No Parking Lot Necessary
The CiC is on the Line
Contact/Follow @Sean or @MWCWire
WEEK 16: Army 8-2 vs. Air Force Falcons 3-2 (2-2)
WHEN: Saturday, December 19th —1 P.M. MT
WHERE: Michie Stadium, West Point, NY
STREAMING: FuboTV with a seven-day free trial
SERIES RECORD: Air Force leads the series 37-16-1.
GAME NOTES (PDF): Army | Air Force
It’s the 49th Edition of the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy
It seems like every year the calendar turns to December, and I ask where did the year go? Specifically, where did the college football season go? Well we are in the throes of ‘where did it go’ season, and we are in for a treat this coming Saturday.
In a slate of games with significant implications, most of which being conference championship games, we have what I believe will be the most hotly contested game of the day; Air Force vs. Army. I know it’s sacrilege to say, but “America’s Game” that was just played between Army and Navy lacks the significance that this weeks matchup carries.
The Army versus Navy game wasn’t going to crown a champion of the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy like it has the last few years. That’s because prior to Army-Navy, Air Force had already crushed Navy earlier in the year, securing a deciding game for the CiC with Army. Go to any of the three FBS Military Academies and they will all tell you the same thing, the CiC is their number one goal. By virtue of that alone, Air Force versus Army is a bigger game this year.
Now, that doesn’t even take into consideration all that has transpired between these two schools this fall. In particular, Army Head Coach, Jeff Monken’s pointed commentary about Troy Calhoun and Air Force just added kerosene to the fire. There is a whole other level of venom to this game, and that cannot be, nor is it synthetic.
Air Force has dominated Army and the ownership of the CiC over the course of their history, however that has not been the case in recent years as the Falcons are amidst a three year drought from the CiC, despite beating Army last year. For either team to earn a year of bragging rights, they are really going to have to earn it.
The week we’ve been waiting for. #BeatArmy pic.twitter.com/kUpQbssTEM
— BEAT ARMY (@AF_Football) December 13, 2020
Three Keys to an Air Force Victory
1. Protect the Football
This one is pretty simple and to the point; the Falcons must take care of the ball. Even if recovered, putting the ball on the ground can be catastrophic, as any fumble is likely to place the Air Force offense in a difficult down to distance against what has proven to be a very good Army defense.
Whether it be carried, in the air or kicked, this Army defense has had a knack for getting to the ball. Kenny Loggins’ Danger Zone does apply here, field position and turnover margin are likely two of the biggest factors that will influence this game.
2. Know When the Play is Over
Both teams defense will be flying downhill to try stop the run, and smack the various ball carriers. Army has a cast of defenders who have done a lot of work behind opponents line of scrimmage, and are just disruptive in general. It will be wise for Air Force ball carriers to know when a play is over, even live to fight another down in some cases.
If they aren’t careful in this regard, they could pay a serious price with two outstanding linebackers at West Point in Arik Smith and Jon Rhattigan. Front to back, Army has playmakers all over on the defense, and front to back there are talented and opportunistic personnel that can impact the game.
The other aspect to this applies to any extra-carriculars after the play, in particular on defense and special teams where there may be temptation to lay an extra hit, or push the boundaries, literally. The 15 yards or worse that any of that may cause will kill or sustain drives, and in this matchup, points per drive is critical.
3. Don’t Be Fooled
Troy Calhoun and the Falcons are no strangers running trick plays. Throughout the season you will see some wrinkle that tries to (and usually does) catch a defense off-guard, after being lulled by a heavy dose of the run game.
They need to be cognizant of Army’s willingness to deploy the same tactics on Saturday. Sure, one can hope they try with similar results as their special teams pass back that got taken to the house when the Army return man threw the ball into the waiting hands of a Tulane player who walked it into the endzone.
But that result won’t deter coach Monken and Army, who will pull out all the stops to beat Air Force. In last years thriller against Navy, the Falcon’s were had by a trick play after running one of their own. I’m not saying Air Force has to run some gimmick plays to win, but they have got to be vigilant in their preparation as to not be caught off-guard by an offense in Army that otherwise has lacked big play ability.
Army special teams botches back to back trick plays, a breakdown pic.twitter.com/IWj4UTKAfR
— Jomboy (@Jomboy_) November 15, 2020
This one is really difficult to peg for me. Conventionally, you look at the common opponent in Navy and you could reasonably conclude Air Force should win this game. And while Army’s schedule has not been overly impressive, their administration has to be commended for cobbling a full calendar together, and the team beat everyone that they should have. And if were scrutinizing Army’s schedule, the Falcons haven’t beaten a team with a winning record, and lost their two games against the class of the Mountain West, in San Jose State and Boise State.
Army is also in the world of seriously testing quarterback depth, which is something the Falcons are historically very familiar with. Though it seems like the Black Knights have settled on their guy in Tyhier Tyler, who has provided some pop to the running game.
So we will have two teams featuring sophomore quarterbacks that weren’t expected to start the year, and have had an occasional lapse in ball security. Both of these quarterbacks have continued to play better as the season has progress. Tyler has averaged 86 yards per game on the ground since becoming the starter, while the passing game of Haaziq Daniels has seemingly progressed by leaps and bounds.
I think the main differentiator is going to be the bodies in front of each of these quarterbacks though. Air Force is going to feature a superior offensive line against most teams that they play. Combine that with a quarterback who is gaining confidence as a duel threat, and in a game where points come at a premium, they will have an edge. Tyler, while showing some wheels has posed essentially no threat through the air. Last year, Jabari Laws excelled through the air against the Falcons, that aspect to their game is blaringly lacking.
Army also features a dynamic young runner in Tyrell Robinson, but again, Air Force has more than an answer in Kadin Remsberg. As you go line by line, I see Air Force with more answers, though by a slim margin as you look at the Army defense.
At the end of the day, it should come down to points per possession. Drives and therefore points will be limited with these two clubs, that’s why I believe penalties and certainly turnovers will be significantly amplified in this contest. Neither team is going to relent an inch in this fist fight that will surely be fueled by their respective coaches.
Make no mistake, Army is good, and Army could win. But give me the team that has NFL lineman, NFL speed in the backfield and a history that’s seen them win twice as often as the team they are facing.
Air Force sings second. The Commander-in-Chief comes back to Colorado Springs.
Air Force 24- Army 21