Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Army Football Preview: vs. Rice

Last Saturday’s game against Ball State was a terrific win for Army.  It was everything we’ve seen so far out of this year’s Army team—a fast start, an early fumble, the team hanging tough and taking an early lead, and a lot of downhill running.  For a change, they also managed to hang on to the ball late in the game, and when Ball State mounted their comeback, Army intercepted a pass and put the game away.  All told, it was a beautiful game in a driving rain storm.

Army's Athletic Department put this summary up on Facebook.
Noteable stats: Time of Possession and 3rd Down Conversion Rate.
Army didn’t dominate this game by any means, but the team looks a Hell of a lot better this week statistically than they did a week ago.  After the passing explosion against Yale, Saturday’s game showed more of a traditional Army approach.  Army may have thrown more than one pass, but I only remember a single completion—a hanging downfield bomb thrown by QB Angel Santiago that caught Ball State deep in man coverage.  Despite that one awesome effort, Army dropped to an average of 82.2 yards passing/game, good for dead last (128th) in the NCAA’s FBS division.  That’s okay, though, because Santiago led the rushing attack to well over 300 yards on the ground with what can only be described as an outstanding personal effort.  The whole team played well, but it was Santiago’s running inside that broke Ball State and put Army in a position to salt the game away late with FB Larry Dixon, who also played exceptionally well.  Army is now 3rd in the FBS in rushing with an average of 338.2 yards/game on the ground.  That is right where they need to be.  Moreover, the team now sits at 2-3, 74th in points scored (28.8/game) and 100th in points against (34.2/game).  Granted, there is still work to be done, but this is a massive improvement overall.  
Army’s p-wins score is now up to 40%, or 4.8 games in a 12-game season.  Why is that important?  Because Navy is sitting at 42.5%, or 5.1 games in a 12-game season.  Statistically speaking, the difference between the two teams right now is the missed field goal late in the Yale Bowl.
Points Scored
Points Allowed
Wins Expected
1Buffalo332042080.488 5.86Win
2Stanford32124430.925 11.10Loss
3Wake Forest24941440.267 3.20Loss
4Yale30154990.740 7.40Loss; FCS (10-game season)
5Ball State141101210.444 5.33Win
6Rice231381680.386 4.63C-USA West
7Kent State05541680.064 0.76MAC East
8Air Force411631060.735 8.82MWC Mountain
9Connecticut14741420.176 2.11Conf. American
10Western KY232151920.567 6.80C-USA East
11Fordham51292700.967 11.61FCS
12Navy241551760.425 5.10
Army Black Knights231441710.400 4.79Go Army! Beat Navy!
This week Army plays host to the Rice Owls, a team that’s in a similar spot in its season.  Rice mounts a more balanced attack on offense, but like Army, they’re sitting at 2-3 with a p-wins score of 38.6% (4.6 wins in a 12-game season).  Rice is the defending Conference USA champion, so this season has so far represented something of a down year, although that statement must be kept in perspective.  Rice lost early games to #17 Notre Dame and #7 Texas A&M and has only recently hit the meat of its schedule and conference play.  In games against more equal opponents, Rice is 2-1, having beaten Southern Miss and Hawaii while dropping a close game to conference rival Old Dominion.  Rice is currently ranked 74th in passing (227 yards/game), 38th in rushing (205 yards/game), 78th in points scored (27.6/game), and 96th in points allowed (33.6/game).  As of this writing, the line on the game at Michie Stadium is even.

Rice beat Southern Miss two weeks ago by forcing turnovers and holding the Southern Miss rushing attack to a grand total of 40 yards.  In their most recent game, against Hawaii, Rice put up 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to pull ahead at the end of an otherwise even contest.  QB Driphus Jackson went 10/23 (43.5%) for 248 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.  Rice running backs carried 33 times for 181 yards.  Worth noting: Hawaii has now lost 15 straight on the road.  For the year, Jackson is 73/123 (59.4%) for 976 yards, eight touchdowns, and three interceptions.
What to make of that?  I’m not sure.
Army will wear the
1st Armored Division patch
this weekend.
With an average of more than 200 yards/game on the ground, Rice would seem to be primarily a running team.  However, Driphus Jackson has thrown more than twice as many touchdowns as interceptions.  With that—and a completion percentage of nearly 60%—it’s hard to argue that he’s anything less than a highly competent college quarterback.  Even more than that, Rice has shown an ability to hang tough in games and then finish strong—definitely not the strength of the Army team.
This was not one of the games that I’d have put in the “win column” before the season, but Army has played well at home, and statistically speaking, there is nothing here that suggests that they cannot compete for and win this game.  Sally and the kids and I will be in the stands this time—on the Corps of Cadets’ side, around the twenty yard line, approximately twenty-seven yards up from the field—and for the record, Army is 1-0 in games to which I’ve taken my kids.  That is a streak that we need to continue for the long term.  Army just needs to hold onto the ball late and finish strong.

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