HEAD TO HEAD: ARMY VS. AIR FORCE

Army meets rival Air Force on Saturday at Michie Stadium. ArmySports.com's Jim Lawler compares the two teams in several critical areas. We also make a prediction on the game's final score.

The Army Black Knights will meet service academy rival the Air Force Falcons at a sold-out Michie Stadium this Saturday. Army had a week layoff following a disappointing 39-17 road loss to Kent State which dropped their record to 2-5. The Falcons enter the game 5-2 following a 35-31 win over New Mexico. The Falcons beat Navy 30-21 on Oct. 4 in Colorado Springs and have the opportunity to win the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy this weekend.

ARMY PASSING OFFENSE
VS.
AIR FORCE PASSING DEFENSE
EDGE: AIR FORCE
REMARKS: Army's quarterback Angel Santiago has completed 26-of-44 passes (59.1%) for 342 yards with a touchdown and interception. Santiago is fairly accurate but his lack of arm strength often causes his passes to drift when he throws downfield. Edgar Poe leads the team with seven receptions for 168 yards, a 24.0 average, and a touchdown. Poe has caught passes in five games this year. Slotback Tony Giovannelli is tied for the team lead with seven receptions for 104 receiving yards. He will make the tough catch in traffic. Sophomore wide receiver Xavier Moss leads the team with two touchdown receptions. Moss has six receptions for 52 receiving yards and a 8.7 average. Moss trails his plebe numbers when he led the team in 2013 with 35 receptions for 463 yards and a touchdown. Moss is the Black Knight’s best deep threat but needs to cut down on the dropped passes. Army's offensive line ranks a poor 124th in sack percentage and could have trouble with the Falcons blitz packages. Santiago completed 8-of-14 passes for 109 passing yards last year against Air Force.

The Air Force secondary has improved as they are ranked 88th in the nation in pass defense playing in the pass happy Mountain West Conference. They are allowing 250 passing yards per game. The Falcons shut down Boise State passing attack when they forced five interceptions. Sophomore strong safety Weston Steelhammer has been impressive. He leads the Falcons with three interceptions and three sacks. Free safety Christian Spears has an interception, four passes defensed and has posted 46 tackles. He is a good player with excellent range and instincts. He had 12 tackles in last year’s game. The Falcons have been a lot more aggressive using multiple blitz packages this season to help their secondary. They have recorded an impressive twenty sacks so far this year with seven different players posting two or more sacks. Army probably could have some success throwing against the Air Force cornerbacks but the key question is whether the Army offensive line will be able to pass protect.

ARMY RUSHING OFFENSE
VS.
AIR FORCE RUSHING DEFENSE
EDGE: AIR FORCE
REMARKS: The Black Knights are ranked 4th in the nation in rushing. They are averaging over 319 rushing yards per game. Army's offense has struggled the last two games as they failed to run for 300 yards. The Black Knights had run for 341 yards or more in four of the first five games. Senior "B" back Larry Dixon leads Army with 683 rushing yards while scoring five touchdowns. Last game he moved into fifth place all-time in Academy rushing history with 2,769 rushing yards for his career. Quarterback Angel Santiago leads the team with six rushing touchdowns and has run for 543 yards and a 5.1 yards per carry average. Slotback Terry Baggett ran for 121 yards and touchdown last year against the Falcons. Army ran for 308 yards, averaged 4.4 yards per carry and had four rushing touchdowns in last year's game. On this week's depth chart the quarterback position has Santiago and Schurr listed as even.

The Air Force's 3-4 defense has played the run well after struggling in 2013 on defense. The Falcons are ranked a solid 47th in the nation and are allowing just over 147 rushing yards per game. Air Force's leading tacklers are their inside linebackers. Senior linebacker Jordan Pierce leads Air Force with 60 tackles, 9 1/2 tackles for a loss, two sacks, two interceptions, a blocked kick and a pass broken up. He is a big play linebacker. His fellow inside linebacker Connor Healy has made 53 tackles, two sacks, a fumble recovery and forced a fumble. Healy had a career-high 14 tackles last week. Defensive end Alex Hanson (27 tackles, 5 1/2 TFL 2 1/2 sacks) had six tackles last fall against the Black Knights. Army had excellent success running against the Falcons when they employed the wishbone the last three years. The Black Knights now use the Navy-Georgia Southern spread option which Air Force has defended very well over the years. The Falcons held Navy to 251 rushing yards and two touchdowns in their 30-21 victory. The Falcons have held four opponents to 21 points or less this year.

