Key Matchups: Army versus Air Force

The eighth game of the year matches the Army Black Knights (Sagarin 158, 2-5) and the rival Mountain West Conference Air Force Falcons (Sagarin 116, 5-2.) Air Force has dominated this series the past two decades, winning 22 of the past 25 meetings. Last year Air Force dominated the second half to beat the Black Knights, 42-28 in Colorado Springs.

Background
The eighth game of the year matches the Army Black Knights (Sagarin 158, 2-5) and the rival Mountain West Conference Air Force Falcons (Sagarin 116, 5-2.) Air Force has dominated this series the past two decades, winning 22 of the past 25 meetings. Last year Air Force dominated the second half to beat the Black Knights, 42-28 in Colorado Springs. This game is important for the Falcons as a win brings home the Commander in Chief’s Trophy. A win gives Army the opportunity to salvage a respectable season, starting with a win over their great rival and a chance at the Commander In Chief’s Trophy.

Two Weeks Ago
In Colorado Springs, the Falcons gained 428 total yards and took advantage of two New Mexico turnovers to win 35-31.

Senior quarterback Kale Pearson was 5/9 for 159 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed 20 times for 66 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore Running Back Shayne Davern gained 85 yards on 16 carries. Sophomore Fullback D.J. Johnson scored three touchdowns from six, three and one yards.

The Lobos gained 400 total yards, with 367 coming on the ground, averaging 7.2 yards per carry. Junior Running Back Jhurell Pressley had touchdowns of 42 and 50 yards.

At Kent, Ohio, the Golden Flashes gained 467 total yards and cruised to an easy victory, their first of the season, beating the Black Knights 39-17.

Sophomore Quarterback Colin Reardon was 27 of 40 for 360 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. As has been the case for the past couple of years against the Army defense, this was the starting quarterback’s best game of the season as he was rarely pressured and had plenty of time to find open receivers. Reardon also ran for 42 yards on six carries and scored a touchdown. Aside from Reardon, the Flashes averaged a little better than 3 yards per rush. Army had several opportunities for tackle for losses, but often the arm tackles were broken and the drives continued.

The Army offense gained an overstated 330 yards. Senior Quarterback Angel Santiago gained 77 yards on 21 carries, but was only 3/10 for 17 yards and a touchdown in the air. He made some very nice late pitches to Senior Running Backs Tony Giovannelli and Terry Baggett that resulted in long gains. Giovanelli led all rushers with 90 yards on seven carries and a touchdown. Senior running back Raymond Maples was back with three carries for 20 yards and a touchdown.

Army scored on three of 11 drives, with one them starting on the KSU 37 yard line. Defenses have learned to take away senior RB Larry Dixon and guard the perimeter. In short yardage situations, they bring cornerbacks off the edges, which eliminates any chance of success. For this offense to work, they must pass the ball much more often early in the game to keep the opposing defenses honest. The Georgia Southern Offense passes the ball 25% of the time, which leads you to believe that Brent Davis does not have the quarterback required for this offense and is making do with Santiago and Junior Quarterback A.J. Schurr. Brent Davis’ wishbone does not suit the current Army talent as well as last year because it asks the quarterback to be more of a playmaker and Santiago is more of an option game manager, and only a so-so one, at that.

On the defensive side, Army was horrendous. They began the game on a positive note with an interception by sophomore cornerback Josh Jenkins, but after that it was a methodical passing game that marched down the field, scoring on eight of 12 drives. The Golden Flashes averaged nine yards per pass and 4.5 per rush and held the ball for 33.42. Jenkins had a fabulous day with 13 tackles. Junior defensive back Luke Proulx had nine tackles. There were many opportunities for tackles for losses, but Army has a hard time finishing tackles.

Junior Kicker Daniel Grochowski hit his only field goal attempt of 32 yards and converted both PATs.

Who is favored?
Air Force is favored by 3.5 points

What to look for?
Air force is beatable, but can Army beat them?

Air Force averages 426 total yards, 274 rushing and 152 passing which yield 30.6 points a game. Army opponents are averaging 446 yards and 35.9 points a game. The Air Force Defense averages 396.6 yards per game and 146 on the ground. Army’s offense averages 396 yards per game with 319 on the ground. Air Force has nine turnovers on the year and Army has 10.

While the offenses look similar Air Force uses a multiple set offense. In an attempt to protect Pearson, they rarely run the triple option. Their offense is a double option with straight handoffs, multiple looks, misdirection handoffs and fly sweeps. The Falcon quarterbacks only carry the ball on 25% of their rushes and they average 15 passes per game. The Air Force version of option football is far more balanced than Army’s. The idea that Army should be able to defend against an option offense because they play it themselves goes out the window here - Air–Force will throw it early and put the Army secondary to the test. Should they complete enough passes to get the Army D off-balance, then you can expect a variety and creativity in the Air Force running game that the Army offense can only dream about right now.

Army’s offense is very similar to that of Navy’s, albeit Navy runs it better. In Air Force’s match-up earlier in the year, they contained the Midshipmen to 393 total yards, but they forced two turnovers in a 31-21 victory. Clearly this does not bode well for Army, as they will need to score a ton of points to stay in this game.

As much as we would like to predict an Army victory, this column would lose all credibility if we did so. There is nothing in these two teams’ seasons that would indicate that Army can beat Air Force. Army’s best victory came against Buffalo, but the Cadets have seemed to regress as the defenses have adjusted to Army’s offense.

There is a 40% chance of rain at Michie and any weather that can slow down Air Force’s passing is a plus. Of course, bad weather could make it even more difficult for Santiago and the Army runners to hold to the ball than it usually is. But we think Army will play inspired football and keep it close for a half. Calhoun will make adjustments and Air Force will win another Commander in Chief’s Trophy.

Final Score – Air Force 28 – Army 21 (predictions in 2014, 2-5)

Game will be shown on CBS @ 11:30 PM EST.

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