By Anthony Andro
There will be no secrets when Army West Point and San Diego State square off in the 15th annual Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl.
Army West Point (9-3) will run its powerful option attack through senior quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw, who has already set a single-season rushing record for the Black Knights and will have a chance to add to it Friday. The Aztecs (10-2) will give the ball to All-America running back Rashaad Penny early and often. There’s a good reason, too, as Penny is the nation’s leading rusher and the senior back finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting.
Those two stars getting the ball will come as no surprise at Amon G. Carter Stadium. The surprise will come if either defense can find a way to slow down either of the elite runners. Whoever can do that will have the edge.
“He (Penny) is a tremendous player,” Army West Point head coach Jeff Monken said. “It would be difficult to argue that there is a better back in the country that him. We know what difficult task it is to face him.”
For the Aztecs, stopping Bradshaw means trying to stop an option attack they haven’t faced anything like this year. While Bradshaw is a quarterback, he’s thrown the ball just 40 times all season. But he’s rushed for 1,566 yards and is the spark for an Army team that’s looking for its first 10-win season since 1996.
“What you’re getting is a traditional pro-type offense with no passing game,” said San Diego State head coach Rocky Long, whose team is looking for its third-straight 11-win season. “They don’t stretch us from sideline to sideline, they’re going to line up and knock us off the ball and run it right down our throats and keep the ball away from us. We don’t play anyone like them all year long that does anything like they do it and they do it really, really well.”
Bradshaw’s strong season actually started last year when he guided the Black Knights to a win in the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl while earning game most valuable player honors.
That served as a springboard for him and the rest of an Army West Point team that returned 17 starters to have a big year that included wins over bowl Army and Navy.
“Either me, the fullback or the slotback have a chance to make an impact regardless of the game we’re playing,” Bradshaw said. “It just so happened that I was the guy running the ball a lot of the time. I think that’s what happens a lot of the time.”
Bradshaw has a chance to break the single-season service academy rushing record Saturday as he trails Navy’s Napoleon McCallum by just 21 yards for the mark he set in 1983. If he gains 100 yards, he’ll tie a school record for 100-yard games by a quarterback.
As gaudy as Bradshaw’s numbers are, they aren’t in the same league as Penny’s. A consensus All-America, Penny has rushed for 2,027 yards by averaging a whopping 7.4 yards a carry and has scored 24 touchdowns. And if you’re looking for momentum, Penny has run for at least 200 yards in four-straight games coming into the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl. He needs 107 yards for the single-season rushing mark for the Aztecs set by Donnel Pumphrey (2,133).
If that wasn’t enough, he’s also returned eight kickoffs for touchdowns in his career. It’s no wonder that Monken joked he wanted to get Penny’s autograph before the game.
For his part, Penny is as modest about his accomplishments as Bradshaw and had no plans to skip his final bowl game once he found out who the Aztecs were playing.
“My teammates and coaches are everything,” Penny said. “They’ve been motivating me since last fall. We knew what we had coming into this season. They made it special for me this season, and I can’t thank them enough. That’s who put it all together for me.”