The Army Black Knights have had an outstanding 2017 season. Sweeping Air Force and (especially) Navy to claim the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy for the first time since 1996 was something few fans would have believed possible just a couple of years ago. Now, the Black Knights get a shot at a double-digit win season with San Diego State standing in the way of that tenth victory.
Here are the three keys to this one:
Stop Rashaad Penny
Army has faced some great rushing teams in 2017, with Navy and Air Force obviously springing to mind. The Black Knights have also faced some outstanding individual running backs, but they might not have faced anyone quite as talented as Rashaard Penny.
Penny has rushed for 2,207 yards in 2017. He has amassed 19 touchdowns and has gone for an insane 7.4 yards per carry. In the Black Knights rushing system, an average like that happens because of the amount os split carries and the options available to the quarterback. For Perry – much more of a standard running back – to average that number is incredible.
Worryingly for Army, Penny has been at his best in games against non-Power Five schools. The senior closed the season by rushing for over 200 yards in four straight games against Hawai’i, San Jose State, Nevada, and New Mexico. He was fifth in Heisman Trophy voting. He is going to be a problem.
Find a way to run the ball
The other big issue for Army in this game is that SDSU has been outstanding all year against the run.
The Aztecs allow just 110 yards per game on the ground and their defense only averages giving up 18 points per game. The flip side of this is that in the Mountain West there is just one team that runs an offense similar to that of Army (if you discount New Mexico who runs a different option variation). Air Force had the best day on the ground all year against the Aztecs defense, scoring three touchdowns and rushing for 220 yards as they barely lost 28-24.
The Black Knights offense comes into this one averaging 355.8 yards per game, the best such mark in the nation. Quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw has the ground game working and he will need to be at his best on Saturday if the Black Knights are to pick up a win.
Win the turnover battle
What has been interesting about Army this year is their ability to keep games close. Part of that is the nature of option football – grinding clock and not making mistakes – but the only opponent to beat Army by more than a touchdown all season was Ohio State (38-7) when the Black Knights traveled to Columbus.
This suggests that the game against the Aztecs will be a close one, especially given that SDSU is almost as one dimensional as Army when it comes to relying on the run and not trusting the pass. That makes every possession more valuable and means that turnovers will play a massive role in this game.