Head-to-Head: Army vs. Air Force

The Army Black Knights take on service academy rival Air Force on Saturday at Michie Stadium. For Army this is their chance to stake a claim for the annual Commander-in-Chief's Trophy which they haven't won since 1996.

Air Force, which already has lost to Navy, can only hope to retain the trophy this year with a win over Army who would then have to beat Navy. Army enters the game after a 30-22 lost against Ball State. In its last contest Air Force had an impressive victory defeating Nevada 48-31. In last year's game the Black Knights took a 14-0 half-time lead only to squander it as Air Force scored 24 straight unanswered points in the second half to defeat Army 24-14.

Army's Rushing Offense
VS.
Air Force's Rushing Defense
Edge: Army
Army is leading the nation in rushing, averaging over 383 rushing yards per game. Quarterback Trent Steelman (810 yards, 5.4 avg., 10 TDs) has run the ball very well the past two weeks. Fullback Larry Dixon (502 yards, 5.5 avg., 5 TDs) has been bothered by a strained hamstring but should be ready to go. Junior back-up fullback Hayden Tippett ran 20 times for 100 yards and scored a touchdown last week against Ball State. Tippett's fumble ended a promising drive just before the end of the first half. Junior A-back Raymond Maples leads Army with 834 rushing yards. Last year Maples ran for 132 yards on 17 carries against Air Force. C-back Malcolm Brown (368 yards, 8.0 avg., 3 TDs) has scored a rushing touchdown in three consecutive games. Army's center Ryan Powis dominated the Air Force nose guards last year.

Air Force has defended the option attacks of its fellow service academies very well under Troy Calhoun. The Falcons have been able to limit the pitch the last few years. Last year Army rushed for 286 yards in the first half and only 54 in the second half. In the second half Air Force tightened its defensive front playing over the guards. They decided to take away the A-Back and fullback and make backup Max Jenkins beat them running the option. It was a smart move since Jenkins lacked the athleticism to make many plays with his feet. If they do that against Trent Steelman he can make them pay. This year Air Force is ranked 107th in the nation in rushing defense and are allowing 215 yards per game. Despite their struggles, the Falcons held the nation's leading rusher (Nevada's Stefphon Jefferson) to 93 yards last week, which is 63 yards below his average per game. The strength of the Falcons 3-4 defense is their linebackers. Hard hitting inside linebacker Austin Niklas leads the team with 75 tackles and has forced three fumbles. Outside linebacker Alex Means was the Falcons best player in 2011. He made 77 tackles and posted six sacks last season. This season Means has 60 tackles, two sacks and two interceptions.

Army's Passing Offense
VS.
Air Force's Pass Defense
Edge: Air Force
Army quarterback Trent Steelman has completed 25 of 55 passes (45.5%) for 394 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions this season. Wide receiver Chevaughn Lawrence leads the Black Knights with 13 catches for 227 yards while averaging 17.5 yards a reception. Patrick Laird (8 rec., 101 yards, 12.6 avg., 1 TD) was shutout against Ball State but just missed out on a touchdown reception. Malcolm Brown's wobbly pass was initially caught by Laird for an apparent touchdown; however, a Ball State defender reached in and swatted the ball at the last second as Laird was attempting to secure the catch.

The Air Force secondary isn't as talented as it's been in the recent past. The Falcons are ranked 79th in the nation in pass defense. They struggled early in their season generating a pass rush but have improved over the past month. Senior Brian Lindsay (56 tackles, 1 INT.) is back at strong safety. At cornerback junior Chris Miller (26 tackles) has regained his starting role after losing his job last year. Fellow cornerback Steffon Batts is tied for the team lead with two interceptions and has recorded 61 tackles.

Air Force's Rushing Offense
VS.
Army Rushing Defense
Edge: Air Force
The Air Force football team is ranked second, behind Army, in the nation in rushing while averaging over 366 rushing yards per game. Running back Cody Getz, who ranks fourth in the nation in rushing with an average of 132.6 yards per game, has been limited lately with a sprained left ankle. Getz left the team's Oct. 13 victory over Wyoming with a sprained left ankle. He tried to play against New Mexico but left after re-injuring it and missed the game against Nevada. His status will probably be a game time decision. New starting quarterback Connor Dietz (527 rushing yards, 5.7 avg., 4 TDs) has done a terrific job in leading the Falcons offense to an average of 34.5 points per game. Senior fullback Mike DeWitt (174 yards, 3 TDs) returned to action a few weeks ago after missing three games. DeWitt led the Falcons with 12 touchdowns last year. Sophomore Jon Lee has averaged 5.7 yards a carry and scored three touchdowns. Senior Wes Cobb replaced Getz against Nevada and ran for a career-high 152 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries. Air Force has run multiple reverse and pitch plays to take advantage of wide receiver Ty MacArthur's speed. MacArthur has run for 375 yards on 37 carries and has scored two touchdowns. Jason Kons, who has started the last few years at tackle, is the Falcons best lineman.

Army's defense is ranked 116th against the run. They are allowing nearly 37 points per game. Last season Army held the Falcons to only 179 rushing yards which is well below their season average of 326 rushing yards per game. The Black Knights played a 5-2 look most of the game and allowed just 3.3 yards per carry. Army's inexperienced defense will be challenged by the Falcons option attack. Mike linebacker Geoffrey Bacon has recorded a team high 87 tackles this year. Bacon has sideline-to-sideline range but must be more consistent squaring up and making tackles. All season the Black Knights defensive linemen have been consistently unable to get off their blocks to make a tackles. The Black Knights will have to limit the fullback for Army's defense to have success against the Falcons option attack.

