Army, San Diego State to match ground forces
In an era when spread passing attacks and quarterbacks working in the shotgun formation dominate the college football landscape, grind-it-out, ground-oriented offenses will be on display when San Diego State and Army meet on Saturday in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl at TCU’s Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas.
Army, known for its option offense that produced a nation-best 368.1 yards per game on the ground, is focused on dominating the tempo and wearing down opponents with its rushing attack.
And the Aztecs feature one of the nation’s top running backs in senior Rashaad Penny, who leads the country individually with 2,027 rushing yards.
With two ball-control, high-scoring offensive attacks, San Diego State coach Rocky Long coach quipped that this could be one of the shortest college football games of the 2017 season.
“Army is known for running the ball and controlling the clock and that’s what we try to do too,” Long stated. “If it wasn’t for TV and commercials, it would probably be the shortest game in history.”
The two teams have met just twice previously, with San Diego State holding a 2-0 record. The Aztecs won by a 23-20 final score at Army in 2011 and picked up a 42-7 triumph at home over the Black Knights in 2012.
“There’s no out-scheming people,” San Diego State safety Trey Lomax said. “They know what we are going to do and we know what they are going to do. We are going to run the ball and they are going to run their option stuff. It will be fun.”
Army (9-3) has scored 45 touchdowns on the ground this season. The Black Knights won six straight games earlier this season and own a 5-2 mark in games decided by a touchdown or less. They head to Cowtown on the heels of a thrilling 14-13 win against Navy that secured the academy’s first Commander in Chief’s trophy title since 1996.
Jeff Monken is in his fourth year as coach of the Black Knights. Over the past two years, Army is 17-8, including 12-3 in the past 15 games, and is making back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time since 1984-85.
“Army is the most physical and the most aggressive team we will play this year,” Long said. “Army has simplified it (option offense) because they don’t run as much triple option as Air Force and Navy do, but they do run zone-read option because they want the quarterback (Ahmad Bradshaw) to carry the ball.
“The quarterback carrying the ball gives you an extra blocker. If you are actually reading the triple option, there are two extra blockers. They line up in formations that make you believe they are triple option but they are speed option.”
This will mark the program’s seventh all-time bowl appearance. Army is 4-2 in previous games, and those six postseason appearances have been decided by a total of 19 points — all by a touchdown or less. The most recent contest was a 38-31 overtime win last year at the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl.
San Diego State (10-2) ended the regular season on a four-game winning streak. Earlier in the season, the Aztecs defeated nationally ranked Stanford, the eventual Pac-12 runner-up.
Long is in his seventh season at the helm of the program and has amassed the most victories (64-28, .696) of any Mountain West coach since the league’s inception in 1999. His teams have now reached double-digit wins in each of the past three seasons.
The Aztecs will be playing in their 12th major college bowl game and eighth straight. The team is 5-6 in those games. San Diego State is riding a two-game bowl winning streak with victories in the 2015 Hawaii Bowl (42-7 vs. Cincinnati) and the 2016 Las Vegas Bowl (34-10 over Houston).
In its last four bowl games, the Aztecs have averaged 35.3 points.
San Diego State leans heavily on Penny, who tops the nation in rushing yards (2,027) and all-purpose yards (2,698). He had 19 rushing touchdowns, two receiving scores and had three more touchdowns on kickoff or punt returns this season.
Penny’s lowest output in any of the Aztecs’ victories was 108 yards. Fresno State held him to 69 and Boise State to 53 (both losses).
“We saw a little bit of (Penny) when we were preparing for Air Force (which played San Diego State),” Monken said. “We haven’t had any other common opponents where we had a chance to really watch him, which is probably a good thing. I’ll lose enough sleep when we get prepared for him next week. I don’t want to be losing any right now on account of him.”
The Aztecs’ other back, Juwan Washington, has 715 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. San Diego State is also comfortable in the passing game with quarterback Christian Chapman (1,847 yards, 13 TDs).
The Armed Forces Bowl is the only collegiate football bowl game that has hosted all three U.S. service academy football teams. Air Force (2007, 2008, 2009, 2012 and 2015), Army (2010, 2017) and Navy (2013, 2016) have all participated in the bowl.