A chance for total redemption.
With a win over Army this week, the Falcons would bring home undisputed possession of the Commander-in-Chief Trophy for the 21st time in 45 years. It would immediately turn the season around and give a lot of young Falcons who will be playing in their first Army-Air Force game ever a boost of confidence and build the foundation for the rest of the season.
The path to success, however, runs through West Point and an Army team with a record of 6-1 and ranked number 22 in the Coaches Poll. Although Army’s schedule has not been very grueling, they did face off against #6 Cincinnati, and gave the Bearcats their toughest opponent of the season, losing that game 24-10. Head Coach Jeff Monken emphasizes a tough, physical defense, and Army has a good one this year. Led by a strong front seven, the Black Knights have accumulated 42 tackles for a loss, 12 sacks, and 12 QB hurries, and give up 11.7 points per game.
On offense, of course, it’s all about the triple option. As with many teams this year, the injury/illness bug has claimed some starters, in particular their #1, #2, and #3 quarterbacks. For the last two games, they have been platooning between sophomore Tyhier Tyler and freshman Cade Ballard, and have averaged 3 passes per game. The running backs are led by fullbacks Sandon McCoy and Jakobi Buchanan (6’, 260 lbs) and freshman slotback Tyrell Robinson. Robinson is a burner, and an exciting runner to watch.
The game will be played Saturday at 11:30, and will be nationally televised on CBS. The Falcons will again be playing in their “Redtail” uniforms honoring the Tuskegee Airmen, as they did against Navy.
Three Things To Watch
Who wins the battle on the line?
Option teams always attempt to establish the fullback option early, in order to open up the edge running plays, and the blocking up front is the determining factor. Last week, the Falcons had Nolan Laufenberg and Kyle Krepsz return from Covid protocol, and the improvement was pronounced and immediate. Nicholas Noyen remained out with an injury, but against Boise, the Falcons had Britton Beasley in at center instead of Jason Madeiros who played last week after Noyen got injured, and I thought he teamed up well with Laufenberg at left guard. It appears that Noyen will be ready to go in this game. So it seems to me that the Falcons will perform well against a good Army defense.
The opposite side of the coin is the Army O line against the Falcon front seven, and that is not as clear. However, the Falcons are very thin at linebacker, with injuries to Will Trawick and Noah Bush. At times, the Falcons have been using three freshmen, Alec Mock, Jonathan Youngblood, and Matt Malloy. It looks as though Army will have an advantage, and will likely be able to move the ball as well. The result should be a little more scoring than expected.
Who can get one or two big chunk pass plays?
Neither team is known for passing prowess, but both teams are able to spring a receiver behind an overly-committed defense. The Falcons have been burned by long pass plays in every game. Confusion in coverage by the inexperienced secondary has been the problem, and the Falcons are more vulnerable to this threat than the Army secondary. Army has not shown a tendency to throw with their two young quarterbacks in the game, but anything goes in a service academy game and it wouldn’t surprise me to see one of their more experienced quarterbacks back for this game. Again for the Falcons, the biggest receiving threats are Brandon Lewis and Kyle Patterson.
Who wins the battle of possessions?
Outside of the two fumbles in the San Jose State game, Air Force has avoided turnovers, but has also not forced many turnovers. Army averages about one turnover per game, but on the other side of the ball has nine interceptions and has forced nine fumbles. Air Force will need to keep this statistical category even to be able to win at West Point.
Both teams have been penalized more often this year than in the past. In the game against Boise, one of the few times the Broncos were able to stop a Falcon drive was after two consecutive false starts that put the Falcons in a hole. Avoiding those mental lapses will be important in order to sustain the limited number of possessions available for both teams.
The final factor in winning the battle of possessions is finishing a drive, and in particular, making field goals when a drive stalls. Tevye Schuttpelz-Rohl had a great start, going 4 for 4 against Navy, but has missed a field goal in each of his last two games. The Black Knight kickers are 4 for 5, with 3 coming from outside the 40 yard line. In a close game, as always, this could determine the outcome.
Although several of the factors above favor the Black Knights, the one area where the Falcons are particularly strong is the offensive line, and in my opinion makes this a toss up match. As I write this, the line has Army as a six point favorite with an over/under of 40 1/2. I will pick Air Force +6 and take the over. However, I believe the home field advantage will rule as it often does in CIC games, and Army will get the win, 28-24. My brothers and friends will tell me this is a copout, because I get to feel good about something no matter who wins, and there is some truth to that, as I did the same thing in the Navy game.