in last 17 games as an underdog
Much like Louisville, Air Force's best ability is the rushing attack, and nobody does it better than Air Force.
The Falcons are the No.1 team in the country in rushes per game (64.7), rush play percentage (87%), and rushing yards per game (338.9). I know, it is shocking to see a service academy lead the nation in rushing, especially since they run the triple-option.
Air Force is led by running back Brad Roberts, who rushed for 1,279 yards and 13 touchdowns this season. He is just one of five Air Force players with over 300 yards rushing, and Roberts is in his first full year of starting. The combination of Roberts and quarterback Haaziq Daniels, who is the second-leading rusher for Air Force, play a big reason as to why it is so hard to stop this team.
Time of possession is going to be the reason Air Force can win this game, and with a defense that is in the top 10 in yards per game, yards per rush, rushing yards per game, and pass completion percentage, they have a very good chance at doing so.
If the running game is working as it has all season then I would expect the Falcons to try and air it out a bit. Well, air it out as much as a team like Air Force can.
Air Force is fourth in the country in yards per pass (9.6), and leading receiver, Brandon Lewis is averaging 28 yards per reception. They certainly will not beat anyone just based on the passing stats, but it is a tool you can bust out every once in a while to keep drives alive, catch defenses off guard, or just mix it up out there.
First Responder Bowl Best Bet:
*Odds via FanDuel Sportsbook
I mentioned earlier just how good the Air Force defense is against the run, and that might just serve as the key to this game.
The identity of both teams is to run the football, so whoever is better equipped to stop the run has the clear edge in this one.
Air Force is only allowing 100.3 rushing yards per game and 3.3 yards per rush. When you consider that a good majority of the teams they play run the football, it makes it even more impressive.
On the other side, Louisville's defense is ranked 90th in yards per rush and 73rd in rushing yards per game. If these numbers hold, then Air Force is the clear play in this game.
Pick: Air Force ML (-106)
Photo: Getty Images