It’ll be Air Raid vs. Air Force later this month as the Washington State Cougars head to a program record fifth consecutive bowl game under coach Mike Leach.
Washington State’s 2019 football season, one that’s traversed through as many high points as it has low points, will conclude with a post-Christmas trip to Arizona, where the Cougars will play Air Force in the Cheez-It Bowl.
The Phoenix-based bowl game will kick off at 7:15 p.m. on Dec. 27 at Chase Field, home of the MLB’s Arizona Diamondbacks.
It’ll the first-ever meeting between the Pac-12 Cougars (6-6, 3-6) and the Mountain West Conference Falcons (10-2, 7-1), who carry a seven-game win streak into the postseason.
WSU enters the postseason coming off of a 31-13 loss to Washington in the Apple Cup.
The game will feature two distinct offensive styles — Leach’s Air Raid, which leads the country in passing yards (5,332), against Troy Calhoun’s triple-option, a run heavy scheme that’s allowed the Falcons to rush for 292.5 yards per game, which is good enough for second in the FBS.
WSU has played in the Arizona bowl game once before, as has Leach, but the trips were separated by 14 years.
The Cougars’ only appearance in the Cheez-It Bowl, then named the Copper Bowl, came in 1992 when WSU beat Utah 31-28 in Tucson, Ariz.
In Drew Bledsoe’s final game as a collegian, the WSU quarterback completed 30-of-46 passes for 476 yards — a school record at the time — and threw two touchdowns to Phillip Bobo, who finished with seven receptions for 212 yards. Even after rushing out to a 21-0 lead, the Cougars needed a 22-yard field goal from Aaron Price late in the fourth quarter to seal the program’s third bowl victory.
In 2006, the game had been moved to Tempe and renamed the Insight Bowl when Leach’s seventh Texas Tech team earned a berth and staged the biggest comeback in bowl history.
The Red Raiders overcame a 31-point deficit in the third quarter to edge Minnesota 44-41 in overtime, with current USC offensive coordinator and former WSU assistant Graham Harrell nabbing Offensive MVP honors. Antonio Huffman, who was Leach’s longtime Director of Football Operations at WSU, was the defensive MVP and current Cougars interim co-defensive coordinator/cornerbacks coach Darcel McBath had five tackle.
The Cougars, who appeared in the Sun Bowl (2015), the Holiday Bowl (2016, 2017) and the Alamo Bowl (2019) are attempting to finish with a winning record for the fifth consecutive year under Leach with what would be their third postseason victory under the eighth-year coach.
The Falcons are playing in their 10th bowl game under Calhoun, who’s been at the helm since 2007, and have a 4-5 postseason record since the 53-year-old took over.
Cheez-It Bowl Breakdown
Air Force (10-2, Mountain West) vs. Washington State (6-6, Pac-12), Dec. 27, 7:15 p.m. (ESPN) at Phoenix
Air Force: QB Donald Hammond III, 1,286 yards passing, 13 touchdowns; 491 yards rushing, 11 touchdowns.
Washington State: Anthony Gordon, 5,228 yards passing, 45 touchdowns.
Air Force: This will be the Falcons’ second Power Five opponent this season. They beat Colorado 30-23 in overtime on Sept. 14.
Washington State: Coach Mike Leach, the subject of much speculation, agreed to a one-year contract extension last week that would keep him in Pullman through 2024.
The teams have never met.
Air Force: The Falcons are playing in their first bowl game since 2016.
Washington State: The Cougars have an 8-7 bowl record. They beat Iowa State in the Alamo Bowl last season.