Air Force- Army to meet in Arlington on November 6th
Can Air Force Earn the CiC Trophy this November?
— Andrew M. Greenstein (@KRLDAndrewG) December 17, 2020
The Commanders’ Classic
Army and Air Force will renew their rivalry this year in grand fashion, meeting at Globe Life Stadium in Arlington, Texas for the first installment of The Commanders’ Classic. Air Force had won 10 of 11 in the series, before seeing Army take control, winning three of the last four.
If the Falcons take care of business against Navy in September, their matchup with Army could remove the hardware that is the Commander in Chief’s trophy from play in ‘America’s Game’ at the end of the season. This would require Air Force to get things back on track against their rivals from West Point though, something much easier said than done.
Location: Globe Life Field- Arlington, Texas
2020 Record: 9-3
Head Coach: Jeff Monken, 8th Year (49-39)
Series History: Air Force 37 Wins- Army 17 Wins (1 tie)
2020 Army (9-3):
The Black Knights were able to grab some headlines in the College Football landscape last year, by piecing a schedule together quickly after the COVID-19 pandemic seemingly detailed the season. Say what you will about the level of difficulty Army faced, the mere fact they were able to assemble and then play an 11 game regular season is impressive.
Of the nine wins that came in last years season, their win over Air Force is probably the highest quality victory. It should also be noted, Army cracked the top 25 (22nd) in September, before getting handed their first loss from fellow 2020 upstarts, Cincinnati.
Along the way to these 9 wins was outstanding defensive play. One of the best stories of the 2020 season had to be the play of linebacker Jon Rhattigan, who is currently on an NFL roster with the Seattle Seahawks. Unlike his fellow standout linebacker, Arik Smith, who started as a freshman, Rhattigan came seemingly out of nowhere as a senior to play at an All-American level.
There were a lot of strong performers on the Army defense in 2020, which help them gain recognition as one of the best units in the country. On a points per game basis, West Points’ Cadets were ranked second in the country, surrendering just just under 15 per game.
Offensively, despite playing six different quarterbacks, four of which getting starts, they were still able to muster 26.8 points per game. That may not seem all that impressive, until you consider how dominant they were in time of possession, and how that total translates to points per possession. Overall, there was a lot to like about Army’s campaign, unless you reside in Colorado Springs or Annapolis.
The one major blemish that can’t be ignored is the cheating scandal, which involved 24 players from the Army football team. Of those involved, all played in games after being found in violation, these included games against Air Force, Navy and their Bowl Opponent, West Virginia.
As disappointing as it is to learn of this many players from one team collectively cheating, the greatest offense had to be on the part of West Point’s administrative staff in response to the violations. A decision to suspend a policy in what gives the appearance as an effort to keep players eligible to compete offers disregard of their own “Honor Code”. And that is exactly what they chose to do.
— Army Football (@ArmyWP_Football) May 27, 2021
Army 2021 Outlook:
It wouldn’t be fair to allow the cheating scandal assign blame or diminish the accomplishments of many other young men, who were instrumental in helping put together a really good season. Fortunately for Army, there are a lot of these key players who will be returning this fall.
The aforementioned six players who were under center last year, for instance, all return. Nobody knows better than Air Force, just how valuable depth at quarterback is when you run the triple option offense.
The only skill position player of great consequence that graduated is Sandon McCoy at fullback. While McCoy was an excellent runner in this scheme, there is depth behind him in Jakobi Buchanan, Anthony Adkins and Cade Barnard. They do share the challenge of rebuilding nearly an entire offensive line though, as four seniors have moved on from this group.
Overall, they return seven out of their eight top rushers from last season though. Granted, two of those are quarterbacks, but it also includes last years freshman phenome, Tyrell Robinson. The freshman back was electric when he touched the ball, rushing for seven yards per carry, as well as gashing defenses with catches out of the backfield
Special teams stays intact completely, bringing back both kickers, which includes a standout at punter in Zach Harding. The return game will be stable as well with the return of Tyrell Robinson.
The defense which couldn’t have played much better last year does however, have to replace quite a few key players. Not the least of which is the previously mentioned linebacker, Jon Rhattigan. Other standout contributors like Amadeo West, Kwabena BonsuJeremiah Lowery, Nick Stokes and Javhari Bourdeau will also need to be replaced.
Key cogs to the defense will still be there though in Arik Smith, Nolan Cockrill, Cedrick Cunningham, Marquel Broughton, Malkelm Morris and Jabari Moore. So don’t get too excited if your offense is scheduled to face the Black Knights.
Final Thoughts and Prediction:
Army, and their head coach Jeff Monken in particular, will never dignify their game with Air Force as their most heated rivalry. In fact, some may say its sacrilege to suggest, considering the Army-Navy game. But if you look at all that has transpired between these two schools on the field and off, it is the most hate-filled intensity you see between two teams on eithers schedule.
2021 will be no different than any in the recent Jeff Monken era, when playing Air Force. The defense as tough as nails, the offense is physical and the team is unwavering to their identity. That medley of attributes have been at the core of Army’s resurgence. It was also at the core of why, and how they defeated Air Force last season.
In their 2020 matchup, the Falcons went to a full-on identity crisis and it cost them the game. With two stud running backs in Brad Roberts who averaged seven yards per carry in the game, and Kadin Remsberg who should go down as one of the most prolific ball carriers in program history; they managed to combine for just one carry more than Haaziq Daniels had pass attempts (15 combined carries).
This week's #TakeawayTuesday is the quick hands by Kwabena Bonsu leading to the INT by Arik Smith that clinched the 2020 CIC 🏆 and an 8-0 record at Michie Stadium‼️#GoArmy | #LastoftheHard pic.twitter.com/0ByvUDUANv
— Army Football (@ArmyWP_Football) June 1, 2021
For perspective; Daniels threw three picks. Remsberg carried the ball just four times. Four! And despite Roberts gashing for seven yards a touch on the ground, and Daniels another six, the playcall to throw the ball still made its way to the huddle far too often. With the lead might I add. The interceptions were really bad, and players have to execute; but the coaching staff should have never placed them in that position.
The joy of celebrating the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy isn’t one that I can imagine ever gets taken for granted. After all, the personnel at these Academies typically churn every four years, religiously. But that satisfaction of scheduling your travel to the White House to be recognized as winners of the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy is beginning to seem a very distant memory.
Air Force is going to have a very good team in 2021. The defense that travels to Arlington will be even better than last year, and that was a unit that gave up just 10 points. But in a game of this magnitude, every detail matters for players and coaches alike. And more often than not in recent history, Army has had the details down more consistently.
The Falcons are a better team when you compare the rosters top to bottom. As history would suggest though, the better team doesn’t always win this game. Until Air Force proves it otherwise, Army has earned the confidence factor in a rivalry match that’s decided win margin is razor thin.
I can’t bring myself to type this next sentence out, so I’ll be getting my wife to come in and enter the keystrokes for me.
Final Score Prediction: Air Force 10- Army 13