The Air Force Falcons take on service academy rival Army on Saturday at Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs, CO. The game kicks off at 1:30pm MT and has been picked up by CBS for a national braodcast. Both teams are coming off shut out victories last week as Air Force won 42-0 at New Mexico and Army defeated New York state rival Fordham 55-0.
Both Air Force and Army are in the top three in country in rushing the football. The Black Knights of the Hudson lead the nation with 369 yards per game, while the Falcons are third with a 326.9 yard average per contest. Army runs a traditional wishbone triple option under head coach Rich Ellerson. They are led offensively by sophomore tail back Raymond Maples who has rushed for at least 100 yards in four of their last five contests. Also in the Black Knights back field is junior fullback Jared Hassin who is having a down year after gaining 1013 yards and 9 touchdowns last season. Army will be without junior quarterback Trent Steelman who had a 32 game starting streak end last week when he couldn't go against Fordham. Steelman suffered an ankle injury against Vanderbilt the week before and is still not 100 percent. Starting in Steelman's place for the second consecutive week will be senior Max Jenkins.
Air Force on the other hand will have their offensive leader back as senior quarterback Tim Jefferson should return this week after leaving early in the second quarter against New Mexico with a broken nose. Jefferson has been a full participant in practice all week even though head coach Troy Calhoun has been playing it coy about his status against Army.
While the obvious key matchup would be which defense can slow down the running game of the opposition and force negative plays and knock the other side off schedule, this one is going to come down to who can pass it better, especially if forced into 3rd and long situations. That is where Jefferson should take command as he has shown his passing ability has improved over his four year career at Air Force. He has a career 55.8% completion percentage, but is completing 60.8% of his passes this season. Jefferson has been able to show better consistancy in making the right reads and finding the open receiver this season. He has thrown for 1007 yards and should surpass his career high from a year ago (1459) before the season is finished.
For Army though, Max Jenkins doesn't have the game experience. In his first career start last week, Jenkins didn't have to put the ball up as the game against Fordham was played in a blizzard and the Black Knights pounded out 514 yards on the ground. The weather forecast is much better this week and if the Air Force defense can force Army into passing situations, Jenkins inexperience will be tested.
This game should be like all other recent service academy games. Army will match Air Force running the ball, but the Falcons will take advantage through the air. Air Force twice had 18 point leads against Navy five weeks ago and still let the Midshipmen back into the game before pulling it out in overtime 35-34. Without a doubt Calhoun has reminded his cadets that they need to finish the game off and don't let up until the final whistle has blown. In the end the Falcons will just have too much of a "balanced" offense for Army to handle.
The Commander in Chief's Trophy should remain in Colorado Springs for another year.