History, if nothing else, is on Army’ side as the Black Knights travel to Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La. for a Saturday night showdown with SEC-heavyweight and No. 19 LSU.
The Black Knights may be one of the few college football programs in the country to own an undefeated record against the mighty Tigers. Army beat visiting LSU 20-0 in 1931 in the teams’only other meeting.
But, this time, more than 90 years later, the odds (Las Vegas has the Tigers as four touchdown-plus favorite) seem to be heavily favoring LSU, a fact that even Army head coach Jeff Monken is quite aware of.
Calling the Tigers a college football blueblood that is “enormous, fast, talented, violent, skilled and well coached” and loaded with NFL-caliber players on both sides of the ball, Monken has been quite candid about what his Army team, now 2-4 after losing three straight, is up against.
“They are incredibly talented, very well coached and I read that coach (Brian) Kelly is going for his 300th career victory,” Monken said at his Tuesday afternoon press conference. “He has won everywhere he has been and is doing a great job with the LSU program. I don’t know where you start when you are talking about personnel with them. You can go through their starting 22, and every guy who trots off the bench, their specialists, the guys who play special teams. They are tremendously talented. It will take a monumental effort for us to challenge these guys and have an opportunity to be in the football game.”
But, everyone associated with Army football hopes that Monken and his team will produce the same magic that helped Army stay competitive with No. 5 Oklahoma, a loss in overtime in 2018, No. 7 Michigan, a loss in double overtime in 2019, and Penn State, a six-point defeat in 2015.
“Obviously, our guys are excited,” Monken said. “It is a great opportunity to play a blue blood, one of the great programs in college football history and certainly one of the best teams in college football right now. Our guys are excited about the opportunity and the challenge that it presents. We are going to do our best to get them ready, today, tomorrow and throughout the week.”
Making Army’s chances even more challenging is the fact that Monken is not sure whether starting quarterback Bryson Daily, who was hurt in last week’s 19-0 loss to Troy, or standout wide receiver Isaiah Alston, will be back for the game. Both, he said, are making good progress.
Also, LSU, now 5-2, has a lot of big guns. Quarterback Jayden Daniels has completed about 73 percent of his passes and has 22 touchdown passes against just three interceptions. Daniels also has 515 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Running back Logan Diggs is averaging nearly six yards per carry and has scored five rushing touchdowns for the Tigers. Dangerous wide receivers Malik Nabers (52 receptions for 860 yards and seven touchdowns) and Brian Thomas (39 receptions for 610 yards and nine touchdowns) promise to give the Army secondary fits all evening.
Though Monken plays it down, the Tigers’ Achilles Heel might be its defense. LSU has given up more than 30 points in three of its last four games. “We have to block better than we have and we have to take care of the ball better than we have,” he noted. “Frankly, we have to run the football, that is where the game is won, in my opinion. Obviously, they make that difficult.”
In the end, Monken was clear that Army will have to play its best game of the season to even stay close with LSU.
“It is just going to take a tremendous effort on the part of our team,” he said. “Great execution of the fundamentals, taking care of the ball and our guys playing really, really well. And, that will, hopefully, give us a chance to be in the game and at least compete and be around in the fourth quarter.”