Before the 2019 college football season began, the Army West Point Black Knights were considered heavy favorites to win the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy for the third straight year. However, Army has stumbled to a 3-5 start, which includes an ongoing four-game losing streak that has been capped off by a 34-29 loss to San Jose State last week. The Air Force Falcons, who come in 6-2 overall and 4-1 in Mountain West Conference play, entered with hopeful, though overall modest expectations. Yet after beating Utah State 31-7 a week ago and securing bowl eligibility, the Falcons have an opportunity to get back in the Mountain division race. Air Force lost the first leg of the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy round-robin series 34-25 to Navy back on Oct. 5.
Army at Air Force
Kickoff: Saturday Nov. 2, at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV: CBS Sports Network
Spread: Air Force -16
When Army Has the Ball
Once again, the Black Knights rank among the nation’s leaders in rushing offense. Army sits No. 5 on the FBS leaderboard at 263.5 rushing yards per game. However, it’s also worth noting that the Black Knights have finished no worse than second in the country in rushing since a No. 12 finish in 2015 when the team posted a 2-10 record (and lost to Air Force 20-3 in the process). Army has also been held to 200 rushing yards or fewer in three games already this season. The last time the Black Knights posted fewer than 200 yards on the ground three times in a year? 2015.
The slight step back Army has made running the football can’t be blamed on a change in philosophy. The Black Knights have averaged 56.5 rushing attempts per game, but they have gained just 4.66 yards per carry, which ranks 55th nationally.
Still, Army has a host of talented ball carriers. Quarterback Kelvin Hopkins Jr. is tied with running back Sandon McCoy for the team lead with five rushing touchdowns, despite missing two games due to injury. Hopkins ranks second to Connor Slomka with both 103 rushing attempts and 379 yards. Slomka has gained 452 yards and scored three times on 105 attempts. McCoy is third on the team with 324 rushing yards, followed by Kell Walker’s 223 yards and two touchdowns. Hopkins was banged up last week in the loss to San Jose State. Backups Jabari Laws (who was also injured in the game) and Christian Anderson all saw action last week.
Air Force is well-versed in Army’s option offense and has excelled stopping the run this year. The Falcons have held opponents to 92.8 rushing yards per game, which ranks No. 11 in the country. Their 3.3 yards per carry mark ranks 25th overall.
When Air Force Has the Ball
Air Force has been much more consistent running the football than Army. The Falcons rank second nationally in rushing offense (322.5) and 16th in yards per carry (5.4) despite an FBS-high 60.0 rushing attempts per game. And while the quarterback position is important to the triple-option attack, and Air Force quarterback Donald Hammond III leads the team with eight scores on the ground, the Falcons have three running backs with 500 rushing yards or more.
Kadin Remsberg leads the way with 623 rushing yards and has scored seven touchdowns. Taven Birdow is close behind with 550 yards and five touchdowns on a team-high 121 carries. Fullback Timothy Jackson, who has surpassed 100 rushing yards in three straight games, ranks third with 506 yards and five scores.
Hammond, who ranks fourth with 327 rushing yards, has completed 32 of 66 passes (48.5 percent) for 693 yards and five touchdowns with three interceptions. The junior has appeared in all eight games this season but has been hampered by an ankle injury, which opened the door for backups Isaiah Sanders (himself slowed by an ankle injury) and Mike Schmidt, who ran for 120 yards and three touchdowns and threw for 147 yards and a touchdown in relief in the win over Hawaii.
The Army defense has allowed 5.6 yards per play, which ranks 69th in the country. Opponents have gained an average of 150.3 rushing yards per game against the Black Knights, which ranks 55th, and 4.2 yards per carry, which ranks 65th.
Both Army and Air Force rely heavily on the rushing game, though the Falcons have shown slightly more balance, having thrown for 120.0 yards per game and averaging an FBS-best 12.3 yards per pass attempt. Army has averaged 7.4 yards per pass and 75.4 passing yards per game. The Black Knights have held opponents to fewer passing yards per game on average (202.5) compared to Air Force (216.9), but the Falcons (7.2) have surrendered fewer yards per attempt (7.5).
Army has won two in a row in the series, most recently beating the Falcons 17-14 at West Point. Coupled with the 21-0 victory in Colorado Springs in 2017, which snapped a four-game Air Force winning streak over the Black Knights and capped a period in which the Falcons won 31 of 38 games against the Cadets, Army won back-to-back games over Air Force for the first time since winning three in a row from 1976-78.
Air Force has been the better team this season and is understandably favored. The Falcons hold an edge in nearly every statistical category and also hold the home-field advantage. Of course, unexpected things can happen in a rivalry game, as evidenced by the Falcons’ loss to Navy earlier this year as a road favorite. Expect a close, low-scoring Air Force win.