Will They Play?
The Falcons looking for 38th Win vs. Army
Lets Get to Know Army
Record vs. Air Force: 16 wins- 37 losses- 1 tie
Head Coach: Jeff Monken
Offensive Philosophy: Triple Option
Defensive Philosophy: 3-4
Mascot: Army Mules
Location: West Point, NY
2019 Record: 5-8
A Little History
Since its inception in 1972, Air Force has won the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy 20 times. Compare that to their rivals from West Point, who have only possessed the sacred hardware eight times, and its easy to bury the lead.
Even though the Falcons have dominated the battle for the CIC Trophy over its history, Army has laid claim to the hardware two of the last three years, with Navy earning it last season. So Air Force may begin experiencing separation anxiety from the ultimate spoils of Military Football.
The Black Knights earned wins against the Falcons along their conquest to the CIC Trophy in 2017 and 2018. Last season, Air Force narrowly escaped with a victory in Colorado Springs. What type of ballistics will 2020 have in the chamber?
The Hypothetical Game
First things first; the Mountain West Conference has already pulled the plug on the fall football season. However, there is a Dumb and Dumber like hope “so your sayin’ there’s a chance” that Air Force will be able to play Army and Navy, keeping the battle for the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy alive.
As is the case for nearly every school clinging to hope of playing a game this fall, nothing is guaranteed. This preview is hinged completely on the hopes of an exemption for the Air Force Academy to squeeze these two games in, despite the Conference closing up shop for the fall.
The Army Offense
When it came to putting up points, the Army offense was in the bottom half of the nation which consists of 130 teams. As a team that wants to control the clock and limit possessions, points scored can be a bit of a deceptive statistic for the Military Academies that run the triple option offense.
At just over 28 points per game, the offense was serviceable, but looking to improve. Compare that to the 32 points per game in 2018, and the delta of five points would have made the difference in three of their losses last season, and any potential for bowl eligibility.
To their credit, Army still featured the third ranked rushing offense, averaging just under 300 yards per game on the ground. This was accomplished after replacing all but one starter on the offensive line, and their leading rusher from the year prior. The Cadets from West Point also took a page from the Air Force playbook, and had to start three different quarterbacks throughout the year. That in itself is usually not a recipe for success.
One of the positive things to come from last years struggles was valuable game experience at quarterback. Jabari Laws and Christian Anderson both got spot starts in 2019 for the oft injured Kelvin Hopkins Jr. Both Laws and Anderson amassed 400 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. Where Laws separates himself is in the passing game. Even though Army rarely throws the ball, Jabari Laws completed 80% of his passes, averaging 15.6 yards per attempt. In case you’re wondering, the one-time MW Wire Player of the Year candidate, Donald Hammond III averaged 11.9 per attempt.
The Falcons would be wise to learn from last year, Jabari Laws is a threat with his arm and his legs. In his start against Air Force, Laws played very well finishing with over 200 yards passing and a passer rating of 275. The key will be if he can remain healthy.
Also returning for 2020 are Sandon McCoy and his 500+ yards and 10 touchdowns, do-it-all back Artice Hobbs IV and leading pass catcher Camden Harrison. Whether its Laws or Anderson who take over the reigns of the Army offense, there will be some experienced parts around them.
The Army Defense and Special Teams
The Army defense featured some very good players in 2019. This was reflected in their 30th rank in total defense, and surrendering 23 points per game was good enough for 41st in the nation. All very respectable marks.
Air Force won’t have to reckon with inside linebacker Cole Christiansen for the first time in four years, which is an absolute relief. Also gone are stalwarts Ron Stoddard from the interior of the defensive line and Elijah Riley and Jaylon McClinton from the secondary. All key pieces to the Army defensive corp.
Even with all that talent departing, the Black Knights are still bringing back a couple of studs, particularly in their front seven. Kwabena Bonsu and Edriece Patterson will be back to disrupt the line of scrimmage. And keeping with what seems like a decade long run of talented linebackers, Arik Smith will be an anchor.
On special teams, Army should be pretty comfortable returning their primary kick and punt returners in Artice Hobbs IV and Akyah Miranda. The punting game particularly shined as Zach Harding averaged 48 yards per punt as a sophomore. Kicking duties should be with Cole Talley who was very reliable on extra points as a freshman in 2019, but was just 1 for 3 on field goal attempts.
What To Expect
If Air Force wants to sing second again in 2020, they had better not expect to enjoy the type of fortune that befell them in 2019. The game ended the same way that it started, with a 4th down goal-line stop. Even more astonishing was how their defense held Army to zero points on 12 goal to go downs. In a game whose final score was 17- 13 in favor of the Falcons, the timely stands from the defense cannot be overstated.
Hopefully this game is played, as you will be hard pressed to find a more competitive match-up all season. This game doesn’t get the same endorsement that ‘Army-Navy’ does, but its just as bloody, and every bit the battle, regardless of what Jeff Monken may say to dig at Troy Calhoun. Consider the significance this match-up weighs on who captures the Commander-In-Chief’s, and there is no hype necessary.