AIR FORCE PASSING OFFENSE
VS.
ARMY PASSING DEFENSE
EDGE: AIR FORCE
REMARKS: Air Force quarterback Kale Pearson has completed 61-of-107 passes (57.8%) for 957 passing yards with seven touchdowns and one interception. He has thrown the ball for over 200 passing yards twice this year and threw three touchdown passes against Navy. His best performance was against Georgia State when he completed 12-of-15 passes for 224 yards and two scores. The Falcons leading receiver Jalen Robinette has 25 receptions for 475 yards, averages 19.0 per catch and a touchdown. Jalen Robinette has the size and speed rarely seen in an Air Force receiver. He scored on a 50-yard reception last week against New Mexico to give the Falcons the lead. The Air Force coaches beat Army's old staff on the recruiting trail for Robinette. These are the recruiting battles that the new staff will need to win if it hopes to turn the program around. Junior Garrett Brown has 22 catches for 342 yards, a 15.5 average, and a team leading five touchdowns. Brown is a dual threat who has run for 173 rushing yards, a 6.2 average and a score. The Falcons do a much better job protecting their quarterback than the other service academies. They are ranked 44th in the nation in sack percentage.

The Black Knights pass defense is ranked 104th in the nation. Army is allowing over 269 passing yards a game. The secondary is the most disappointing area of the defense. It was hoped that it would be a strength. The Black Knights are allowing 67.6 percent of the passes to be completed with 19 touchdowns. This unit has suffered a lot of attrition since last year. The one constant has been the exemplary play of cornerback Josh Jenkins. He had an interception and a career-best 13 tackles against Kent State to earn FBS Independent Defensive Player of the Week honors. Josh Jenkins was named to the first team Midseason All-Independent team by Phil Steele. Jenkins is easily the best player on the Army defense. He's posted 43 tackles, three tackles for losses, picked off three passes and batted down eight others. The big concern entering this game is the Army unsettled safety situation. Tevin Long is listed as the potential starter at free safety and strong safety is Luke Prioux on the depth chart. This would be Long first start and Prioux has just one start under his belt. Not an ideal situation from an experience perspective when facing a team like Air Force that loves to run misdirection, play action and trick plays.

AIR FORCE RUSHING OFFENSE
VS.
ARMY RUSHING DEFENSE
EDGE: AIR FORCE
REMARKS: The Falcons enter the game ranked 11th in the nation in rushing at 273-yards per game. Air Force has moved away from the flexbone and those rushing totals are down from recent season because they are running a more diverse attack with multiple formations and sets. The change has been successful with the Falcons scoring 30.6 points per game. Head coach Troy Calhoun wanted his quarterbacks to avoid taking so many hits. Quarterback Kale Pearson was injured in the opening game last year and missed the rest of the reason. Last season he lost three quarterbacks so this year his quarterbacks are carrying the ball only 25% of the time. Jacobi Owens leads the running backs with 143 carries, for 735 yards with a 5.1 yards per carry and four touchdowns. Kale Pearson is second on the team with 370 yards and four scores. Sophomore running back D.J. Johnson ran for 51 yards and scored three touchdowns last week against New Mexico. Senior center Michael Husar Jr., is the best player on what has been a very productive offensive line.

Army is ranked 80st in the country versus the run. The Black Knights are allowing over 176 rushing yards per game. Sophomore inside linebacker Jeremy Timpf was named to Phil Steele Midseason All-Independent team first team defense. Timpf leads the Black Knights with 58 tackles, nine tackles for a loss, is tied for the team lead with three interceptions, has broken up six passes and forced a fumble while recovering another. Twice he has been named FBS Independent Defensive Player of the Week. Fellow inside linebacker Andrew King needs to play well and maintain his gap responsibilities. King is second on the team in tackles with 44, has four tackles for a loss, two sacks and two passes defensed. Army is allowing 35.9 points per game and they have to play much sounder than recent games if they hope to defeat Air Force.

