FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Dave Aranda will call the defensive plays in the frigid Armed Forces Bowl against option-oriented Air Force for the first time since the Baylor coach was running the defense for LSU's national championship team three years ago.
Stepping into his office right now is like stepping back in time.
“It’s been a while,” Aranda said. “You go into my office now, my desk, I’ve got fits and drawings all over. I remember those days. It used to be a clean desk. It’s not like that anymore.”
Aranda fired defensive coordinator Ron Roberts at the end of a 6-6 regular season that followed a run to the 2021 Big 12 championship and Sugar Bowl victory over Mississippi. Roberts joined new Auburn coach Hugh Freeze’s staff as defensive coordinator.
Special teams coordinator and safeties coach Ronnie Wheat also were let go after the Bears finished in the middle of the pack in the Big 12 in defensive efficiency.
“I think what we’re trying to do here is probably different than most, and I just think it’s way important that everything’s together in terms of how we treat people and what we’re doing and all of it and the fit,” Aranda said. “I think we’re going to have a great fit moving forward.”
The forecast calls for temperatures in the teens with a sub-zero wind chill at the home of TCU, Baylor's Big 12 rival.
The Falcons (9-3) are making their sixth Armed Forces Bowl appearance, more than any team. Baylor's pedigree is probably the strongest of any of their opponents. It's the first meeting between the schools since 1977.
“I think it’s astounding when you look at their program and what they’ve done here over the last 12 years,” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. “So for us to encounter somebody like this in one game, our guys realize we’re really fortunate to be in this situation.”
The Falcons feature the vaunted triple-option offense and running back Brad Roberts, who has a school-record 1,612 yards rushing (134.3 per game).
Air Force leads the nation at 330.9 yards rushing per game, while Baylor allows 138. The Bears allowed three 100-yard rushers in their past four games, after only before that.
“I think whenever you face an option team, there’s not a lot of gray. It’s black and white,” Aranda said. “It’s a math game. It’s 11-on-11, but we have to make sure we’ve got the bounce numbers and the correct leverages.”
RUN, RUN REESE
Running back Richard Reese set a Baylor freshman record with 962 yards rushing to go with 14 touchdowns. He has three 100-yard games, but only 171 yards combined in the past four games.
With warnings of dangerous wind chill and temperatures far below freezing, officials canceled pregame activities that included a giant American flag presented during the national anthem, which has become a staple of the Armed Forces Bowl.
SOMETHING'S GOT TO GIVE
The Baylor defense was on the field for an average of about 27 1/2 minutes per game during the regular season. Air Force has the nation's best ball-control offense at more than 36 minutes per game.
ON A ROLL
Air Force has a four-game game winning streak and a shot at its fifth 10-win season since 2014. The Falcons went 15 years without one before that.
ONE LESS WORRY
The interior of Baylor's defensive line has Calhoun's attention, but All-Big 12 selection Siaki Ika opted out of the game. Presumably, the 6-foot-4, 358-pound nose tackle, an LSU transfer, will focus on getting ready for the NFL draft.
THIS LOOKS FAMILIAR
While Baylor is making the short trip from its Waco campus about 100 miles south of Fort Worth to play in a familiar stadium, Air Force has been a regular in the Dallas area recently.
The Falcons beat Louisville 31-28 in the First Responder Bowl at SMU in Dallas last December, then beat Army 13-7 in a neutral-site game at the home of MLB's Texas Rangers last month.
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