Army Opponent Preview: At Air Force

The Black Knights must wait until the ninth game of the 2015 season before they play their first Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy match against Air Force. This means that Army will have had eight games to hone the offense and work on the defense in a bid to win the trophy for the first time since 1996. That would be set up with a win over the Falcons.

2014 Record: 10-3 (5-3 in the Mountain West Conference) – Beat Western Michigan 38-24 in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.

Series Record: Army trails 14-34-1 in a series which dates back to a first meeting in 1959, which ended in a 13-13 tie. The series has been dominated by Air Force since 1989, with the Falcons going on a 23-3 streak from that year until present day.

Last Meeting: Last season Air Force broke open a tight game in the third quarter to beat the Black Knights and win their first game in the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy series. Holding a slender 6-3 half time lead, Air Force relied on the arm of Kale Pearson to throw a 54-yard touchdown pass and make the score 13-3 in the third quarter. Pearson would add a second touchdown toss in the fourth quarter to pad the stats and give the Falcons a 23-6 win.

Head Coach: Troy Calhoun is entering his ninth season as the Falcons head coach with a 59-44 (.573) win/loss record. This is Calhoun’s first head coaching job after spending time as an offensive coordinator in college (Ohio/Wake Forest) and the NFL (Houston Texans). Calhoun has only had one losing regular season (2-10 in 2013) with the Falcons.

Spring News: Air Force is another of the growing list of schools that has really toned down spring ball from where it was a decade ago. The Falcons had to deal with a bunch of nagging injuries this spring, which turned a planned spring game into nothing more than a light scrimmage with no starters participating. This, though, proved to be useful as it allowed a number of game situation reps for players who do not normally get that experience. This is something coach Calhoun hopes will provide dividends down the road.

Projected Strengths: Air Force returns practically all the skill position players which saw the team go from 2-10 in 2013 to 10-3 last fall. This will give new (old) quarterback Nate Romine plenty weapons at his disposal as he works his way back into the offense. The running game will be everything you expect, but it is the passing game which is turning heads as Air Force has added more of a passing threat to its playbook than the other heavy option teams recently. The reason for this is a trio of pass catchers who would look at home in BCS passing attacks, let alone a run first university. Jalen Robinette, Garrett Brown and tight end Garrett Griffin are all dominant threats downfield.

The biggest reason for the huge jump in performance last year coaching, and specifically coaching on the defensive side of the ball. Calhoun learned from his mistakes in 2013 and hired a new, veteran defensive coaching staff which worked wonders with the same players who had fallen apart the previous year. The good news for the Falcons is that this band has stayed together and there is little reason to think that they won’t be able to coach up the new crop of players to a similar level eventually.

Projected Weaknesses: The Air Force defense was a sack machine in 2014, bursting out of nowhere to become one of the better defensive units in the country. The problem is that the Falcons lose the bulk of that sack production, especially from the defensive line and linebacker spots. With Jordan Pierce, Troy Timmerman and Spencer Proctor (and their 15.5 sacks) all having graduated, the pressure will be on senior Alex Hansen to pick up the Air Force pass rush. For the defense to be effective again he will have to double his 3.5 sacks from a year ago.

Like the defensive front seven, the Air Force secondary has also lost playmakers from a year ago. Last year the Falcons relied on two active safeties and two steady corners to take advantage of teams having to pass when faced with their tough run defense. Three of those starters however have graduated, and while the reserves are athletic and rangy they will still have to take on much larger roles than they did a year ago. The one holdover is the stunningly named Weston Steelhammer who proved to be a ballhawk extraordinaire in 2014.

Prediction: Army will have plenty of game film on the Falcons by the time the two clubs take the field in early November. If preseason predictions hold true then this will be a high scoring affair. The Falcons have the offensive talent to match up with anyone outside the power five conference (and some of the schools in those leagues too for that matter). Their defense, however, is somewhere between suspect and awful. If Army can get some points on the board early and make the Falcons chase the game, then anything can happen here.

ArmySports.com Top Stories