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SQ Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl Preview

Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

Can Army finish off their season with a big win over the Aztecs?

While San Diego State is disappointed in not winning their conference, Army is pumped to be in their second bowl game in as many seasons. The Black Knights will try to improve upon their best season since 1996 with their third-straight bowl win. Aztec coach Rocky Long is looking for his fourth bowl victory since taking over in 2011. 

If you like watching two teams run the ball for the majority of the game, then the Armed Forces Bowl is a must watch. This matchup will be played on December 23rd at 3:30 pm EST and can be seen on ESPN

Storylines Heading Into The Game 

1. Army won first Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy since 1996

The Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy isn’t one of the most well-known rivalry awards, but it is steeped in tradition between Air Force, Army, and Navy. Since the rivalries began in 1971, the Falcons have won the trophy 20 times. Army has won five times but not since 1996. The Black Knights have only had two winning seasons, 2016 and 2017, since that ‘96 season. Army shut out Air Force and narrowly beat the Midshipmen in Philadelphia to finally reclaim the prestigious trophy. 

2. What will San Diego State do about Army’s triple-option?

The military academies are notorious for using the triple-option offense and that spells trouble for a lot of teams. The reason they do is they feel it evens the playing field when playing against traditional football systems. It’s incredibly hard to defend and in practice nearly impossible to duplicate. So can the Aztecs actually stop the attack? Well, they rank eighth nationally giving up only 110.4 rushing yards per game so that’s a start. It will still be difficult for SDSU to defend the option but they have the necessary players and scheme to slow it down and get their offense on the field. 

3. Sending the seniors out in style

San Diego State has recently been a Group of 5 school to make some noise. That’s thanks to head coach Rocky Long. Since his hiring in 2011, the Aztecs have gone 64-28 with three Mountain West titles. The class of 2018 will be his most successful class, and the best the school has ever had. Over their four years they have a record of 39-14, won two MWC titles, and this will be their fourth bowl game. 

Key Stats

4.- In today’s football atmosphere, it’s unheard of for a team not to throw the ball. Even for the military academies with their run-heavy offense, one still expects them to throw the ball on occasion. Army has done what seems impossible. The Black Knights had four games this season where they did not complete a pass and one where they didn’t even attempt one. In those games, Army is 3-1 and have outscored their opponents 134 to 54. The last team to have three games without completing a pass was Ohio in 1997. 

55- The Aztecs have one of the best defenses in the country. They only give up 303.5 total yards per game (11th nationally) and 18.4 points per game (15th). An even more encouraging sign for SDSU is the fact they rank eighth in rushing yards given up per game. But they’ve never faced an offense so built on the run like Army. Let’s face it, SDSU can’t completely shut down the triple-option, but what they can do is force Army to have to throw the ball. The best way to do that is to put the Black Knights into third and very long situations, but the Aztecs don’t exactly excel in tackles for loss. On the year they only have 55 tackles for loss as a team. That’s 19th worst in the country. SDSU will have to improve on their 4.6 tackles for loss per game if they really want to make Army sweat. 

33:45- There’s an overall theme to this game and it’s all about running the football. When a team can run the football effectively, they control the clock, and only a handful of teams did that better than Army. On the season, the Black Knights’ time of possession is a fifth-best 405 minutes. That comes out to an average of 33 minutes and 45 seconds per game that the ball is in Army’s possession. It’s hard to beat a team when your offense can’t get on the field for 70% of the game. If Army controls the clock, it usually means their running game is working at peak efficiency. 

Key Players  

Rashaad Penny, RB San Diego State- Donnel Pumphrey who? The Aztec’s career-leading rusher left a season ago, but Rashaad Penny has made fans almost forget all about him. Penny deserves more love than he actually gets and his numbers are actually similar to Heisman runner-up Bryce Love. 

Rushing Yards (Rank)Yards per Carry (Rank)Touchdowns (Rank)
Rashaad Penny-SDSU2,027 (1st)7.4 (8th) 19 (3rd) 
Bryce Love-Stanford1,973 (2nd) 8.3 (4th) 17 (T-7th)

Penny did get recognition by being named a consensus All-American this season, but he still feels like he needs to prove himself. Unlike some prospects in the past, Penny easily decided to suit-up for the Armed Forces Bowl and be with his team despite NFL-interest. On top of his rushing statistics, he is also tied for third on the team in receptions with 18, but only for 182 yards. Any way you put it, Penny is the unquestioned playmaker for SDSU

Thank you SD!

— Rashaad Penny (@pennyhendrixx) November 24, 2017

Ahmad Bradshaw, QB, Army- To call Army’s Ahmed Bradshaw a quarterback is a little misleading. He’s only thrown the ball 40 times all season with one touchdown. But Bradshaw is the main cog in this well-oiled Army machine. He not only leads the team in carries (210), rushing yards (1,566), and touchdowns (12), but is one of the nations premier runners. His rushing yards put him fifth nationally and only three other quarterbacks have more carries than him. But none of those QBs even come close to being as efficient as Bradshaw. 7.5 yards per carry is no easy task but having the ball in your hand in a run-heavy offense makes it a little easier. 

Why Army Wins

Army’s defense isn’t good enough to stop the Aztecs’ defense, that much is sure. They only give up 355 total yards per game but in a game against Ohio State, the Black Knights gave up 586 yards. The best way for Army to win is to keep Penny and the SDSU offense off the field. It’s no coincidence that San Diego’s two losses came when Penny rushed for 122 yards and one touchdown combined. If Army as a team can sustain their average of 6.1 yards per carry, then they can methodically march down the field, eat up clock and keep the defense off the field. Of course, the Black Knights will need to come away with touchdowns rather than field goals because San Diego State can score in bunches when given the chance.   

Why San Diego State Wins

The Aztec defense will need to play perhaps their most disciplined game all season. Defenders will have to stay true to their assignments when defending the triple option and most importantly finish tackles. They can’t allow Army to break tackles, especially if the runner is met in the backfield. SDSU will win if they can force Bradshaw to be a traditional quarterback. Like I stated above, he hardly ever throws the ball. Making him a traditional drop-back thrower will allow the Aztecs to force some turnovers, giving their offense more chances on offense. 

How does San Diego State get Rashaad Penny, the nation’s leading rusher, the ball? Jeff Monken provides answer. #ArmyFootball @ArmedForcesBowl

— Sal Interdonato (@salinterdonato) December 15, 2017

The gameplan on offense is simple: ride Penny and punch the ball in when you can. The Aztec’s most likely will have to play against the clock too so when they have the ball, they need to make the most of it. Now the time of possession isn’t the entire story. SDSU could force turnovers and/or score quickly, but as long as they get into a rhythm, they shouldn’t have any issues. 


I’ve stressed the running game over and over again in this preview, but that’s really what it comes down to. SDSU has one of, if not the best running back in the country in terms of statistics and well, Army is Army. Christian Chapman is a competent enough quarterback to throw the ball if Penny needs some help, and Chapman may be called upon to win the game early. 

As structured and efficient as the Army offense is, I don’t think it’ll be enough. San Diego State’s defense is very good against the run and will obviously be keying off on in. Long’s team has had a while to prepare the best they could and I see the Aztecs coming away with a win. 

San Diego State wins 20-10

Edited by Brian Kang.

When was Army's first bowl appearance?
Created 12/17/17
  1. 1981
  2. 1984
  3. 1996
  4. 2010

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