WEST POINT, N.Y. - The Black Knights, who enjoyed a bye last week, return to action on Saturday to take on Air Force in USAFA, Colo. in their first game in the annual race for the Commander in Chief Trophy.
After hosting Rutgers Oct. 23, Army begins the final stretch of its 2009 schedule with the Air Force game. The Black Knights played within the friendly confines of Michie Stadium during five of their first eight games, but will travel for three of their final four games to close out the season. Army makes its longest road trip of the season to Air Force before returning home to host VMI Nov. 14. A trip to Denton, Texas marks the next contest before Army makes the short trip to Philadelphia for a neutral site game against Navy Dec. 12 at the end of the regular season.
The Falcons, who hold a 29-13-1 advantage in the all-time series, have won three straight meetings dating back to 2005. In that game, Army picked up a 27-24 win against the Falcons at Air Force's Falcon Stadium. Most of the last several meetings have been lopsided affairs, however. Only one of the last 14 games has been decided by a touchdown or less (27-24 Army win in 2005), and only three games in that span have had a single-digit margin of victory (31-22 Air Force in 2004; 27-24 Army in 2005; Air Force 16-7 in 2008).
"Think of it this way," said first-year head football coach Rich Ellerson. "Next August, we are going to be talking about all of these guys who are returning and all of these veteran players, and how everybody has been around the block once before. What about right now? We have played eight games. We've had a week to go back to 'training camp.' We've had a week to revisit all of those fundamentals and basics. Everybody in the program is a veteran. Everybody has these games that they are back for. What about now? Why can't we be that team that everyone is going to talk about next year right now? We can use this as a great opportunity to re-invent ourselves."
How to follow the game
Live audio of the Army Sports Network broadcast via ITT Knight Vision and a nationally-televised broadcast on CBS College Sports Network highlight the platforms from which to catch the game. Kickoff is set for 3:34 p.m. EST and 1:34 p.m. local time.
To access the Army Sports Network radio broadcast online through ITT Knight Vision, click here. Monthly subscriptions can be purchased for $9.95 per month, while annual subscriptions are available for $69.95. Fans can order either plan by clicking here. For those fans residing in the local area, the Army Sports Network is carried on Army's flagship station, WABC 770-AM out of New York City, along with WALL (1340-AM, Middletown, N.Y.) and WEOK (1390-AM, Poughkeepsie, N.Y.) in the Hudson valley will broadcast the game. The Army radio call will also be broadcast through SIRIUS Satellite Radio (channel 129). In-game Twitter updates are also planned.
Dave Ryan (play-by-play) and Jason Seyhorn (color analyst) have the call on CBS College Sports Network. The pair have already done four of Army's six home game on the schedule and are more than familiar with the Black Knights. CBSC's broadcast will also be available online at www.cbssports.com/cbscollegesports/xxl. Subscription fees apply.
As a precursor to all of Saturday's broadcasts, tune in to ESPN GameDay beginning at 10 a.m. today. The popular crew of The popular crew of Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, Lee Corso and Desmond Howard will take over Falcon Stadium and broadcast the weekly college football show from the academy grounds.
A look at the matchups
ARMY HEAD COACH RICH ELLERSON
Alma Mater: Hawai'i, 1977
1st Season at Army (3-5, .375)
10th Season Overall (63-46, .578)
Record vs. Air Force: 0-0
AIR FORCE HEAD COACH TROY CALHOUN
Alma Mater: Air Force, 1989
3rd Season at Air Force (22-13, .629)
3rd Season Overall (22-13, .629)
Record vs. Army: 2-0
Freshman QB Trent Steelman started his eighth straight game in the loss to Rutgers, extending his record for starts by an Army freshman quarterback. Steelman has improved his passing proficiency as well. In the last three games, he is 14-for-27 through the air with 124 yards and a touchdown. He had a total of 13 completions for 163 yards and a score in the first five games of the season. Steelman is 27-for-55 for 282 yards, two touchdowns and one interception on the season.
The Falcons have used a two-headed attack at the quarterback position this season. Tim Jefferson hit seven of 12 passes for 111 yards and matched his career high with two TD passes at Colorado State last week. Connor Dietz, who has played in seven games including three starts, ranks third on the team in rushing for the season and led the team's individual rushing total against Utah, Nicholls State and TCU.
IN THE BACKFIELD
Army junior FB Kingsley Ehie ranks third on the team and is the leading rusher from the fullback spot with 369 yards (46.1/game). He is tied for second on the team with two rushing scores. He has been brought down behind the line of scrimmage only once on 81 rushing attempts. Ehie was Army's top rusher versus Rutgers with 56 yards on eight carries. Steelman is the team's leading threat in the ground game, followed by junior Patrick Mealy. Mealy is Army's leading slotback and ranks second on the team with 435 rushing yards (54.4/game).
Air Force RB Asher Clark has led the team in rushing twice this season with a game-high 90 yards at Minnesota and again with 86 yards at New Mexico. Clark ranks eighth in the MWC in rushing with 51.0 yards per game, while averaging 4.9 yards per carry. Last week, he racked up 75 yards on just 12 attempts versus Colorado State.