SPECIAL TEAMS
EDGE: AIR FORCE
REMARKS: Will Conant has a very strong leg and handles both the kicking and punting duties for the Falcons As a kicker Will Conant has hit all 23 PATs and 10-of-11 field goals. He has hit four field goals over fifty yards during his career. Conant is averaging 43.9 yards per punt with 11 inside the 20. He a weapon and is an automatic and a clutch kicker. Kickoff specialist Drew Oehrle has a huge leg with a total of 24 touchbacks on his 41 kickoffs. After trying a few different players the Falcons have settled on speedy Garrett Brown who is averaging 5.5 yards per punt return. Jon Lee averages 22.5 on kickoff returns. Air Force has historically excelled on special teams. They have blocked three kicks this season. The Falcons have blocked 26 kicks since 2007 under head coach Troy Calhoun.

Junior Daniel Grochowski has made 3-of-6 field goal attempts after opening the year missing his first three attempts including two costly ones against Yale. He has made 20-of-22 extra point attempts. He has 12 touchbacks on 34 kickoffs. Air Force blocked a field goal attempt by Daniel last year. Punter Alex Tardieu is averaging 40 yards on 27 punts with 12 of his punts being fair caught, 11 being placed inside the 20-yard line and four traveling over 50 yards. Tardieu has been one of Army's best players. Returner Josh Jenkins has good speed but Army is averaging 1.7 on punt returns and 17.4 on kickoff returns. The blocking of the return teams has been terrible. Army has gone 491 kickoffs and 348 returns and 349 punts and 125 punt returns without a score since 2007. The coverage teams have done a nice job holding opponents to just a 3.0 punt return average and a 19.5 kickoff return average

COACHING
EDGE: AIR FORCE
REMARKS: Troy Calhoun record is 54-43 after seven plus seasons with the Falcons. He is 6-1 vs. Army. Calhoun is the only coach in the 100-plus year history of service academy football to lead teams to at least seven wins and a bowl game in each of his first five seasons. He has been honored as the Mountain West Coach of the Year and was once a finalist for national coach of the year. He's done a great job in rebuilding his team after last year's 2-10 disaster. Calhoun's teams are known for their physical, chippy and aggressive play. His offense features multiple formations and looks.

This is new head coach Jeff Monken's first big test against a rival service academy. The 2-5 record has been a disappointment for those who hoped for a turnaround season after his successful four year run as the head coach at Georgia Southern where he posted a 38-16 mark (70.4%). Offensive coordinator Brent Davis needs to get the running game back on track. Defensive coordinator Jay Bateman's bend but don't break defense has been breaking more than bending. Army is allowing more points than last season, 35.9 per game, despite the fact they played three teams that were averaging less than twenty points per game. The Black Knights lack athleticism and speed on defense except for a few positions.

INTANGIBLES
EDGE: EVEN
REMARKS: Air Force leads the series 33-14-1. For all the discussion around Navy’s dominance over Army it’s easy to forget that since 1996, the last year that Army won the Commander’s in Chief Trophy, that the Falcons have beat the Black Knights in 15 of the last 17 games. Air Force expects to win and wants the Commander's-in-Chief Trophy it would earn with a victory. Army plays better at home (2-1) than on the road (0-4) and has bounced back from bad defeats with good outings at Michie. The Black Knights should be pumped up playing in front of a sold out crowd on national TV. This Army group of seniors isn't intimidated by the Falcons. They crushed them 41-21 in 2012 at Michie Stadium. Army would also have beaten Air Force in 2011 in Colorado Springs if they had Trent Steelman instead of the hapless Max Jenkins at quarterback. The Black Knights have been able to run the ball well against Air Force recently, even better than Navy, but that was a different option system.

PREDICTION: Air Force 38, Army 17. I don't like anything about this match-up for Army. The Black Knights had success running their interior misdirection and counters against Air Force out of the wishbone the past few years. The offense Army runs now is the spread double slotback offense that Air Force has done a great job defending against Navy. In addition the Army offense has struggled the last two games. On defense the Black Knights lack team speed, don't tackle well and are playing with two inexperienced safeties. Air Force has a huge edge in special teams as well. I'm hoping for some of that Michie magic to prove me wrong but the Falcons are a much better team who is playing well.

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