Air Force vs. Army: Falcons Game Preview, How to Watch, Odds, Prediction

Air Force vs. Army: Falcons Game Preview, How to Watch, Odds, Prediction

The Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy is on the Line for Air Force

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Welcome to the Commanders’ Classic

WEEK 10: Air Force Falcons 5-3 (2-3) vs. Army West Point 3-4

WHEN: Saturday, November 5th — 9:30 A.M. MT/ 8:30 A.M. PT

WHERE: Globe Life Stadium (Arlington, TX)

WEATHER: Game Played Indoors

TV: CBS

STREAM: FuboTV — Get a free trial

RADIO: KVOR AM 740 in Colorado Springs, 104.3 the Fan in Denver; SIRIUS 388, SXM App 978

Jim Arthur (play-by-play), Jesse Kurtz (analyst)

SERIES RECORD: Air Force leads the series vs. Army, 37-18-1. Army won last year’s matchup in Overtime, 21-14.

LAST WEEK: Both teams were on bye.

WEBSITES: GoArmyWestPoint.com, the official Amy West Point athletics website | GoAirForceFalcons.com, the official Air Force athletics website

GAME NOTES (PDF): Boise State | Air Force

SP+ PROJECTION: Air Force by 7

FEI PROJECTION: Air Force by 11.7

PARKER FLEMING ADVANCED STATS PROJECTION: Air Force win probability of 73.48% (31.01- 21.44).

The calendar has barely turned to November, but make no mistake, the fate of Air Force’s season is decided on Saturday, November 5th. With dreams of a division title long gone, the ultimate goal of Falcons is still within reach. The Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy.

Since the inception of the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy in 1971, the Falcons have dominated ownership shares with a 20 (AF) – 16 (Navy) – 9* (Army) tally. Overall, Air Force is 64-37 in CiC trophy games against their military brethren. Now that we’ve celebrated all that historical success in this rivalry, it’s time to acknowledge some hard truths.

In recent years, Air Force has been getting lapped by their peers, in particular those guys from West Point. The Falcons have lost four of their last five matchups with Jeff Monken’s squad, and they haven’t hoisted the coveted Commander-in-Chief’s trophy since 2016. For their fortunes to change in 2022, Troy Calhoun and the Falcons are going to have dig deep and take hold of the CiC. Army isn’t going to just hand it over.

Three Keys to an Air Force Victory

Exceed two touchdowns

In two of their three losses this year, the Falcons have scored just 14 points. This is less than half of their season average of 30.9 points per game. Anyone who follows Academy football understands that possessions are limited, and therefore points are harder to come by. This is especially magnified when two military schools face one another.

It’s no coincidence that the last time Air Force scored more than two touchdowns against Army, they won. Unfortunately, they’ve not been able to do that since 2016. In 2019, they scored 17 points to narrowly escape with the victory. In these low scoring affairs, the ability find the end zone three times feels like an awfully good avenue to singing second.

run the option, don’t veer

It’s no secret what both of these teams want to do; run the ball. These are the countries two leading rush offenses, and they are only separated by two yards per game. They both run the ball with similar triple option philosophies. Each offense has wrinkles, making them unique, but at the end of the day, these are two throwback, physical option attacks.

For the Falcons to be successful, they won’t just need to run the ball effectively, but execute with precision. In recent years there have been some very head-scratching plays from the Air Force offense when playing Army, that seem to either decide or significantly impact the game in the Black Knights favor. Whether it’s puzzling slot back pass near the Army 20 yard line, or low percentage pass plays in possession of the lead, these are the types of decisions that have helped keep the CiC in quarantine from Colorado Springs.

Nobody expects yards to come easy, but a steadfast commitment to who you are, and what you do well should at the core of Mike Thiessen’s offense. That is something the rivals on the opposing sideline have done with near unwavering success in these matchups.

win fourth down

Converting attempts on fourth down is in the fabric of each of these teams design for success. Successfully extending drives that are typically long and physical in nature, can have a compounding factor in the toll it will take on an opposing defense. In last year’s win for Army, they stopped the Falcons on three separate occasions, which they went for it on fourth down. Air Force was able to hold the Black Knights just once.

On the year, Air Force has the 8th ranked offense when it comes to converting on fourth down, at a rate of .769 on 13 attempts. Compare that to .550 when Army has the ball and has gone for it on fourth, which ranks 55th. Now, West Point also has a lot more tries, with 20, while playing just seven games so far.

Defensively Air Force has been able to hold teams that have gone for it on fourth down at a percentage rate of .429, good enough for 33rd nationally. Army’s fourth down defense is ranked slightly better than their offense at 52nd, holding teams at a clip of .471.

