The Army Black Knights arrive at the first of two Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy games as the favorite to reclaim supremacy in service academy football.
By Matt Zemek
NOTE: There is a report that this game has been called “off” by Air Force due to COVID 19 cases. At this writing there has been no official announcement from either academy. November 5, 2020 2:49 PM ET.
Navy is struggling, but that game is more than a month away. Army’s path to CIC glory begins with the Air Force Falcons this Saturday for an early kickoff at Michie Stadium. Army had a week off to prepare for this game while Air Force played Boise State. Air Force lost decisively, but it could be that playing a good opponent will sharpen the Falcons for this upcoming contest. Let’s look at what Jeff Monken’s team needs to do.
1- Defensive line
Air Force will win the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy if it wins this game, because it thrashed Navy a month ago in Colorado Springs. Air Force knew that Navy was going to be its first game of the season, so the Falcons didn’t get caught in the weekly grind of the season. They could isolate their focus on Navy, knowing it was the first game of the season, and that Mountain West Conference play would not begin until three weeks later. Air Force played Navy on Oct. 3, and played its next game on Oct. 24. Navy was a bowl opponent, in a certain sense. Air Force’s preparation was very effective in a game it won 40-7.
One gets the sense that after an 0-2 start in Mountain West play, Air Force has already arrived at its most important game of the season, the game it will pursue more intently than any other remaining game on its schedule. If Air Force – which has scored at least 30 points in two of its three games – has a path to victory, it begins with an offensive line which can stand up to teams with solid defensive lines, such as Boise State. If Air Force’s offense could deliver a solid performance against Boise State, Army’s defensive front needs to be ready to elevate its performance. This is strength against strength, and in a game where there are few if any secrets on offense, winning that trench battle has to be viewed as a foremost key.
2 – Knowing when to strike
Army doesn’t like to throw the ball – no one needs an explanation on that point – but Air Force just got shredded by Boise State’s passing game. Bronco quarterback Jack Spears hit 17 of 20 passes for 280 yards and three scores. Army won’t throw many passes in this game, but when it does choose to throw, it needs to make it count and score (or get a long gain). Knowing when to pass – knowing when it expects to catch Air Force’s secondary out of position – could give an inconsistent Army offense the scoring punch it needs to win this game.
3 – Third downs in the first half
Air Force wore down Navy in the second half. Boise State wore down Air Force in the second half. If Army is going to wear down Air Force in the second half, it needs to be good on third downs in the first half. The game might not break open for Army before halftime, but by consistently winning third downs in the first half, the Black Knights can send a message to the Air Force sideline heading into halftime. This would make the Falcons vulnerable in the second half, to the extent that if Army can lean on Air Force at the line of scrimmage, the dam could break and the Black Knights could break the game open in the third quarter.
Saturday’s game kicks off at 11:30 AM ET (9:30 MT). Watch on the CBS network.