Key Matchups: Army vs. Air Force

The ninth game of the year matches the Army Black Knights (Sagarin 81, 5-3) and the Rival Mountain West Conference Air Force Falcons (Sagarin 36, 5-4.) Air Force leads the all-time series 30-13-1, but has completely dominated the series since 1988 where they have compiled a 19-2 record against the Cadets.

What used to be a very spirited rivalry has become in recent years a week off for the Falcons, to the point where they will schedule their conference champions in the preceding weeks to their academy rival.  The Black Knights are rested and coming off an emotionless game against VMI.  The Falcons are banged up having fumbled away a great opportunity to beat the #8 Utes.

 

Last Week

Zzzzzzz. That best describes the proceedings between Army and VMI. Although the Keydets played hard and with heart as if it were the game of their lives, the Black Knights sleepwalked through this game as if they were playing a pick up touch football game during high school gym class. At the very least, they looked like they were jogging through this game while looking ahead to Air Force. The bad news is that they were unimpressive, and a few of their star players, namely QB Trent Steelman and DE Josh McNary, were virtual no shows for this game. Also, two key defensive stalwarts, LB Steven Anderson and NT Mike Gann went down with injuries, and their status for next week is unknown. The really good news is, unlike last year when the Black Knights played poorly against VMI and nearly lost, this year's team has the talent and experience to overcome a poor performance and win easily, anyway. Also, it makes a big difference that they now have a player like FB Jarred Hassin who can carry the offense by himself when things are going wrong.

 

On the day, Army had 388 yards, 316 on the ground.  Steelman had a tough day as he was only 4/11 for 65 yards, however a long touchdown strike was dropped.  He also had 42 yards rushing.  Hassin had 158 yards on 14 carries and 54 yards on 3 receptions – it was his third straight 100+ yard rushing performance – and Patrick Mealy had 97 yards on 18 carries.  The defense only had one sack as three different VMI QB's were careful to take short drops and not scramble for extra time.

 

On an interesting note, we think that Jonathan Bulls actually has a HUGE leg and is being coached to not outkick his coverage.  If unbridled, he would probably average well over 50 yards per punt. 

 

Also, Alex Carlton connected twice from greater than 40 yards.

 

In Colorado Springs, it was a much different affair.  The Falcons hosted #8 Utah and came roaring back in the fourth quarter to come up short 28-23.  Air Force fumbled the ball four times and Tim Jefferson threw an interception.  Air Force racked up 411 yards in total offense after being well contained against TCU.   Jefferson was 8/13 for 201 yards and ran for another 67.  Asher Clark, their talented fullback was contained to 53 yards on 11 carries.  The Falcons have lost three games in a row.  Three of the four losses have come to top 10 teams and the fourth was on the road against a feisty San Diego State Aztec team.

 

What to look for?

Army vs. Air Force. The Grunts vs. the Zoomies. A rivalry devoid of Army victories, over the past 20 years. History tells us that the Falcons will go a decade and lose once, maybe twice to the Black Knights. A win for Air Force on Saturday would make it five in a row in the all-time series.

 

But history also tells us that Army has had some famous victories at Michie Stadium over the Falcons through the years, particularly when postseason play was on the line (the 1984, 1988, and 1996 seasons come to mind). Alas, here we are now, and Army needs just one more win to become bowl eligible. With the brutal schedule that Air Force plays, and coming off a physically draining effort against Utah, the Falcons figure to have very little left in the tank for a game that does not really mean all that much to them. Also, a team that is travelling from the Mountain time zone to the East Coast to play what for them will be a 9:00 am game is highly likely to get off to a very slow start.

 

On the other side, this is a massive game for The Black Knights, the biggest game they have played at Michie Stadium since they defeated Air Force 23-7 on November 9, 1996, and one of the biggest games they have ever played. To put it in perspective, they have beaten Air Force only once since then, they have not had a winning season since then, and they have played some of the worst football that the game has ever seen on any level since then. Between the end of the '96 season and the start of this season, Army had gone 35-115. That includes an infamous two season stretch where they went 1-24. Their 2003 team that went 0-13 will go down as the worst to ever play the game, by a wide margin. Those of us who watched it all unfold could never forget just how bad things got in those days. A victory on Saturday will officially put an end to the bleakest and darkest era in the history of our storied program.

 

This game is not going to be so much about X's and O's as much as it will be about energy, effort and determination. This is not a matchup where either team has a significant physical advantage over the other in any area. Whereas Army's defensive front seven has struggled stopping the run against teams that could run with power between the tackles, Air Force's #1 ranked ground game is about anything but power running. We fully expect the Black Knights' double eagle flex to be able to contain their spread option attack, especially in the early going. Look for Air Force to come out a step slow and take a long time to get into this game.  Look for Army to jump all over them early with big plays on both sides of the ball. Look for Hassin to play with fire against his former team and rip off big gains on the ground and through the air as the Black Knights build a big lead. Then look for Air Force to wake up and come on strong in the 2nd half. The game should come down to whether or not Army has a big enough lead going in to the 4th quarter, and if they can protect it.

 

We think they will.

 

Who is favored?

Air Force is favored by 6.5

 

Final Score – Army 34 –Air Force 31 (predictions 2010, 4-4)

Game will be shown on CBSCSTV, 12:00PM EST.

 

Picks from the Ridge (predictions 2010, 1-2):

Hawaii +27 @ Boise St.

Miami -1 vs. Maryland

Kansas State +6 vs. Texas


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