Can a revitalized Army football team avoid a let-down game against Holy Cross on Saturday?
After an impressive 23-3 victory over arch-rival Air Force last week, the Black Knights now host a hungry Crusader team from the FCS-level Patriot League that is eager to prove their worth against an opponent from the FBS division.
“They are one of the most successful teams in college football over the last three years,” said Army coach Jeff Monken at his Tuesday press conference. “(Holy Cross coach Bob Chesney) has them poised to be an FCS playoff team again this year. It was an impressive thing watching them play against Boston College earlier in the year, we were so impressed with Holy Cross and just seeing how well they matched up against a Power Five team.”
The Black Knights, now 3-6 on the season after the win against Air Force broke a five-game losing streak, will have their hands full with the Crusaders, who are averaging more than 40 points a game and 475 offensive yards per contest. In September, Holy Cross lost to Boston College, 31-28.
“We know we are going to have a fight on our hands,” Monkenadded. “It is a big game for us for sure and an important game for them as they get close to the playoffs and all the implications of that. It will be good to be back home. This season has not been as successful at home as what we have become accustomed to here. We have played really well at home and this year has been an exception. So, there is a lot of pride in playing here at home. We want to play well and hopefully our guys can getrefocused and get prepared for Holy Cross. That game Saturday was a real boost for our guys. A win like that makes the next game even more important.”
Holy Cross features an impressive trifecta of veteran offensive performers, including senior quarterback Matthew Sluka, who has thrown for 1,444 yards and 17 touchdowns in nine games for the 6-3 Crusaders. His favorite receiver is senior Jalen Coker, who has 880 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns. They are joined by junior Jordan Fuller, who has already rushed for 1,026 yards with 18 touchdowns.
“They got a great quarterback, they got a great receiver he throws it to and they have a bunch of really tough running backs,” noted Monken. “They are good up front, everybody they play they block those guys up and create seams for the running backs. They also have good pass protection. I think they are a really solid team. (They generate) 475 yards of total offense per game. That is a lot of yards. I don’t care what level you are playing at. Look at their stats against Boston College. They are a solid offense.”
The Crusaders’ defense might be their Achilles heel. Holy Cross has allowed an average of more than 28 points per game and has given up at least 20 points in eight of their nine games. In fact, the Crusaders gave up 47 points in a 49-47 win against Fordham in late October and 38 points in a 38-35 loss to Lafayette the week before.
Monken said he and his team were still excited about the win against Air Force, a victory he again said was due to playing “true Army football.” Besides quarterback Bryson Daily’s big day, which included 170 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 36 carries, Monken said he was impressed with the performance of the Army offensive line and kicking game as well as the important fact that Army did not turn the ball over in the contest.
Defensively, the Black Knights played their best game of the season, shutting down the Air Force option offense and stifling the previously-undefeated Falcons throughout the contest.
“We had the fewest number of missed tackles that we had all year,” Monken noted. “That was big. In the first half, we ran the ball with as good a consistency from drive to drive as we have all year. I thought we did the fundamental things better.”
To beat Holy Cross, Monken says that Army needs to keep moving in the right direction as well as to get ready for a different offense than they faced against Air Force.
So how do the Black Knights win?
“Just steady improvement,” he said. “Against UMass we had 17 or 18 missed tackles, Saturday we had eight. It would certainly help if we would do that again and be more effective as tacklers. Being able to run the quarterback like we did was certainly the difference in the football game, but I would like to see the rest of the run game get going a little bit and to get the ball to the perimeter and get some yards there.
“This is a powerful team we are playing,” he added. “I have a great deal of respect for this team and we know what kind of challenge it is going to be.”