The Army Black Knights travel to Colorado Springs to meet service academy rival the Air Force Falcons. Army had a bye week off a tough 38-31 loss to Rice in Houston. The Falcons crushed the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors 58-7 in Honolulu last week. In 2014 the Air Force defeated the Army Black 23-6 at a sold-out Michie Stadium to win the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy. Air Force quarterback Kale Pearson hit tight end Garrett Griffin for a 54-yard touchdown pass early in the third quarter to take a commanding ten point lead in what was a defensive struggle. Will Conant kicked three field goals as Air Force's defense limited Army to 169 yards of total offense. The Falcons lead the series against Army 34-14-1 and have won 16 of the last 18 in the series.
ARMY'S PASSING OFFENSE VS. AIR FORCE'S PASS DEFENSE
EDGE: AIR FORCE
Quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw is back practicing after missing the Rice game with a shoulder injury but A.J. Schurr is still listed on top of the depth chart. Schurr completed only 2-of-8 for 18 yards with a touchdown in his start against Rice. Schurr, this season, has completed 11-of-29 passes (37.9%) with three touchdowns and four interceptions. Bradshaw has completed 15-of-30 (50%) passes for 263 yards with three touchdowns against two picks. He's thrown the ball well in four of his six games. Wide receiver DeAndre Bell (5 rec., 121 yds., 24.2 avg., TD) scored on for a 16-yard touchdown reception against Rice. Bell showed nice strength overpowering the smaller Rice cornerback to break a tackle and score. It was Bell's first career touchdown reception.
Air Force’s defense is ranked 26th in the nation and allowing only 187 passing yards a game. Junior strong safety Weston Steelhammer is on the Jim Thorpe Award Watch List and Lott IMPACT Trophy Watch. He is a very good player. Steelhammer leads the Falcons with 47 tackles, 7 1/2 tackles for a loss, a sack, three interceptions, a fumble recovery and has broken up five passes. Steelhammer had an interception, defended two passes and recovered a fumble against Hawaii. Junior Roland Ladipo has been impressive in his first season as a starter at cornerback. Ladipo is second on the team with 46 tackles, and has a sack and 3 1/2 tackles for loss. He leads the Falcons with nine pass breakups and has three interceptions. Ladipo had an interception and forced a fumble against Hawaii last week. Air Force defensive end Alex Hansen has already posted five sacks and the Falcons have 25 sacks this year. Hansen has always played well against the service academy teams. Air Force has picked off nine passes this season
ARMY'S RUSHING OFFENSE VS. AIR FORCE RUSHING DEFENSE
EDGE: AIR FORCE
Army ran for 378 rushing yards, averaged 6.8 yards per carry and scored three rushing touchdowns against Rice. It was a good effort against a team that knows how to defend the option. The challenger is more difficult this week. Quarterback A.J. Schurr ran 23 times for 117 yards and scored a touchdown. It was Schurr’s best performance of the year. Schurr ripped off a career-long 71-yard run in the second quarter. Last year the Black Knights ran for a season low 122 yards, averaged 3.2 yards per carry and didn't score against the Falcons. The Army B-backs have been solid. Army's fullbacks have run for 806 rushing yards, a 5.5 average per carry and five touchdowns. Junior B-back Aaron Kemper (384 yards, 6.9 avg., 2 TDs ) has missed one game and had two huge games against Eastern Michigan and Rice. The best slotback has been sophomore John Trainor. He leads all slotbacks with 236 rushing yards, a 9.4 average per carry and two touchdowns.
Air Force has defended Navy's spread option as well as any opponent over the years. Last year they shutdown Army's rushing attack. Air Force runs well to the ball and gets off their blocks. The Air Force's 3-4 defense has played the run well this year. The Falcons held Michigan State's highly regarded offensive line to just 77 yards rushing and a 1.8 per-carry average. You can dismiss that the Falcons were selling out to stop the run but that was an impressive performance. The Falcons are ranked 34th nationally and are allowing 137 rushing yards per game. Inside linebacker Grant Ross leads the linebackers with 36 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks. Air Force senior Connor Healy (15 tackles) returned to the lineup for the Hawaii game. Healy had missed the previous three games due to injury.
AIR FORCE'S PASSING OFFENSE VS. ARMY'S PASSING DEFENSE
EDGE: AIR FORCE
Air Force quarterback Karson Roberts has completed 32-of-64 passes (50 %) for 538 passing yards with a touchdown and four interceptions this year. Roberts completed 3-of-9 passes for 80 yards against Hawaii. The Falcons leading receiver is Garrett Brown who has 19 catches for 393 yards and is averaging 20.7 yards per catch with one score. Junior wide receiver Jalen Robinette has the size and speed rarely seen in an Air Force receiver. Robinette has ten receptions for 239 yards and has two touchdowns. The Falcons have not allowed a sack all year which is amazing.
The Black Knights' pass defense is ranked 78th in the nation. Rice quarterback Driphus Jackson completed 20-of-30 passes for 267 yards and two touchdowns against Army last game. The secondary has actually played better than last year despite missing Josh Jenkins. The completion percentage against them is lower and the Black Knights have only allowed eight touchdown passes through eight games which is a huge improvement. Still this group allows too many teams to play pitch and catch against them.. Free safety Rhyan England (44 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 PD Fum rec, ) played probably his best game this season against Rice. England laid a big hit on Rice tight end Cole Hunt to force a third down incompletion and force punt. England read the play on bubble screen on opening series and just missed a pick. .
