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Air Force-Army, the Battle for the CIC

Falcons attempt to redeem the season

The Falcons will travel to Dallas to play the Black Knights of Army at Globe Life Field in Arlington, TX. This is the second of two meetings between the teams in Arlington. Army defeated the Falcons in overtime last year, 21-14.

For the Falcons, the game is an excellent opportunity to wash away all the frustrations of a disappointing season that seemed to hold great promise. It’s also the last chance for this year’s graduating seniors to bring home the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy.

Scouting the Black Knights

Army enters this game with a 3-4 record with 2 of the victories coming against FCS teams. The lone FBS team they have beaten is Louisiana Monroe, while losing to Wake Forest, Georgia State, Texas San Antonio, and Coastal Carolina. It’s fair to say they have underperformed as much if not more than the Falcons have.

The most glaring deficiency is in rushing defense. Army is allowing 212 yards per game on the ground, placing them at 126th in FBS. That’s almost 100 yards more per game than they allowed last year. The deficiencies on defense are also evident in other metrics of efficiency. Army’s ability to stop third down conversions this year has fallen to 45.6%, which is 116th in FBS. They allow 4th down conversion 47% of the time, up from 35% last year. And one of the most important failings of the Army defense has been in stuff rate - they are last in FBS at stopping a rush attempt at or behind the line of scrimmage.

Army’s best player on defense is Edge rusher Andre Carter. He has been mentioned as a possible top two round NFL draft pick, but has not produced the eye-watering numbers he did last year, when he totaled 15.5 sacks. He has also been injured the last two games, and his status is not known for this weekend.

On the other hand, the offense is just fine. The Black Knights are knocking on the Falcon’s door in rushing yardage, with 334.6 yards per game versus the Falcon’s 336.8 yards. Their offensive line stats are on par with the Falcons - they are in the top 10 in FBS in being able to get at least four yards on a rush attempt and in not getting stuffed at the line of scrimmage. They hold on to the ball when rushing better than the Falcons, fumbling only 10 times to the Falcon’s 15(!).

Army has deployed three different QBs this year, Tyhier Tyler, Cade Ballard, and Jemel Jones. Each has been effective at moving the offense, but with different skill sets. Ballard appears to be the best passer, and Tyler is the best runner of the group. Tyler and Ballard were injured and did not play the last game and Jones led the team to victory in relief. The most dynamic player on the offense is Tyrell Robinson, who averages 8.4 yards per carry and has 7 receptions for 135 yards. Robinson has also been injured the last two games. The status of the injured players is not known for the game, but I would think we will see most of them to return to play this weekend.

Game Analysis and Prediction

Three weeks ago, when the Falcons played UNLV, Tom Herman, former coach of the Houston Cougars and Texas Longhorns was the analyst for the CBS Sports broadcast. As the Falcons were gouging the Rebel defense for consistently good yardage on rushing plays, he made the observation that he thought the Rebels should try to make Haaziq Daniels have to carry the ball and put most of the effort into stopping Brad Roberts and John Lee Eldridge. In that game, the Rebels were never able to do that and Daniels only ran the ball 4 times as the Falcons picked up 406 yards on the ground.

Two weeks ago, Aaron Taylor was the analyst and mentioned that Boise State’s defensive coordinator had told him that the Broncos would be trying to make Daniels run the ball. Especially early in the game the Broncos were spectacularly effective at doing that. Of the first eleven offensive plays, the Falcons missed a block on a pitch, had an errant pitchout, fumbled a pitchout, had a false start penalty, and fumbled another pitchout. The Falcons were able to make some adjustments later that got the offense moving a little bit, but never reached the normal level of production. Daniels ended up running the ball 14 times for 79 yards and a TD, but the edge game never got up to speed.

Army is very familiar with the Falcon run game, and will be intent on stopping the pitch outs and fullback dives. Daniels will need to be ready to run the ball (and more importantly hold on to it) more often and to be more decisive in his decisions and his running. The coaches will have to install some plays that can disrupt what Army is attempting early on to get the Falcons moving on the right track. I wouldn’t expect the Army defense to be as ineffective as it has been much of the season. This game means too much to the players and they’ll be focused on their assignments.

On defense, the Falcons have been good at tightening up on third and fourth downs and in the red zone, but have been susceptible to some easy big gains on early downs and when the opponent has the ball in their own half of the field. Without a constant threat of a passing attack, rather than utilizing a spur linebacker, Bo Richter might see more playing time at outside linebacker along with Vince Sanford to help limit the early rushing plays to get Army behind the sticks.

In what is expected to be a tight game, special teams will be very important. The Falcons have a clear edge in this aspect of the game. Falcon punter is averaging 42 yards per punt, while Army averages 35 yards per kick. Matthew Dapore has hit 10 of 11 field goals, with 3 of 4 from over 50 yards. Army is 4 of 5 on field goals, the longest from 38 yards.

Currently at DraftKings, Air Force is favored by 7 points with an over/under of 40.5. The game is on Saturday, November 5 at 10:30 CT on CBS.

With a subpar Army defense, the Falcons should be able to control the ball and grind out some long drives. Army’s offense is good enough to keep it close, and to help make the over a good bet. Air Force wins 24-20, but Army covers the seven points.