Air Force Football: First Look At The Army Black Knights
The Falcons and Black Knights will battle in the Commander’s Classic this November.
A bitter rivalry renewed.
The Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy could be on the line when the Air Force Falcons clash with the Army Black Knights in Arlington, Texas this November.
For all of Air Force’s successes, the Black Knights have bedeviled the Falcons with four victories in the last five years. That explains why the Academy hasn’t been able to secure its prized round-robin trophy since 2016, but will 2022 be more of the same against a veteran-laden Army squad?
Location: West Point, New York
Series History: Air Force leads the all-time series, 36-18-1.
2021 Record: 9-4
Head Coach: Jeff Monken (ninth year at Army; 58-43 with Black Knights, 96-59 overall). The Black Knights were able to extend what has been arguably the program’s best stretch since World War II with another nine-win season in 2021, its fifth winning season in the last six years. Though that record is arguably inflated by a trio of wins against FCS Bucknell, UConn, and Massachusetts, Army also beat Conference USA runner-up Western Kentucky and threw serious scares at both Wisconsin and Wake Forest.
Andre Carter II, LB
Could Army really have a first-round NFL Draft prospect on its defense? There’s no doubt Carter II played like the real deal in 2021 when he collected 44 total tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss, and 15.5 sacks, the last of which was bested by only Alabama’s Will Anderson. At 6-foot-7 and 260 pounds, the Missouri City, Texas native is an offensive coordinator’s waking nightmare.
The 𝗝𝗢𝗨𝗥𝗡𝗘𝗬 to becoming an All-American at 𝗪𝗘𝗦𝗧 𝗣𝗢𝗜𝗡𝗧.
— Army Football (@ArmyWP_Football) April 1, 2022
Tyhier Tyler, QB
Tyler was far from the only Army quarterback to see extensive playing time last year, but he enters 2022 as the option with the most experience under center. He missed a couple of early contests with injury, but still appeared in 11 games and made four starts, averaging 3.89 yards on 125 rushing attempts and scoring seven touchdowns.
Marquel Broughton, S
Where Carter brings the heat up front, Broughton holds things down on the backline and will be a team captain when the Black Knights take the field this fall. In 2021, he made 80 total tackles, broke up six passes, and had three tackles for loss and two interceptions, but what’s particularly interesting is that, according to Pro Football Focus, his 91.3 grade in run defense ranked first among all qualifying FBS safeties.
Connor Bishop, C
When it comes to setting the tone for run-heavy offenses, game recognizes game at the center position and Bishop is one of the best in the country. A two-year starter at the point of attack, he posted a PFF overall grade of 84.7 that ranked eighth among FBS centers.
Tyrell Robinson, SB
Air Force fans almost certainly remember Robinson for his backbreaking touchdown in last year’s matchup, but they may not have noticed that he did a bit of everything all season long for the Black Knights. He ran for 609 yards and three touchdowns on just 72 rushing attempts, caught 12 passes for 340 yards and three touchdowns, and returned punts and kickoffs, as well, putting up 1,202 all-purpose yards in all.
OH WHAT A PLAY‼️
Our Army Sports Network Call of the Game is the 79-yard TD reception from Christian Anderson to Tyrell Robinson to give Army a 14-3 lead Saturday in the @CommandersClsc.#GoArmy | #BEATairforce pic.twitter.com/unqfzJsSkf
— Army Football (@ArmyWP_Football) November 9, 2021
You might know what’s coming when the Army offense steps on the field, but Air Force knows better than most that doesn’t mean you can stop it and few opponents did in 2021: The Black Knights ranked 37th among FBS teams in averaging 4.82 yards per play, but they finished 16th in available yards percentage earned per drive and 12th in points per drive. They also rarely got pushed backwards (13% stuff rate, 15th overall) and were better than almost anyone in short-yardage situations (84.7% power success rate, 6th), so Army knows what it’s doing.
The Black Knights might hope to have greater continuity at quarterback, but they have backup plans behind Tyler with Cade Ballard and Jemel Jones if health issues strike again. Having a relatively stacked backfield to work with will help matters, too, with Robinson and fullback Jakobi Buchanan (136 carries, 504 yards, 12 touchdowns) leading the charge. Better yet, top wide receiver Isaiah Alston (22 catches, 449 yards, 3 TDs) is back to stretch the field, too, as are three starters on the offensive line, including Bishop and offensive tackle Jordyn Law.
Despite the presence of a couple top-shelf talents, the Army defense was prone to getting pushed around at times last year. Most tellingly, they coughed up 6.73 yards per play in their four losses (though that’s skewed somewhat by a whopper of a performance by Wake Forest), but the season-long standing by points per drive allowed (2.25, 70th in FBS) and available yards percentage allowed per drive (48.7%, 78th) tells you there’s room for growth.
For instance, will anyone besides Carter II be able to generate havoc in the front seven? No one else returning for 2022 had more than two sacks or 3.5 tackles for loss last season, so more will be expected of veterans like senior defensive end Kwabna Bonsu (31 tackles, 2.5 TFLs) and linebacker Leo Lowin (37 tackles, 3.5 TFLs).
In the secondary, Broughton and cornerback Jabari Moore (50 tackles, seven passes defended, two interceptions) provide a solid backbone but will look to improve on the 8.1 yards per attempt they gave up in 2021.
Over the past four seasons, this game has been one of the closest things to a literal fistfight you’ll see anywhere in college football and there really isn’t much reason to think 2022 will be any different. The biggest problem for Air Force, as it was in last year’s game, is that they may not be able to take advantage of the Black Knights’ potential weakness in the secondary when the matchup is rooted in strength vs. strength across the trenches. With that in mind, it may be another heartbreaker for the Falcons.
Army 23, Air Force 21