You saw the preview and prediction. Now here are three keys each for SMU and Army headed into the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl on Thursday:
1. Pressure the quarterback. Army has just two sacks in its last four games, but is going to have to put pressure on quarterback Kyle Padron to have a chance in this game. Padron threw for over 3,500 yards but still has trouble at times reading blitzes and defenses. An aggressive game plan could also hide some problems in the secondary and take pressure off the cornerbacks and safeties from making big plays against Aldrick Robinson and Darius Johnson.
2. Ball control. The triple-option is a ball control offense, and Army is going to need a heavy dose of that to keep the high-octane run 'n' shoot SMU offense off the field. The longer the Black Knights hold the ball, the fewer opportunities SMU has to score. Quarterback Trent Steelman and fullback Jared Hassin are perfectly capable of making big, grind-it-out plays. This offense is simply not built to get into a shootout.
3. Force turnovers. Army ranks seventh in the nation in turnover margin and has recovered 15 fumbles this season. As we saw in the Independence Bowl, Air Force beat a favored Georgia Tech team that turned the ball over four times. Army is 5-2 this season when it wins the turnover battle. SMU is one of the worst in the country in turnover margin, and Padron had thrown 13 interceptions this season. So Army has to be extra vigilant about forcing mistakes.
1. Contain the triple option. Always easier said than done of course, but that is goal No. 1 headed into this game. The SMU defense had some struggles against Navy earlier in the season, especially on pitches to the outside. Pete Fleps and Taylor Reed are going to be responsible for getting that corrected. Steelman and Hassin have combined for 1,625 yards, ranking 11th on the Army all-time rushing duo chart.
2. Beware the pass. The SMU defense can’t focus so much on the run that it forgets all about the pass. Steelman has completed 54.8 percent of his throws (69-for-126) for 965 yards, seven touchdowns and only three interceptions. If he can throw for 35 yards against the Mustangs, he will become the first Army player to rush for 500-plus yards and throw for 1,000-plus yards in the same season.
3. Take pressure of Padron. Zach Line has done a great job in the run game for SMU this season, rushing for 1,391 yards. He led the conference in rushing and is going to need to take some pressure off Padron. The offensive line is also going to have to play a better game than it did against UCF in the Conference USA championship game. He has been sacked 31 times this season, including five times against the Knights.