The Black Knights get their Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy campaign underway on Saturday as they take on Air Force in Colorado Springs. The Falcons have beaten the Black Knights 18 of the last 20 times the two academies have met, but Army has a strong team this year and will be looking to spring an upset on the road.
Here are Army’s three keys to this one:
Win the quarterback battle
The first key, whenever two triple-option teams meet, is to win the battle at the quarterback position. Ahmad Bradshaw (Army) and Arion Worthman (Air Force) are both excellent option quarterbacks and whichever performs better on the day will give his team a great platform from which to go on and win. Turnovers will be key – Bradshaw needs to be sure on his pitches and tight with his carries – as giving away extra possessions in a battle of ball control offenses is a big no-no.
It is interesting that while Bradshaw is a run only option at quarterback (867 yards rushing and seven touchdowns), Worthman does a little bit of everything. The Air Force quarterback has 830 yards and nine touchdowns through the air while rushing for 759 yards and 13 scores. The Army defense will need to key on Worthman on every play.
Stop the run
We all know that Army can run the ball with the best of them, but the Black Knights have not been good in 2017 at stopping the run. Losing those key linebackers from last season has hurt the defense more than expected and Army allows an average of 176.5 yards rushing per game. That is good for 76th in the nation out of the 129 FBS teams. Even worse, Army gives up 5.5 yards per carry and that ranks 118th in the country.
Now the Black Knights get to play against a rush first attack that has rumbled for over 350 yards per game on average. Maybe it will be an advantage that the Falcons run a similar triple-option attack to that of the Black Knights, but it is hard to see how the Army offense wins the game if the defense can’t stop the run.
Win the turnover battle
This one is pretty simple. Ball control offenses need the ball to work properly. Air Force is good at hitting big plays – they have 93 runs of 10 yards or more which is the best mark in the country – but it is still not an offense that you would call explosive on a down by down basis. Air Force and Army are teams that want to grind a defense down by running option play after option play until an assignment is missed and a big play is broken. The best way to do this is to ensure you have more possessions than your opponent and to this goal, turnovers will be key.
Bradshaw has to hold onto the ball and make good decisions. If he is asked to pass his throws must be crisp and on target. On the other side of the ball, the defense needs to step up and make a play or two that will create a turnover. Option offenses can fall apart in a hurry, so putting hits on Worthman will help with this goal.