Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

Key Matchups: Army at Air Force

The ninth game of the year matches the Army West Point Black Knights (Sagarin 134, 2-6) and the rival Mountain West Conference Air Force Falcons (Sagarin 71, 5-3.)

Air Force has dominated this series the past two decades, winning 23 of the past 26 meetings.  Last year Air Force limited the Black Knights to 169 yards on homecoming and the Falcons prevailed 23-6. A win makes the Falcons bowl eligible.  Army will not go bowling this year, but a .500 season and the Commander In Chief’s Trophy are still attainable.  A win against Air Force is necessary to keep both of these aspirations alive.

Two Weeks Ago

In Houston, Texas, senior quarterback Driphus Jackson hit Junior Receiver Zach Wright for a 12 yard touchdown pass with 24 seconds left in the game to give the Owls a 38-31 victory.

We thought that the Black Knights would have a chance to win if they played a clean game, but an A.J. Schurr fumble on the first offensive play gave Rice a quick 14-0 lead after Rice scored on their first possession.  Army worked their way back to a 31-31 tie with 2:13 on the clock, but the defense could not stop the Owls on the final drive.

Army fans tend to talk about “what ifs’ as the victories have been few and far between in the new millennium.  The “what if” in this game came when Army was trailing 28-31 and sophomore defensive tackle John Voit sacked Jackson, forcing a fumble that was recovered at the Rice ten yard line by sophomore linebacker Alex Aukerman.  Army had short runs by junior fullback Aaron Kemper and sophomore running back John Trainer that set up a third and goal at the 4-yard line.  On third down Schurr had no option back and was stopped shy of the goal line.  This happened a couple of times previously in the game, but this time the mistake was critical.  A touchdown would have given Army the lead, but instead they settled for the game-tying field goal.  We will probably never know who went the wrong way, but if you are making mistakes like this in week eight of the season, you probably deserve to lose.

Overall, it was a rain soaked, ugly game, but it was a joy to watch.  Army gained 378 yards on the ground, led by Kemper, with 129 yards on 14 carries and a touchdown.  Schurr gained 117 yards on 23 carries and had a touchdown.  Schurr was 2 for 8 for 18 yards passing.  Army held the ball for 31:36.  Army lost only the one fumble and had only two penalties for 24 yards. You can say to some degree that this is a reflection of an improved level of discipline that the team has shown as this year has gone on.

Junior linebacker Jeremy Timpf had another fine game with 10 tackles.  Overall, the Army defense could only manage the one sack at the end of the game.  The lack of a pass rush is definitely the sore spot on the defense.

The Owls gained 432 yards on offense.  Jackson was 20/30 for 267 yards and two touchdowns.  The Owls rushed for 165 yards, led by junior running back Darik Dillard with 89 yards on 10 carries and a touchdown.

In Honolulu, Hawaii, Air force rushed for 496 yards and limited the Warriors to -2 yards on 12 carries as the Falcons crushed their Hawaiian hosts 58-7.

Junior running back Jacobi Owens rushed for 137 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries and sophomore running back Timothy McVey rushed for 113 yards and two touchdowns on seven attempts.  The Warriors had no idea how to stop the Falcon option and they scored about as fast as they could run.  The Falcon defense took away the run and forced the Warriors to pass.  The Hawaii quarterbacks combined for 15 of 35 for 180 yards and two interceptions.

Who is favored?

Air Force is favored by 17 points

What to look for?

The Falcons are 4-0 at home this year against the likes of Morgan State, San Jose State, Wyoming and Fresno.  San Jose is the only team with a .500 record amongst these teams. 

The Falcons average 35.8 points and 452 yards per game.  They have scored 75 points this year off of turn-overs and have lost eight fumbles. They average nearly 100 yards on 5 receptions per game.

Army averages 24.8 points and 347 yards per game.  Army averages 274 yards rushing per game and Falcon defense allows 119.6.  The Falcons average 353 yards rushing per game, while the Black Knights allow 152.3.

While the offenses look similar, Air Force uses a multiple set offense.  In an attempt to protect their quarterback, 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 percent of their rushes and they average 10 passes per game.  The Air Force version of option football is far more balanced than Army’s.  The Black Knight Defense has very much improved over the course of the year and they should be able to keep the game close.  Army’s chances will rest on their offense.

In Air Force’s match-up earlier in the year, they allowed 270 yards on the ground to the Midshipmen.  Quarterback Keenan Reynolds had 183 yards on 24 carries.  The key to that game was that Air Force committed four turnovers in a 33-11 loss.

Expect the Army defense to contain the Falcon offense.  They will allow their defensive backs to single cover the Air Force wide outs and they should be fairly successful.  Expect Jeremy Timpf and Andrew King to have big days.  T.J. Atimalala will need a big day inside to help contain the run.

For Army to win they will need to win the turnover battle and they will have to play a complete four quarter game.  This team has done a fantastic job of staying in games and giving themselves a chance to win.  They will have to show that same grit, but someone will have to make a play. Historically the numbers in this matchup are downright ugly, but we are starting to see some signs that this edition of Black Knight football is on the verge of turning a corner and making a huge breakthrough. It almost happened in Happy Valley. It very well could happen this weekend. We are just waiting for the day when all the unforced errors are eliminated, and that Coach Monken has a QB he can trust to throw the ball earlier and more often. As that day seems not to be coming till next season at the earliest, we can’t pick our boys to win this week, but we believe they are going to put on a good show. 

Final Score – Air Force 28 – Army 24 (predictions in 2015, 4-4)

Game will be shown on ESPNU @ 3:30 PM EST.

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