Army may have its most difficult assignment yet Saturday against the Troy Trojans. But if the Black Knights want to keep its chances alive for a postseason bowl game, they will have to give their best efforts against a team that seems to be running on all cylinders.
The Trojans , 4-2 this year, have lost to only then-ranked Kansas State and undefeated James Madison. More importantly, Troy, the defending Sun Belt champion which beat Army 10-9 last season, has, no pun intended, the horses. Quarterback Gunnar Watson has thrown for 10 touchdowns in five games and completed more than 60 percent of his passes for 1,528 yards. Running back Kimani Vidal leads the nation in rushing with 835 yards. Vidal has six touchdowns and averages 6.4 yards per carry.
Even more scary is the fact that the Trojans defense, led by former Army assistant Greg Gasparato, is giving up only about 86 rushing yards per game and limiting opponents to just 2.9 yards per carry.
“They are one of the strongest defenses we have seen this year and they might be the best team we have faced so far this year,” said Army head coach Jeff Monken. “Offensively, to be able to run the football as effectively as they have, and (Vidal) is a talented player with a good offensive line. When they hand it to him and when he gains 100 yards, they win.
“I look at how effective teams are at running the football and stopping the run and usually if they are good at those two things, you are going to see a winning record.”
Monken said that he is also impressed with Watson, who is having a career year. “There are certainly some challenges and they have a good football team,” he noted.
But what about Army’s psyche, coming off a disappointing 27-24 loss to Boston College last week that left them 2-3 on the season?
First, Monken says his team is motivated to get Troy at home after last season’s one-point loss on the road.
“These guys are tough and they are mentally tough,” he said. “Like any human being, when they suffer a loss or a failure, there is disappointment and discouragement. It is human nature. But what our team has not done is allow that to affect their attitude to come out to work and get better and the effort they put in.
“Our guys are playing the game very hard. They care deeply about each other and this program. Winning is important, it is important here, in the Army and it matters to our guys. I think our guys are willing to do the things that it takes to win and they continue to show that in the way they practice and the attention to detail.”
To win the game, Army will have to play as well, or better, than it did in the second half against Boston College last week, where the Black Knights scored three touchdowns. Quarterback Bryson Daily completed 10 of 13 passes for 105 yards and Tyrell Robinson, back after a year off due to a severe injury, looked strong, gaining 31 rushing yards and scoring a touchdown.
“I thought T-Rob did a great job,” Monken said. “To come out of that injury he had and play with the confidence that he did on Saturday, I was really, really proud of him. The more he plays, the more he will get to play. Obviously, he did not play every snap of the game. We played him in spots. What I hope for is to increase his load this week and the weeks to follow.
“This year we are going to try to earn the victory. We have a lot of different guys on this team on the team who weren’t playing a year ago. They do too. Two different football teams and hopefully we can make it a different result. We are going to do our best.”