AIR FORCE'S RUSHING OFFENSE VS. ARMY'S RUSHING DEFENSE
EDGE: AIR FORCE
The Falcons enter the game ranked third in the nation in rushing at 333 rushing yards per game. Junior fullback Jacobi Owens leads the team in rushing. Owens has 114 carries for 578 yards, a 5.1 and four scores. Owens started his second straight game at fullback. He has scored at least one touchdown in three straight games after not scoring a touchdown in Air Force’s first five games this season. Owens finished the game with 137 yards, to record his second straight 100 yard game of the season and seventh of his career. His 30 carries against Hawaii were a career best with his previous high being 27 carries versus Army last season. Quarterback Karson Roberts has run for 386 yards, averaging 4.3 yards per carry with seven scores. The Falcons have five rushers with four or more touchdowns. Air Force has moved away from their classic flex-bone offense under Calhoun and now use more multiple formations and sets. Garrett Brown (170 yds., 8.1 avg., TD) provides a home run threat and speed on the perimeter.
Army's 3-4 defense is ranked 53rd in the nation against the run and is allowing 152 rushing yard per game. The Black Knights defense allowed 242 rushing yards last year to the Falcons as they gave up 3.9 yards per carry and no rushing touchdown. They held the Falcons below their season average. Mike linebacker Andrew King has been the best player on the Army's defense. King leads the team with 62 tackles, has 13 1/2 tackles for a loss, a team leading four sacks and two recovered two fumbles. Junior linebacker Jeremy Timpf (59 tackles, a sack, INT) had a tremendous game against the Falcons last fall with 17 tackles, 3 tackles for a loss and an interception.
EDGE: AIR FORCE
Sophomore kicker Luke Strebel made a career best three field goals last week as he hit from 44, 40, 36 yards. He has hit four-of-five field goal attempts since he replaced Drew Oehrle. Strebel has 11 touchbacks on 18 kickoffs. The Falcons also changed punters with Steve Brosy replacing Brett Dunn. Brosy is averaging 39.1 yards per punt. Garrett Brown is averaging 11.0 per punt. The speedy Brown had a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown against Morgan State. The Falcons Tyler Williams is averaging 23.7 yards per return. Senior defensive end Alex Hansen has blocked two kicks this year. The Falcons have blocked 28 kicks since 2007 under head coach Troy Calhoun. Air Force has historically excelled on special teams but the Falcons have struggled covering kicks this fall. Air Force gave up a kick return for a touchdown against Hawaii and is allowing 9.0 yards per punt return.
Senior Daniel Grochowski is having his best season. He has hit 3-of-4 field goal attempts and has made all 22 extra point attempts. His kickoffs have improved with 16 touchbacks on 35 kickoffs. Punter Alex Tardieu is averaging 39.2 yards on 32 punts with 7 of his punts being fair caught, 9 being placed inside the twenty yard line. Two have traveled over fifty yards. Tardieu numbers are down a bit from last year but that's probably due to the Black Knights playing two games in the rain. Kick returner Marcus Hyatt is averaging 19.8 on kickoff returns. The blocking of the return teams has been poor as Hyatt rarely gets running lanes. Edgar Poe averages just 3.0 per punt return but is reliable. Jordan Smith has blocked two kick and John Voit one. The coverage team have been above average allowing opponents just 20.3 yards on kick returns and just 3.6 per punt returns. Army coverage teams have been above average.
EDGE: AIR FORCE
Troy Calhoun's record is 64-47 after eight seasons with the Falcons. Calhoun is 7-1 against Army and unbeaten in Colorado Springs against them. 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. Calhoun's teams are known for their physical, chippy and aggressive play. His offense features multiple formations and looks. Calhoun has led Air Force to bowl appearances during seven of his eight seasons leading the team
Jeff Monken has a 44-30 (59.5%) career record. Army's record (2-6) has been a disappointment but not unexpected considering how young and very inexperienced is this team. Army has been competitive in every game except against Duke. They have lost five games by just a combined 23 points. Offensive coordinator Brent Davis group is averaging 24.1 points per game but just 19 points per game in the six losses. The offensive line has struggled due to injuries which has hurt the offense's production. Hopefully the improved rushing performance in the last game against Rice is a harbinger of good things to come.
EDGE: AIR FORCE
Air Force leads the overall series against Army 34-14-1. 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 16 of the last 18 games they played. Air Force expects to win. The Falcons have won two-straight by a combined score of 100-21. Army played a lot better against Rice and the bye week allowed an extra week to prepare and get healthy.
PREDICTION: Air Force, 24-10. I don't like anything about this match-up for Army. Air Force is averaging 35.8 points per game and 452 yards per game of total offense. Defensively, Air Force allows 20.9 points per game and 306 yards of total offense. Army now runs the spread double slotback offense that Air Force has done a great job defending against Army last year and annually versus Navy. Air Force seems to be clicking and I think the Black Knights will struggle to run the ball against the Falcons.