Air Force's Passing Offense
VS.
Army's Passing Defense
Edge: Air Force
Conner Deitz is a very accurate passer for an option quarterback. Deitz has completed 63.2 percent of his passes for 847 yards and has thrown seven touchdown passes. Dietz, who ranks sixth in the Mountain West in total offense (166.7 yards per game) , has yet to throw an interception in 69 attempts this season. At wide receiver Ty MacArthur (18 rec., 346 yards, 1 TD), Drew Coleman (8 rec., 215 yards 3 TDs) offer Dietz a number of speedy targets. Air Force is the only team in the FBS that has not allowed a quarterback sack this season. The Falcons have not given up a sack in nine of their last ten games, dating back to Nov. 12, 2011 versus Wyoming.

Army's defense has done a nice job limiting its fellow service academies rushing attacks the last few years only to be burned deep over the top by their passing games. Last year Army was able to pressure the Falcons when they attempted to pass. Quick end Zach Watts (5 tackles, 2 for a loss vs. AF in 2011) recorded a sack in last year's game. The Black Knights are hopeful that their best defensive player, bandit linebacker, Nate Combs (29 tackles, six sacks, 2 pass def.) will be able to play after sitting out two games with an injured shoulder. Army's young secondary is ranked 118th in the nation against the pass. Rover Alex Meier made ten tackles, had a sack and caused an interception against Ball State. Meier, a plebe who was the defensive MVP at USMAPS last year, had his best game since being named a starter.

Special Teams
Edge: Air Force
Kicker Parker Herrington has struggled all season. Herrington has hit just 3 of 8 field goal attempts. He made 15 of 18 field goal attempts last year. Herrington hit both attempts last game against Nevada, including one from 45 yards out, so maybe he is finally out of his slump. Punter David Baska has averaged an impressive 47.2 yards on his 15 punts. The Falcons lost dangerous return man Anthon LaCoste who was averaging 29.1 yards on 15 kickoff returns. He will be replaced by Kendall Brock. Ty MacArthur has averaged 7.6 per punt return. The Falcons do a solid job on coverage teams and have historically been very good on special teams blocking kicks.

Army's plebe field goal kicker Dan Grochowski hit two of three attempts last week against Ball State. On the season he's been a solid 8-of-11 field goal attempts. Army punter Chris Boldt is averaging 40.7 yards per punt this year. Boldt has downed five kicks inside the 20-yard line. Eric Osteen continues to do a great job on kickoffs. Osteen has 20 touchbacks out of his 36 kickoffs. Julian Crockett averaged 20.6 yards on his five kickoff returns. Crockett has some quickness to make the first man miss but lacks a high end gear. Josh Jackson returned to handling punts but had no returns last game. Army's coverage teams continue to be solid since allowing a kick return touchdown during the opening game although Jamill Smith scared Army fans on two returns.

Coaching
Edge: Air Force
Troy Calhoun is the only coach in service academy football to lead his team to at least eight wins and a bowl game in each of his first four seasons. Calhoun has dramatically changed the culture at Air Force from the last few years under Fisher DeBerry era (2004-2006, 13-21 .382 winning percentage). Calhoun's teams are physical, chippy and aggressive. His career record at Air Force is 41-24. Calhoun has done an excellent job rebuilding his team after a somewhat disappointing 7-6 season last year. They've have won their last three games while overcoming a number of injuries. Calhoun has been honored as the Mountain West Coach of the Year and was once a finalist for National Coach of the Year. His offense, which features multiple formations and looks, has been impressive.

Rich Ellerson and his staff have struggled getting consistency from both sides of the ball. Army has been able rack up rushing yards but scoring has been inconsistent. The Black Knights offense has averaged over 37 points in half their games while producing just a 12 point average in their other four. The defense is a bad mix of eight underclassmen starting on a defensive group that lacks size and speed. The Black Knight defense is allowing nearly 37 points per game. Even last year's struggling defense allowed just over 28 points per game. Army has won only one of its last 12 games under Ellerson.

Intangibles
Edge: Army
Air Force has won 21 of the last 23 meetings and leads the series 32-13-1. Last year may have been the bitterest defeat. Army completely outplayed the Falcons early and took a 14-0 half-time lead only to squander it as Air Force scored 24 straight unanswered points in the second half. In the last game a terrible official's call and a costly fumble cost Army two touchdowns and a victory. Army hopes to get some payback at Michie Stadium.

Air Force seems to find a way to win and doesn't back down from any challenge. Air Force will step on the field expecting to beat Army while the Black Knights seem to hope for a victory.

PREDICTION: Army, 38-31. Army will have trouble defensively keeping Air Force's running game in check. However, Air Force's defense isn't very good against the run. Having a healthy Trent Steelman ready to play helps Army. Last year they ran the ball down the Falcons throat in the first half until Air Force realized that replacement QB Max Jenkins didn't have the speed to hurt them and adjusted. While Air Force did a nice job defending against Nevada last game the week before they allowed 409 rushing yards to New Mexico. Army should have won last year's game. Air Force is the better team but I have a feeling the Black Knights pull an upset at home.

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