Army and Air Force return to Arlington, Texas this Saturday to renew the two-year-old Commander’s Classic. Army enters desperate for a win to keep their fledgling bowl hopes alive, while Air Force arrives in Texas with some disappointment after a strong start to a promising season. Head Coach Jeff Monken takes the senior Service Academy into the first leg of their Commander-In-Chief Trophy season with a two-game winning streak and as healthy as they’ve been since opening week.
Both teams are coming off bye weeks and Monken talked about the passion between these inter-Academy games in his Tuesday press conference.
Scouting Report: Commander’s Classic, Army vs. Air Force
Match-Up: Army vs. Air Force, Commander’s Classic presented by Lockheed Martin
Time: 11:30 ET
Current Odds: Air Force -7, O/U 40
Air Force enters the contest at 5-3 and well off the pace in the Mountain West Conference thanks to upset losses to Wyoming and Utah State. Air Force entered the season with the best team on paper between the Service Academies and, arguably, the best team on paper in the Mountain West Conference, with quarterback Haaziq Daniels and Running Back Brad Roberts both returning to the Falcons after a successful 2021 campaign.
The Air Force offense will look very familiar to Army fans. And although there are subtle differences, it’s based on the same principles as Army. The Falcons’ offense is actually more similar to the Flexbone that Navy runs than the Flexbone that Army implements. Daniels adds a legitimate passing threat to the Falcons’ offense, with 579 passing yards, 5 passing touchdowns, and just 1 interception on the season. The one knock on Daniels is his accuracy. He’s under 50% on his completion rate this year, and that might come into play in a game where third-down conversions are a premium.
Daniels has dealt with some lingering injury concerns this season and is the third option in the Air Force rushing attack. On the ground, the Falcons’ attack runs through Roberts. Roberts has 943 rushing yards, 13 touchdowns, and averages 117 yards in eight games this season. Roberts is a versatile back that is effective in short-yardage situations and can break explosive, long runs as well. On the outside, John Lee Eldridge has emerged as an effective complement to Roberts’ inside rushing attack. Eldridge is averaging almost nine yards per carry on the season.
Army’s defense will be tested across the board – Daniels is a viable threat in the air and on the edges, Roberts will be the main focus for the Black Knights, and they’ll have to protect the outside against Eldridge’s speed.
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The Falcons enter Saturday’s game with the third-best rushing defense in the Moutain West. That will be tested against an Army team that is rushing for 334 yards per game. It’ll be strength against strength, as inside linebackers TD Blackmon and Alec Mock lead the Air Force defense. Other than giving up 34 points to Utah State, the Falcons have been consistent all season. They average less than 17 points allowed per game.
Army has a history of installing wrinkles for games against Air Force and Navy. Army hasn’t been able to establish a consistent outside threat after losing Tyrell Robinson to injury. Everyone knows Jakobi Buchanan and Tyson Riley will get their carries up the middle, but what will Army do to avoid getting around Blackmon and Mock all game? And what wrinkles will Monken throw in to throw off the Air Force defensive staff?
Mixing It Up
With Air Force’s defense focused on stopping the Army’s rushing attack, the Black Knights will need to mix up their playsheet to find some explosive plays. It doesn’t necessarily have to be in the passing attack. We’ve seen Army throw more counterplays and even some trap plays into the power running game this season.
Meanwhile, look for Army to throw in four or five wrinkle plays. Whether it might be a reverse of a speed option, an A-back pass, or an A-back trap, it’ll be critical for Army to find some opportunities to get chunk yardages against a stingy Air Force defense.
This game has an unusually early start time. It’ll be important for Army to come out and set a physical tone and good execution early in this game. Not only will it keep Army from getting away from the rushing attack, but it’ll also put thoughts of another disappointing loss in the minds of the Falcons early on.
The Last Word
Ultimately, under Monken’s watch, Army has found a way to win big games almost every year. They haven’t done that yet this season, and they need to find that big win quickly. Army plays best when they’re in pressure situations. The Falcons haven’t played well in tight games this season and haven’t lived up to the preseason expectations.
Although Air Force might have the better team on paper, this game is decided on the field. Army finds a way to sneak out yet another big win under Monken.
Air Force 21