Key Matchups: Army vs. Air Force

air force football

The ninth game of the year matches the Army West Point Black Knights (6-2,Sagarin 40) and the arch rival Mountain West Mountain Conference Air Force Academy Falcons (1-4,3-5, Sagarin 79).

The Falcons lead the all-time series 36-15-1 and have dominated the series the past 20 years, 17-3.  Army shut-out the Falcons 21-0 last year, in Colorado Springs, limiting them to 190 total yards in offense.  Air Force comes into this game eager to salvage their season by winning the Commander in Chief’s Trophy and putting them in a position for a pre-Christmas bowl game.  Army is coming in hot, winners of four in a row and ten in a row at home. The bowl eligible Cadets are focused on winning the CIC Trophy consecutively for the first time in 40 years and positioning for a bowl berth among top 25 teams.

Last Week

At Ysplanti, MI

Kelvin Hopkins returned to the starting lineup, was 7/8 passing for 126 yards and ran for 100 yards on 23 carries as the Black Knights grounded the Eagles 37-22.

Army looked fantastic in the first half.  The offense executed, and the defense completely shut down Eastern Michigan.  However, the first three drives ended in field goals rather than touchdowns.  Army, with the assistance of three Eagle personal fouls, was able to drive 62 yards in 1:17 and made the score 16-0.  Army had completely dominated the half, but the Eagles regrouped, held Army to three and out to start the second half and scored on their first two possessions.  The Eagles started to sell out against the run and Hopkins throwing ability made a difference and Army scored 14 unanswered points.  The Black Knights closed out the game in the final minute with impressive drive and won by 15.

This was a very good win for the cadets.  The Eagles are big and fast enough to play with power conference teams, as evidenced by their win over Purdue earlier in the season.  The Army Team of last year would have had great difficultly winning this game, but Hopkins passing ability made all the difference in the world.  He threw not only to Jordan Asberry and Kell Walker, but also to Christian Hayes, Kjetil Cline and Quinten Parker.  His first completion in the first quarter to Parker was one of the better throw and catches that you may see this year.  I do not know who Army will face in their bowl game, but if Hopkins is forced to carry the game with his arm, I think that he and the receiver corps are fully capable.

Army held the ball for 45:42 and had 415 total yards.  If they had converted the first three drives into touchdowns, this would have been a blow out; credit the Eagle defense.  Darnell Woolfolk had 89 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries.  Although Asberry only had 20 yards and a touchdown on seven carries and Walker had eight yards on three carries, they showed incredible athleticism in turning negative into positive plays.  Asberry’s touchdown run was pure athleticism that we really have not seen before at Army.  Also, Hopkins ability to break tackles and get the first down proved valuable again in extending a drive in the third quarter.

The Army defense had an incredible first half, completely shutting down the Eagle offense.  However, the Eagles made adjustments and got back into the ballgame in the second half.  Other than a 58-yard touchdown reception from Tyler Wiegers to Blake Banham, they made the Eagles execute to score.  Overall, Wiegers was 19/29 for 201 yards and two touchdowns.  James Nachtigal tomahawked Wiegers on a QB run and forced the games only turn-over.  Army converted that to a touchdown to recapture the two-touchdown lead in the third quarter.  Cole Christiansen led the team with 6 tackles.  Elijah Riley had a good game.  James Gibson’s return also made a difference.

The upside to Army’s three field goals, was John Abercrombie’s three field goals.  His long was only 27 yards, but he seemed very comfortable and confident and looks solid within 35 yards.

One concern I have is that Army has been held three and out to start the half in every game this season.  It appears Coach Brent Davis wants to re-establish the full back dive to start the half and that is what every opponent has expected.  I would like to see a pass to start the second half against the Falcons.

It was a cold, dreary day with few fans in attendance.  This game could have snuck up on the cadets, but they played well and became bowl eligible for the third season in a row.

At Colorado Springs, CO

Brett Rypien was 20/34 for 399 yards and five touchdowns.  Alexander Mattison rushed for 136 yards and another touchdown on 22 carries as the Broncos (6-2,4-1) won for the first time in Colorado Springs, downing the Falcons 48-38.

It was a Mountain West shootout; 973 total yards and 86 total points.  The Falcons gained 443 total yards.  Quarterback Isaiah Sanders was 10/15 for 210 yards and two touchdowns.  He also ran for 97 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries.  Cole Fagan ran for 67 yards on 14 carries and a touchdown.  Seven different Falcons caught passes.  Andrew Smith had three receptions for 57 yards and a touchdown.  The difference in the game was that the Broncos forced three punts, while they only punted once.

 Who is favored?

Army is favored by 6.5 points.

What to look for?

Army comes into this game 6-2, a Sagarin Rating of 40, strength of schedule 51.  Air Force is 3-5, Sagarin Rating of 79 and a strength of Schedule 76.  The game is at West Point.  The thing that concerns Army fans is that Army has not beaten Air Force two years in a row since 1978 and Air Force blew out Navy 35-7 in week five of this season.

The Air Force Offense has averaged 31.63 points and 393.3 yards (255.8 rushing and 137.5 passing) per game and 4.3 yards per rushing attempt.  The Army Defense has averaged 19.8 points and 322 yards (97 rushing and 226 passing) and 4.0 yards per rushing attempt.

The Air Force Defense has averaged 26.75 points per game and 366 yards (108.4 rushing and 257.9 passing) per game and 3.4 yards per rush.  The Army Offense has averaged 33 points per game and 406 yards (315 rushing and 91 passing) and 4.7 yards per rush.

Air Force has fumbled 10 times on the year and has lost possession seven.  Falcon quarterbacks have thrown two interceptions.  Army has fumbled six times and lost possession twice.  Hopkins threw two interceptions at Oklahoma.

On October 13, in Colorado Springs, Air Force limited Navy to 178 total yards, 129 yards rushing and nine first downs.  Air Force gained 399 total yards (257 rushing/142 passing) and 17 first downs and each team committed one turn-over.

These rivalry games are very fun to watch, because both teams have a good idea what the other will do offensively.  While they run variations of the triple option, Air Force will have fewer option reads and more passes.  On paper, Army is better on both sides of the ball, but this game will be decided by strength and determination.  Which offense can drive the ball and which defense can get off blocks and stop the run?  Las Vegas has this as a seven-point spread.  The strength models have this as closer to a two-touchdown game.

Army is firing on all cylinders and the team is healthy.  They have gotten through mid-terms and won the trap game.  Monken and the Black Knights are believing, and I am expecting their best performance of the year.

Final Score – Army 21 – Air Force 7 (predictions in 2018, 6-2)

This game will be shown on CBSSTV @ 12:00 PM EDT

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