Standing at 5-3 on the season, the Army Black Knights are just one win away from bowl eligibility. Getting that victory this weekend against the visiting Air Force Falcons would obviously be winning on two fronts as it would also put Army right in the hunt for the C-I-C Trophy.
Here are the three keys:
1) Win the rushing battle
It is strength against strength and whoever runs the ball better on Saturday will come out on top. There are still question marks over the status of Falcons quarterback Nate Romine, but whether it is he or backup Arion Worthman under center, Air Force is going to run the ball just as much as Army.
The Black Knights are second in the nation in rushing, going for over 342 yards per game. Air Force is not a million miles behind the Black knights, entering the weekend as the sixth-best rushing team in the country and going for almost 296 yards per game. The difference here could be that the Army defense has been playing better than their academy counterparts. The Black Knights rank ninth in the country in scoring defense and are giving up a measly 16.5 points per contest.
2) Win the third down battle
These two teams are evenly matched this year. Both want to control the ball, and therefore control the clock, so keeping drives going will be a huge factor when it comes to wearing down the opponent. Whoever converts better on third down early in the game will be able to land more body blows and then go for the knockout in the second half. Air Force has been the better team offensively on third down, ranking 18th in the country at a 48% conversion rate. Army is not too far behind that mark at 26th in the nation at 45.8%. There is, however, a much big disparity defensively. Army allows opponents to convert just 33.7% of the time (26th ranked) while Air Force opponents are getting first downs 44.3% (98th) of the time. Advantage Army.
3) Avoid Weston Steelhammer
It is not all that often that a defensive player finds his way onto the three keys, but Air Force safety Weston Steelhammer is no ordinary player. Steelhammer is one of the chief defensive disruptors in the nation and he leads Air Force with 48 tackles, the second year in a row he has led the team in this category. Steelhammer also ranks fourth in team history with 14 career interceptions and in his career he also has 19 TFLs five sacks and three fumble recoveries. Against Navy in the first C-I-C game of the season, Steelhammer was suspended for the first half after an ejection for targeting the previous week. In the second half, he came out and picked off two passes to lead Air Force to victory.