Army (1-2): lost to Stanford, 34-20. This was supposed to be a disaster. It wasn’t. Army put up a great effort. Until the Cardinal scored a touchdown to make it 34-13 with about ten minutes left in the fourth quarter, it never felt like Army was out of the game. (They took advantage of a short field after Rich Ellerson decided to go for it on 4th down on his own 29. Puzzling call.) Things couldn’t have started out much better for Army, with the defense forcing a fumble and a 3 & out on Stanford’s first two possessions of the game. The Black Knights were able to turn that into two field goals, but field goals weren’t going to win this game. Stanford came alive on their next drive, ripping off some long runs to set up a 26-yard touchdown pass and a 7-6 lead. The Cardinal never trailed the rest of the way, although they couldn’t quite pull away, either.
Defensively, Stanford didn’t do anything fancy to stop the option, preferring to just line up in their base defense and counting on their players making plays. They did when they had to, but Army still ran for a very respectable 284 yards. Army’s defense kept Stanford surprisingly in check for a good portion of the game, but I kept getting the feeling that the Cardinal was holding back a little bit with their play calling. They spent most of the afternoon either throwing horizontally or lining up three tight ends and running the ball, both of which Army kept in check well enough. Stanford’s coaches only opened up when they really needed to, and when they did they got it; the Cardinal had 7 plays of 20+ yards. That doesn’t take away from Army’s performance, though. They forced two turnovers and kept the game within reach.
The question for Army now is where they go from here. Can they build on this performance? Can they do it without Larry Dixon, Raymond Maples, and Momo Kime if they need to? All three were injured on Saturday, and we should learn to what extent later today. Army has a reeling BCS conference opponent coming to town this week in what has to be considered a winnable game. After playing well against Stanford, beating Wake Forest to get to 2-2 would give the season a renewed optimism. Fall to 1-3, and things look pretty rough with 5 of the next 7 games coming away from Michie Stadium before heading to Army-Navy. The Wake Forest game might be the key to Army’s season.
Air Force (1-2): lost to Boise State, 42-20. For a while there it looked like this was going to be a real shootout. Air Force and Boise State were going toe-to-toe in the first half, with neither defense looking like it was going to step up. Then one of them did. Air Force was held to 98 yards in the second half as the Broncos eventually pulled away. Schematically, Boise State didn’t deviate very much from what Utah State did. Depending on situation, they either lined up in the same 3-deep 4-4 the Aggies used, or with 4 deep and having the playside safety roll up to play run support. Both are pretty basic defenses that Air Force sees all the time, and in the first half, they played like it. In the second half, Boise didn’t change the scheme. They simply manhandled the Air Force offensive line.
The two big questions for Air Force right now are about the defense and Jaleel Awini’s ability to run the offense. Regarding the latter, I’d say that we still don’t know. Everything sure seemed to be clicking in the first half, and he finished with 107 rushing yards and two TDs. On the other hand, this is the second straight game that Air Force has failed to rush for at least 200 yards. They’ve been able to do that much against even their toughest opposition in years past. Is it all because of the offensive line? How much of this falls on Awini? As for the defense, they had two really bad games against two really good opponents. We should get a more accurate read on that unit this week when Air Force takes on what should be (in theory) a more evenly-matched Wyoming team.