Ground Attack: 2018 Armed Forces Bowl Preview

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2018 Armed Forces Bowl
Army and San Diego State square off in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl on Saturday, December 23rd.
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If you’re a fan of the high-octane, pass happy modern football offense, this might not be the bowl game for you. The 2018 Armed Forces Bowl features two of the nation’s top rushing offenses in the Army West Point Black Knights and the San Diego State Aztecs. The bowl’s title sponsor is aircraft maker Lockheed Martin; that’s irony for you.

2018 Armed Forces Bowl Preview

But there’s a certain type of beauty in two primarily rushing teams getting together for a big game. For one, it’s not something you see often in today’s college football. It also hearkens back to an older type of football. These two teams won’t be running single wing offenses, but they do focus on execution and toughness to wear down their opponents. There’s a simple beauty in that; no different than the appeal of a classic roadster compared to the luxurious sports cars of modern time.

What: Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl
Where: Amon G. Carter Stadium, Ft. Worth, Texas
When: 2:30 CST, Saturday, December 23rd
TV: ESPN

Army comes into the game as the nation’s leading rushing attack, averaging a gaudy 355.83 rushing yards per game. San Diego State ranks 11th nationally with 252.25 yards per game. Needless to say, this will probably be the shortest bowl game of the 2018 college football post-season.

Both starting quarterbacks enter this game with a combined passing total of just over 2,100 yards. Army’s quarterback, Ahmad Bradshaw, who has played almost every snap this season, has 279 passing yards for the entire twelve game season. For comparison, Baker Mayfield, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, surpassed that total in every regular season game.

Story Lines

Both teams come into the game on high notes. For Army, they’ve secured the coveted Commander-In-Chief Trophy for the first time since 1996 after their second straight win over Navy. They’re playing for their first 10-win season since 1996 as well.

For Rocky Long‘s San Diego State team, they are playing for their third straight 11-win season. Long is slowly building one of the preeminent Group-of-Five programs in the nation. A signature win against Stanford this season went for naught after back-to-back losses to rivals Boise State and Fresno State at home. The only thing standing between the Aztecs and national prominence is consistency.

Not All Rushing Teams Are The Same

It’s easy for people to see the statistics of these two teams and think that they are similar. It would also be lazy. While both of these teams’ offenses are predicated on the run, they go about their business very differently.

Know The Teams: Army

Most everyone is familiar with Army. Jeff Monken comes from the Paul Johnson coaching tree, having served under the triple-option guru at Hawaii, Georgia Southern, Navy, and Georgia Tech. While Army doesn’t run a true triple-option (it’s the Johnson style speed-read option), it’s fundamentals are rooted in the triple-option philosophy. That’s a perfect fit for all of the service academies. It requires precise execution of a set amount of plays, discipline, team work, and hustle and heart more than size and speed.

Army’s offense revolves around the quarterback, Ahmad Bradshaw. Bradshaw has about 30% of all of Army’s rushes this season. He has 37% of the total rushing yards (1,566) on the season. But more important than that carries and yards is Bradshaw’s decision-making. Army’s attack is dependent upon the quarterback making the correct read on every single play. They are a “three yards and a cloud of dust” type attack. Any negative plays or penalties severely hurt Army’s chances of getting the next first down.

Between the cut-blocks, the ten-plus play drives, and the constant rushing attack coming at you, teams start to wear down late. That’s how Army beats you.

Know The Teams: San Diego State

The Aztecs are also a run-based team, but they will look very different when they go on offense. San Diego State runs a pro-style “I Formation” offense. As opposed to Army, the Aztec offense revolves around Rashaad Penny. Penny has 2,027 rushing yards on the season, making one of the 28 people to rush for 2,000 yards in a single college football season. If Penny played for a Power 5 team, he would have been next to Mayfield in the Heisman presentation room.

Also different from Army is that the Aztecs aren’t solely dependent upon the rushing attack. Quarterback Christian Chapman is the prototypical “game manager” signal caller, ala Trent Dilfer or any of Alabama’s championship winning quarterbacks. He does just enough to complement the Penny running attack and tries to limit his mistakes. Chapman has passed for 1,848 yards this season with a 60% completion rate.

The Game

The Aztecs will find success in two areas. First, Penny is far too fast and far too athletic to be held in check by the Army defense. The Black Knights thrive on assignment defense, but Penny is talented enough to break tackles on any given play. Secondly, the Aztec tight ends, Kahale Warring and David Wells, will be able to exploit the play-action passing game and find plenty of open space vacated by linebackers too concerned with Penny.

Also look for the Aztex offense to take some deep shots early to loosen the Army defense up. San Diego State believes that if they can get one-on-one match-ups with Penny, they’ll be successful all day. And they’re probably right. Army’s defense just doesn’t have the team speed to defend the whole field against a fast Aztec offense.

Army can answer on a few occasions, but they won’t be able to keep up for the entire game. San Diego State’s athleticism will create some big plays on defense. They’ll have a tackle for loss here, a fumble recovery there. They’ll be able to get enough stops early to force Army into getting away from their bread and butter late in the game.

Prediction

As important as heart and hustle are to a football team, they can’t match up against speed and incredible talent. And that’s exactly what you have with Rashaad Penny. San Diego State might be a little disappointed in where they fell, but they’ll be motivated by playing a nine-win opponent in Texas in late December.

San Diego State 42, Army 21

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