It’s been over a month since I wrote my preview of the CIC Title game match between the Falcons and the Black Knights of Army, and after the cancellation of the original game, both teams have played a few more games that have given everyone a chance to get a better handle on each teams strengths and weaknesses. With the new observations in mind, my new analysis is presented for your approval.
Army comes into the game with a record of 8-2, with losses only to 7th ranked Cincinnati and 6-5 Tulane. The rest of Army’s schedule has not been terribly grueling. The only wins they have against winning FBS teams are 28-27 over a 7-5 Georgia Southern team and 28-16 over a 7-4 UTSA team. 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 62 tackles for a loss, 16 sacks and 12 QB hurries, and give up 14.7 points per game. They also have forced 13 fumbles and have 10 interceptions.
On offense, of course, it’s all about the triple option. As with many teams this year, the injury/illness/Covid tracing bug has claimed some starters, particularly among the quarterbacks. For the last two games, Army has settled on sophomore Tyhier Tyler. In five games, he has thrown only 3 passes, and when he plays, he frequently holds onto the ball as a runner. As the starter the last two games, he has averaged 30 carries 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. Robinson also serves as the returner on kickoffs and punts.
On defense, the Black Knights are led by two linebackers, senior Jon Rhattigan and junior Arik Smith. Between them, they have 18 TFLs and 5 sacks. Rhattigan also has 2 interceptions and 2 fumble recoveries. Cedric Cunningham, Marquel Broughton, and Jabari Moore are playmakers in the defensive backfield. Altogether, the Black Knights have averaged 5.6 points per game off turnovers, a significant portion of their overall scoring. If you watched the Army-Navy game, you saw that the only touchdown Army scored was after a fumble recovery on Navy’s 13 yard line and a 13 yard touchdown “drive.”
The game will be played Saturday at 3:00pm EST, and will be televised on CBS Sports Network. 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. The last few weeks the Falcons have featured an intact offensive line, and it appears that the entire starting line will be available for the Army game. When the line has been intact, the fullback position has averaged 186 yard per game, and the entire team averages 368 yards rushing per game. It looks like a battle of power versus power up front when the Falcons have the ball.
The opposite side of the coin is the Army offensive line against the Falcon front seven, and Army has a good line as well. A recent ranking (made prior to the Army-Navy game) by website Pro Football Focus had the Falcons ranked as the 13th best line in college football, and Army ranked at number 15. However, in the Navy game, Army was anemic when using the fullback, gaining only 14 yards out of that position. QB Tyler was the whole show, gaining 96 yards on 26 carries, and he seemed tentative on option pitches. The Falcon run defense has been good this year, giving up only 105 yards per game, a low average that is aided by facing pass-oriented teams. It appears the advantage here goes to the Falcons.
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 were burned early in the season by long pass plays against their very inexperienced secondary, but have tightened up the coverage the last couple of games. Army has shown very little tendency to throw the ball with Tyler, but he has completed the two passes he has attempted the last two weeks for 28 and 25 yards.
Early in the year, Air Force QB Haaziq Daniels looked shaky on pass plays, but for the last two weeks has flashed a DJ Hammond-style arm, completing 11 out of 14 passes, most of the completions for first downs. This has given the Falcons the ability to move the chains on 3rd and long situations, and keep the defensive backs from creeping up to stop the run. Slotback Brandon Lewis and tight end Kyle Patterson have been the top targets, but both missed the last game against Utah State two weeks ago. Reports are that they should be back this week. Army has a very good secondary, but 6’ 6” Patterson might be able to give them some coverage problems. Again, I would say the Falcons have an advantage in this area.
Who wins the battle of possessions?
Both teams are built to hold onto the ball for long drives. Army averages a time of possession of 34 minutes, and Air Force averages time of possession of 34.5 minutes, so the battle in this area will be determined by turnovers
Air Force has lost the ball from fumbles in only two games, against San Jose State and against New Mexico, and have not been intercepted this year. But, as stated above Army is very good at creating opportunities for turnovers and at capitalizing off of them. The offense feeds off the defensive play. It’s obvious that Air Force needs to methodically move the ball and protect the ball.
Army has been prone to fumbling as well, with 16 fumbles on the year, but only losing 7 of them. They have been intercepted 5 times in 68 passes. The Falcons have not been very good at forcing turnovers, so the advantage in this part of the game goes to Army.
The two areas where the Falcons are particularly strong are the on the offensive line and the recent efficiency exhibited by Haaziq Daniels in the passing game. As I write this, the line has Air Force as a 2.5 point favorite with an over/under of 38. My original pick for this game had Army to win, but given the last two games for the Falcons, and Army’s performance against Navy, I will now pick the Falcons to win and cover with a score of 21-17.