The good news for Army is Saturday is the start of a unique second season, an opportunity for redemption in the midst of a rough season and a chance to retake the much-valued Commander-in-Chief Trophy.
The bad news is that it begins against an Air Force team that is 8-0, ranked 17th in the nation and operating on all cylinders, offensively and defensively.
While not blowing out most of its competition, the senior-laden Air Force squad has found a way to keep winning and are considered the current favorite to represent the Group of Five football conferences in a New Year’s Day bowl game.
The Falcons, using some aspects of the traditional option offense, are first in the nation in rushing yards per game, passing efficiency, passing yards per completion and time of possession. Air Force is also fourth in the country in scoring defense, second in rushing defense and third in total defense.
Still, the Falcons will have to get by a determined Army squad, now 2-6 after losing its fifth straight game to UMass last Saturday, at Empower Field at Mile High in Denver on Saturday to keep its undefeated season intact. Based on recent games in the rivalry that might be a hard task. The last five games between the two teams have been decided by seven points or less since Army shutout Air Force 21-0 in Colorado Springs in 2017.
“It has always been a really tough fight and a great football game,” said Army coach Jeff Monken at his weekly press conference on Tuesday. “It seems like every one of these academy games, they are close hard-fought battles so I hope we can make it one this Saturday. They are certainly a good football team, having a great year and impressive with how well they run the football and how well they stop the run.”
“We are excited about playing in Denver at the Mile High Stadium. I understand there is going to be a huge crowd and many of those fans are going to be from Colorado and chanting for Air Force. Great to be in a venue like that and I am excited for our players. Looking forward to this weekend. We have a lot of work to do, started on Sunday coming off the game on Saturday. Just focus our efforts on getting prepared for these guys.”
Army will have its hands full containing the Falcons, who have won 13 straight games dating back to last season. Led by senior quarterback Zac Larrier, Air Force is scoring an average of more than 33 points per game, while giving up just over 13 points per contest. Army, on the other hand, is scoring only about 20 points and giving up more than 25.5 per game. Larrier is second on the team, to fellow senior Emmanuel Michel, in rushing with 533 yards on 111 carries and five touchdowns. He has also completed 28 of 40 pass attempts for 651 yards and six touchdowns.
“If you are going to beat Air Force, you have to stop the run,” Monken said. “There is no question about it. They have hit some big pass plays. They do that by having success running the football. They get people sucked up in there playing the run and they are able to throw it over your head.”
Monken hopes that his Army team turns it around after a rough stretch.
“We got to put (our players) in a position to be in the best chance to win and we have to execute the plays that are called,” he said. “Our guys are playing hard, our guys are playing really hard. They are practicing hard and preparing. I want them to have success and enjoy that thrill of victory. It has been
tough to be on this stretch of games. There have been some really good football teams we have faced.”
Monken said that all of his quarterbacks are available to play.
“For this game, this week, there is a level of intensity that is different than most other games you play,” he said. “Hopefully that will fuel our guys and get them prepared to play their very best.”