• Graham Knight

BTL's Insiders Weigh In on the Commanders' Classic

by Graham Knight

Now it's time to dig even deeper into the Commanders' Classic match-up between Army and Air Force. Just a short while ago, I had a chance to sit down with both Sal Interdonato of and Brent Briggeman of The Gazette out of Colorado Springs. Here's what they had to say about the upcoming game:

On Quarterbacks:

Brent Briggeman:

I still assume Haaziq Daniels is going to play. From what I've heard, it wasn't a serious hip injury and he is practicing. But, you know, until we actually see him on the field, we don't know for sure where that status is.

But I think the bigger deal is his backup, Warren Bryan. He was limping in that game very heavily near the end against San Diego State. I've heard he's probably questionable at best.

So, should Haaziq Daniels experience anything that, you know, knocks him out, and if Warren Bryan can't go, then you're talking about number three, who's Zach Larrier - who would be very interesting. He's the Mountain West champion in the 200-meter in track and field, so he has blazing speed. So, it could be an interesting situation.

Sal Interdonato:

My take is, start Jabari Laws in this game. Jabari Laws started two years ago against Air Force. With Jabari Laws, you know that he's got a connection with Isaiah Alston after that Wake Forest game, you know there's something good happening there. He's a senior. This is a game that he's probably been waiting for most of his career. I mean, he's battled back from two ACL injuries to be a factor in this game for this offense.

And I think that with Jabari Laws, like I said, you know what you're going to get in the passing game. The distribution and the option is there with Jabari. But I think Jabari Laws, because Air Force for a little bit of a swerve, might be something that they're not really 100 percent going to be prepared for. So that's my take on the quarterbacks.

On The Strategy

Sal Interdonato:

So I think that Air Force will come out with what they've done in the last couple of years: looking to stop that fullback. Now it's up to Army's offense and Offensive Coordinator Brett Davis to mix things up a little bit. I thought he called a really good game against Wake Forest. Let's see. Calling a really good game in the service academy game is sometimes a little conservative, right? And then maybe you throw in that trick play or that gadget play to surprise. Maybe it's a little play action pass for them, maybe it's a little wide receiver reverse. Who knows?

Brent Briggeman:

Obviously Air Force can't become Wake Forest overnight. They're just . . . they don't have the same personnel, they're not built the same way. But Air Force does throw it as much as any of the service academies. So, I do think you will see them try to exploit that. But again, when you're not talking about the same caliber of athletes it's a different, different matchup.

But look for Air Force to try everything they can. I think, obviously, they'll try to establish a run like they always do, but they won't be hesitant to attack an Army secondary that has proven vulnerable.

On The Stakes

Brent Briggeman:

Yeah, I mean, I think you have everything you want. Two teams that have, for the most part, been playing pretty well. And, obviously, you know, the top rushing teams in the nation and they've had an off week to get ready for it. So I think you're going to see them as good as you can expect the team to be at this point this season. Because, obviously, they're nicked up, you know, some players are out, but I do think that extra week is really going to factor heavily in both teams, at least presenting themselves as well as they can.

Sal Interdonato:

As [Army Head] Coach [Jeff] Monken said earlier in the week: "This is a game where the intensity is high." You're going to play hard on every snap, all eleven players on each side are going to play hard at every single step. What's on the line is the Commander In Chief's Trophy, right? I mean, if Air Force wins, it's theirs.

On The Deciding Factor

Brent Briggeman:

But in terms of the game, you know, the quarterback situation, the big playmaker and then, you know, who can force a turnover, either Air Force or Army. I think that's going to be really, really big in a game where possessions are so valuable.

I think, right, unless . . . unless Air Force doesn't have a quarterback who's played before and then all bets are off, because you don't know. It could be a game-changing move, it could be somebody who struggles. But if all things go the way I think they will, it'll be based on the fullback.

Sal Interdonato:

But I really think that this game is going to be decided by, believe it or not -- some people will be shocked when I say this, but -- who gets that big pass play in this game that opens up the offense and changes the field a little bit.

I think that's going to be . . . whoever kind of throws the ball more efficiently in this game. I know there's times where Army hasn't thrown the ball at all in the service academy games. But I think in this game, how good Air Force is, how good their defense is against the run, and they can be very good against pass. I think that, you know, it's going to be who can have that big passing play. I think if Army can open up this offense just a bit, we'll see a really good game.

All right, academy football fans, you're now set for the Commander's Classic Behind The Lines.

edited for web by Joe Harman