Army football coach Jeff Monken understands the big task at hand as the Black Knights journey up to Syracuse for a Saturday, at noon, matchup with the undefeated Orange at the JMA Wireless Dome.
Big as in an offense that has scored a total of 148 points in its first three games. Big as in a defense that is ranked fourth in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just nine points per game and already forcing eight turnovers on the season. Big as in a quarterback, senior Garrett Shrader, who rushed for a career-high 195 yards and rushed for four touchdowns and completed 14 passes for 184 yards in a 35-20 victory at Purdue last Saturday. And, big as in a veteran offensive line that is good at both opening holes for rushing yards and protecting the quarterback on passing downs.
Yes, as Monken said after Army, now 2-1, upset host Texas-San Antonio last Friday night, Army is in the middle of facing five opponents that he says could be a college football version of Murderer’s Row and Syracuse may just be among the best opponents.
“They are a scoring machine,” said Monken, in his 10th season with Army and who inked what is reported to be a three-year contract extension earlier this week that will keep him at West Point through 2027. “They go a hundred miles per hour. They run a lot of plays and they are one of the top scoring offenses in the country and one of the top scoring defenses in the country. That is remarkable. If you look at stats, that is what matters. Are you scoring more (points) and are you stopping your opponent?
“We have a tremendous challenge ahead of us. We know they are going to be extremely athletic and big and very well coach. Look at their offense, one of the great offenses in the country. Look at defense, one of the best defensives in the country. A lot of challenges this week. We will have to put some great work inthis afternoon and tomorrow and as we go through the week before we make the trip to Syracuse.”
Monken is also anticipating a loud environment in the dome, the Black Knights second straight game being played indoors.
“I am told it is really loud and they have a passionate fan base,” said Monken, who will be making his first trip to the Syracuse dome. “There is a challenge when you play indoors. There is no place for that sound to go but right in your ears. It is bouncing off of every surface in there.
“This is going to be a difficult game for us to win if we do not play really well and be on top of our game. We know that and our kids know that. So, we are going to do our best in the outdoors this week to be prepared on Saturday.”
Army has some things going its way too. The Black Knights played a near flawless offensive game against UTSA, with no turnovers, sacks or penalties. Junior quarterback Bryson Daily threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to sophomore Noah Short and ran for a second score, one week after throwing for three touchdowns and running in two others against Delaware State.
Also, sophomore Hayden Reed rushed for 107 yards and score a touchdown and senior Jakobi Buchanan posted a 10-yard score for Army against UTSA.
Defensively, Army gave up a couple of big plays. Including a Hail Mary touchdown pass as the first half expired, but the defense caused an early turnover that led to a 14-0 lead and registered a late sack to secure the victory.
“Being able to accomplish those things that go into our philosophy for winning is why we stress those areas,” Monkensaid. “To perform well in those areas often leads to victory. So, it is just a by-product of how we practice, the things and situations we intently prepare for, the fundamentals that go along with the belief that in being a team that prides itself on having very few negative yardage plays and to try to eliminate big plays. Being fundamentally sounds, being good blockers, tacklers and taking care of the ball. Those things matter.”
What Monken, or anyone else, does not know is just how good the Orange are. Two of the three victories came over Colgate, from the lower-level Patriot League, and Western Michigan, out of the Mid American Conference. Also, the Orange lost the services for the rest of the season of highly-touted junior tight end Oronde Gadsden II, who injured his foot in the victory over Western Michigan.
“Our guys, I know, will have a healthy approach to this game,” Monken said. “They certainly respect Syracuse, the players and coaches they have and the success they have had. It is a great opportunity for our guys and we are looking forward to have a chance to square off with them and hopefully we will play well.”