Senior WR Damion Hunter took over the team lead in receptions with a career-high five catch day in the win over Vanderbilt. Hunter now leads the team with 20 receptions through eight games. He is second on the team with 129 receiving yards. Alejandro Villanueva ranks second on the team with 16 catches and paces the squad with 253 yards. His reception, yardage and touchdown totals are all already more than any Black Knight player had last season.
Kevin Fogler leads the Air Force receiving corps with 14 catches for 268 yards. He recorded a streak of three straight games with a TD reception earlier this season, and had two catches for 41 yards against the Rams a week ago. Jonathan Warzeka, the team's second-leading receiver (13 catches, 180 yards), has scored a touchdown three different ways this season (pass, rush, receiving).
Army used its fourth different starting lineup along the offensive line in the win over Vanderbilt and have stuck with it each of the last three games. Senior OG Fritz Bentler made his offensive debut in the game at left guard. A converted defensive lineman, Bentler suffered a broken leg in preseason practice that kept him out of the first five games. The other switch came at left tackle. Junior Anees Merzi made his first start at left tackle. He started the first two games of the season at left guard. The Black Knights' probable o-line is: LT Anees Merzi, LG Fritz Bentler, C Zach Peterson, RG Seth Reed, RT Jason Johnson
Save for the first game of the season, the Falcons have deployed the same five starters on their offensive line in every game. In each of its nine contests, Air Force has out-rushed its opponents. The Falcons rank first in the MWC and 11th nationally in time of possession per game (32:28). The Air Force line consists of: LT Ryan Gonzales(6-3, 255); LG Nick Charles (6-4, 285); C Michael Hampton (6-2, 255); RG Peter Lusk (6-3, 250); RT Chris Campbell (6-3, 260).
Since moving from linebacker to defensive end at Texas A&M last season, junior DE Josh McNary has 25 tackles for loss and 15 sacks in 16 games. In last year's Air Force game at Michie Stadium, McNary notched 12 tackles. Senior DT Victor Ugenyi has also been a regular in opposing backfield this season. The converted defensive end has six tackles for loss and four sacks in eight games at his new position.
Ben Garland has had at least half a sack in seven of his last 11 games from his spot on Air Force's defensive line. While collecting at least one TFL in seven on nine games, he also blocked the first kick of his career opposite New Mexico. The Falcons have also enjoyed steady play from Myles Morales, who ranks second on the team in TFL (7.5) and sacks (3.5). Last week against Colorado State, Morales was credited with six tackles and one pass breakup.
Army junior middle linebacker Stephen Anderson leads his team with 67 total tackles through eight games. He made 10 tackles in Army's loss to Rutgers. Sophomores LBs Andrew Rodriguez (whip) and Steve Erzinger (rover) are fourth and fifth on the team in tackles, respectively. In Army's OT win against Vanderbilt, Erzinger forced a fumble on the 1-yard line that led to the Black Knights' game-winning field goal.
The Air Force linebacking corps holds down the top three spots on the individual tackles list this season. Inside linebacker John Falgout paces the Falcons' 3-4 defense with 66 stops, including 25 solo hits, on the season while fellow ILB Justin Moore is second with 53 tackles. OLB Andre Morris, Jr. is third on the squad in both tackles (41.0) and tackles for loss (5.0).
Junior FS Donovan Travis is the secondary's top tackler, and ranks second behind Anderson with 51 hits so far. He also leads the team with four interceptions, including a pick that he returned for a score that proved to be the difference in the Black Knights' 24-17 win versus Ball State. Sophomore DB Antuan Aaron, who ranks fifth on the team and second in the secondary with 40 tackles, made his first career interception against Vanderbilt.
Air Force's Chris Thomas is the Falcons' active leader in career tackles with 272 tackles, tackles for loss with 18.5 and pass breakups with 18. Anthony Wright, Jr. is tied for tops on the squad with three INTs, including two returns for touchdowns.
Army sophomore K Alex Carlton is 13-for-17 on field goal tries and 9-for-9 on PATs since taking over kicking duties against Duke. He is 5-of-6 from attempts from longer than 40 yards, and ranks eighth in the country with 1.86 made field goals per contest. Punter Jonathan Bulls averages 39.4 yards per punt on 47 attempts this season. He also serves as the holder for backup placekicker Matthew Campbell.
Erik Soderberg is the MWC's top scorer with 8.7 points per game. Soderberg ranks fourth nationally with 2.11 field goals per contest, and has converted 79.2 percent of his attempts, including a career-long 50-yarder last week at Colorado State. Air Force P Brandon Geyer is 36th nationally in punting average at 42.3. He had two 50-plaus yard punts in an OT loss to Navy, and downed three punts inside the opponents' 20-yard line against Utah.
Army will return to Michie Stadium for its final home game of 2009 against VMI next weekend. The Military Appreciation Day game will be carried nationally by CBS College Sports Network via tape-delay, slated for a noon kickoff.