It’s not as if these two teams make more attempts than most other schools when it comes to fourth downs. But it’s more about when and where their willingness to go for it rears, compared to the rest of the nation. You also have to consider the number of attempts they have recorded is significantly marginalized by the fact that they limit possessions, and therefore the opportunity rate is suppressed. One thing that is for sure, fourth down success on both sides of the ball will be a major factor in declaring this years winner of the Commanders’ Classic.

Prediction

In my opinion, the Falcons game against Army is the most difficult to predict a winner each and every season. Especially in recent history, team records, statistical rankings and player notoriety has meant little when it comes to deciding a winner. I say that because in most regards, Air Force has presented a more talented and complete roster in recent years, with more distinguished players and a better standing statistically as a team; yet it has not translated to wins.

This year has another wrinkle in evaluating the matchup, and that is the teams records. Army has just three wins, and two of them have come against FCS opponents (Colgate and Villanova). Their lone FBS victory came against Louisiana-Monroe. Maybe it’s worth noting, Villanova did beat Navy to start the year?

Before piling on Army for yet another underwhelming Independent schedule, the Falcons record is starting to look a little suspect despite being a game away from bowl eligibility just seven games into the season. Of the five games that Air Force has won, the only team currently holding a winning record is the Northern Iowa Panthers of the FCS.

All of that is to say, getting late into the season there are more questions than answers as to just how good Troy Calhoun’s 2022 team is. The season began with really high expectations, but as the season has unfolded, there have been more disappointments than most may have anticipated. Their opponents on Saturday have experienced plenty of letdowns as well, but their ultimate objective is very much achievable yet, and it comes with the highest of prices to Air Force; The Commander-in-Chief’s trophy. That one Trophy can make a successful campaign of even the bleakest of seasons.

It’s week 10, and everything is still right in front of both of these teams. A truly compelling proposition when you think of Army’s overall record, and Air Force’s division mark.

Both of these teams enter the Commanders’ Classic with the only rushing attacks averaging more than 300 yards per game, placing them to little surprise as the nations top running games. There are a few things that I’ve found concerning for Air Force, the more I look at the two teams.

West Point only averages two less yards per game on the ground than the Falcons, though they are earning almost .5 more per rush attempt. The Black Knights are actually scoring almost three points per game more than Air Force also, averaging 32.7. The other thing I couldn’t help but notice was how Army’s offense performed in their losses. And in losses to two very respectable teams in Coastal Carolina and UT- San Antonio, they scored 28 and 38 respectively. Similar to Air Force, their offense had clunkers in defeats to Wake Forest and Georgia State, where they failed to exceed 14 points in either affair. Sound familiar? If not, go look at the Falcons results against Boise State and Wyoming.

These are all parallels that I believe add to an already very compelling matchup, despite Army’s record. But with all the relatability made between these two squads offensive production, defense is certainly the divergent point. And for Air Force, this is where you have to expect your team to show up, and substantiate why their defensive unit is ranked as one of the best in the country in a number of categories. Unfortunately, rush defense isn’t one of those areas they have distinguished themselves, but it has performed much better than Army’s as statistics go. Entering the contest, Jeff Monken’s defense is 126th against the run. That is a 1 in front of the 26l one hundred and twenty sixth.

I’ve been sweating a Falcon rush defense in recent weeks that had fallen outside of the top 50. Well they’ve slowly improved versus the run, and still rank very well where it counts, surrendering just 16.8 points per game, good for 9th nationally in both scoring and total defense. That dreadful standing of Army’s run defense has contributed to a 92nd ranked scoring defense, as they have allowed 29.4 points per game. That number is awful close to what Air Force has been scoring on a per game basis.

You may notice there aren’t mentions of specific players who may impact the game, be missing or starting for the first time. That is not due to a lack of elite players in this matchup. It has more to do with the fact that the composition of the rosters and the individuals have not necessarily dictated the results of this game in my opinion. Coaching, decision making and the overall play of units (to no surprise) bare far more burden to success in this game. Not to mention, you cannot trust a depth chart either of these teams put out.

Air Force has had a quality of team in recent years that had no business losing to Army. Yet despite that, they found themselves watching their peers from West Point sing second more often than not. It’s really hard to compel a Falcons victory seeing how these games have gone. A win would end an unprecedented drought of the CiC Trophy since 2016, and also award Bowl eligibility. If an Air Force offense that has the top rushing attack in the country cannot lead them to victory against a defense that has been shredded by the run on a weekly basis, I’m not sure they can ever secure that coveted trip to the White House. There are certainly no guarantees in this one.

With great reservation, I declare an end to this recession! I mean drought!

Air Force 21, Army 20

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Story originally appeared on Mountain West Wire