Both teams should be well-rested
Air Force and Army are coming into this game from different ends of the wear-and-tear/rust spectrum. The Falcons have played just twice since the start of November and just once in the past 28 days, having last played against Utah State on Dec. 3. The Falcons have played just five games this season, though they’ve been practicing since early August. This will, in all likelihood, be Air Force’s final game of the season. Meanwhile, Army has played 10 games, including last week’s 15-0 victory over Navy – always the emotional apex of the Black Knights schedule. Army also knows it has to turn around and play in the Independence Bowl on Dec. 26. But here’s what they have in common – an uncommon amount of rest. Both academies finished finals prior this this past week, so players had their schedules cleared (and alarms turned off) as they could focus only on preparation and rest. How does that manifest itself? Look for crisp execution, few careless penalties and hard hitting. In short, look for these teams to be at their best as they clash for the Commander-in-Chief's trophy.
COVID-19 and tight-lipped coaches made this a weekly question during this season. In each Air Force game, there has been a surprise player or group of players missing as a result of a positive test or contact tracing or injury. This, on top of no media access at practices, has made it a season in which the expected and actual lineups can be quite different from each other. One group of players who will not be playing, according to Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, are the three dozen or so Falcons who took turnbacks this semester and have not played. Under NCAA eligibility standards, they would all be available this week as the previous semester has ended. Calhoun said those players, which include the vast majority of the projected starting defense entering the season, are not practicing and will not play. Who else might be on that unavailable list this week?
Air Force’s defense
Aside from the oddities presented by COVID-19, the story of Air Force’s season has been the play of the defense. This was a patchwork unit cobbled together from down the depth chart and an offensive tackle (George Silvanic) who moved to the defensive line. Two freshmen and an outside linebacker have started games at inside linebacker and only two players, and only two spots have seen the same player start all five games. And yet it has been nothing short of spectacular. The defense held Navy to 10 first downs in a 40-7 victory, shut out New Mexico and limited Utah State to 4 yards per play in a 35-7 victory. The Falcons rank seventh nationally in scoring defense, eighth in total defense and 12th in rushing defense. Another strong performance here, in what figures to be the finale, would cement this defense as a unit that thrived under conditions no one could have predicted.