In one of the more surprisingly entertaining games of the bowl season, the Army West Point Black Knights outran the San Diego State Aztecs to win the 2017 Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth on Saturday. It was the second consecutive bowl victory for the Black Knights, both coming in the DFW Metroplex.
Army Outruns Penny To Win 2017 Armed Forces Bowl
Make no mistake about it, this contest was about the running game. Entering the game, Army was the nation’s leading rushing team, averaging over 362 yards per game. San Diego State entered as the eleventh best rushing attack, at 252 yards per game. Neither running game disappointed.
The Army Grind
For Army, the plan of attack was the same as it always is. Army simply grinded their way to victory. The statistics are almost obscene. Army had 91 offensive snaps compared to San Diego State’s 31. The Black Knights amassed 440 rushing yards, with three different players having 81 or more yards rushing. Almost all of those yards were from the off-tackle holes and inward. The Aztec defensive line and linebackers were barraged with a steady dose of Darnell Woolfork (21-87) and Andy Davidson (14-81) on the inside and Ahmad Bradshaw (32-184) on the edge. Bradshaw’s 184 rushing yards are second in Armed Forces Bowl history, trailing only Rashaad Penny‘s performance on the day. Bradshaw was named the game’s MVP for his efforts.
The gaudy statistics don’t end there. Army collected 31 total first downs, or as many snaps as the Aztecs managed all game. Army was 15-for-22 (68%) on third- or fourth-down conversions. Only two teams in the nation converted 50% or more on third down this season. Lastly, Army held the ball for 46:00 total minutes compared to San Diego State’s 14:00 time of possession. Six of Army’s eight drives on the day lasted ten plays or more.
It was as textbook of an example of the Paul Johnson flexbone option attack as you will ever find.
Momma, There Goes That Man
For San Diego State, All-American Rashaad Penny turned in a record setting day. Unfortunately, the loss dampened the incredible individual effort. Penny set Armed Forces Bowl records for longest run from scrimmage (81 yards), single game rushing record (221 yards), and most rushing touchdowns (4). In addition to the game records, he became only the third running back in NCAA FBS history to have five straight 200-yard games. Penny also moved from 24th to 5th on the NCAA FBS all-time single season rushing yardage mark. Penny finishes the season with 2,248 rushing yards.
Penny’s individual effort was as impressive as Army’s overall performance. When asked in the post-game press conference about the decision to go for the two-point conversion at the end of the game, Army head coach Jeff Monken said the he just didn’t want to see Penny run the ball any more.
Team Versus Individual
In the end, this was a classic team versus individual battle. And it was a prototypical Army effort. Certainly the offense was led by Bradshaw, but Davidson and Woolfork’s punishing inside attack devastated the Aztec defensive front. When Army got the ball back with 5:47 remaining to play, even the Aztec fans in attendance knew what was coming.
Army’s defense did just enough. With the offense owning the stat sheet, the Black Knight defense needed just a few stops and one crucial turnover. They got both. Army forced San Diego State to punt twice, both on four plays or less. And more importantly, just three plays after the offense threw an interception and with San Diego State in the red zone, the Black Knights defense got an interception of their own on a tremendous team effort. A falling defensive back tips the errant Christian Chapman pass to a trailing linebacker for the interception. It was easily the play of the game.
And when it mattered most, Army was able to go yet another weapon, A-Back Kell Walker, for the fly-sweep to secure the two-point conversion, and lead, with just 18 seconds remaining in the game.
— 🏈LastWordOnCFB🏈 (@LastWordOnCFB) December 23, 2017
San Diego State just couldn’t muster anything outside of Penny. Quarterback Chapman was six-for-ten for 25 yards passing and one interception. Outside of Penny’s 221 yards rushing, the Aztecs were only able to get 59 yards of offense. Chapman’s inability to produce anything through the air was the key to Army be able to hang around.
Moreover, the defense had no answer for Army’s rushing attack. Even after 30 days of preparation, and with eight men in the tackle box on every single play, the Aztec defense couldn’t force a single Army punt.
Only a Juwan Washington kickoff return for touchdown and two trick play stops complemented Penny’s record setting day.
For San Diego State, the loss is a disappointing finish to another solid season. The Aztecs miss out on a third-straight eleven win season. The Aztec fans have to be happy with 32 wins over the last three seasons; San Diego has clearly emerged as one of the top Group-of-Five teams in the nation. However, over that period they’ve dropped games they shouldn’t have. With loses to South Alabama in 2015 and 2016, Wyoming and Colorado State in 2016, and Army this season, Aztec faithful are left wondering what could have been over that three year span. Particularly this season, with early wins against Stanford and Arizona State, San Diego State was potential in line for a Top 25 ranking at the end of the bowl season.
And even more concerning is the departure of Penny. Over those three seasons, they’ve had Donnel Pumphrey and Rashaad Penny leading the way. Those are two big sets of cleats to fill next season. The Aztecs may have missed a window of opportunity over the last three seasons.
For Army, the win was far more consequential. They’ve won ten games for only the second time in school history, beat Navy two straight seasons, and own the Commander-in-Chief Trophy for the first time in over a decade. They’ve shown that they can have a successful football program at West Point. Albeit, the emergence of the football program isn’t without some controversy among alumni amidst reports of preferential treatment of football players.
Now Coach Monken has to figure out how to sustain this success. They’ll lose quarterback Bradshaw and most of the offensive line. But they return some skill players and most of the defense. With the unique aspects of running an academy program, Monken will have to continue to do more with less.
But when you play as a team as well as Army does, anything is possible.