A circle of Army players stood over a pile as officials tried to find the fumble.
Senior linebacker and captain Arik Smith emerged with ball and Army’s defense, the nation’s top defense in yards allowed last season, produced a game-changing play just four snaps into the 2021 season.
Seven plays later, sophomore fullback Tyson Riley scored the first of six touchdowns by six different Black Knights as Army rolled to a 43-10 season-opening win over Georgia State.
The victory was Jeff Monken’s 50th as Army coach. The wire-to-wire win was a bit of redemption for 18 Army players that left Center Parc Stadium disappointed after a loss two years ago.
“I don’t think I had fears or concerns heading into this game,” Monken said on his expectations before the opener. “I’m cautiously optimistic (before games). I didn’t know what our team would do, but I knew we had a great group of seniors and great leaders. Our leadership is really strong.
“The last time we were down here, we didn’t play very fell. They outplayed us. And, they have a better football team this year than they did two years ago. I think that’s [Georgia State] a really athletic, well-coached team, but I think our guys executed well.”
From start to finish, Army’s offense and defense turned in a near-complete performance. Army owned time of possession in the first half – 22 minutes and nine seconds to 7 minutes and 51 seconds. The offense came out determined to finish drives. The Black Knights scored its first three touchdowns on 3rd-and-goal to build a 21-0 lead.
“It’s just our culture,” Riley said. “We believe that every time we touch the field that we march it down the field and get a touchdown. No matter what down it is, that’s our culture.”
Starting quarterback Tyhier Tyler engineered two touchdowns on his first two drives before leaving with an apparent ankle injury. Monken said Tyler has, “a lower leg sprain” and he think the quarterback should be OK in his postgame press conference.
Senior Christian Anderson took over for Tyler and played flawlessly. Anderson called his own number on a designed quarterback draw on 4th-and-goal for a time-expiring, touchdown to end the first half. He completed a 40-yard touchdown pass to slotback Tyrell Robinson to start Army’s second-half scoring.
“I knew coming into the game that TT (Tyhier Tyler) was going to start and I was going to come in some point in the game,” Anderson said. “Overall as an offense, we did a really good job of executing the play when we needed to. We didn’t try to do too much. We just executed what was in front of us.”
The Black Knights’ defense stopped Georgia State seven times behind the line of scrimmage including a career-high three sacks by junior linebacker Andre Carter. Junior cornerback Jabari Moore jumped a route and intercepted a pass at Georgia State’s 9 to set up Anderson’s late second-quarter score. The Black Knights held Georgia State to 48 rushing yards.
“One of things we try to do is run the ball and stopped the run,” Carter said. “Any time we can do that and get a victory, it’s a good day.”
Army’s effort wasn’t perfect. There were struggles on special teams, specifically in the punt return game. In one of the more stranger college football sequences, Army fumbled and lost a punt not once but twice on back-to-back plays. Yes, back-to-back plays. Georgia State was flagged for holding both times, taking away both fumble recoveries.
Senior slotback A.J. Howard earned his first career touchdown on a great second-effort 4-yard run in the first quarter. Junior fullback Jakobi Buchanan carried a tackler into the end zone of a 2-yard second-quarter run. Junior quarterback Jemel Jones’ 32-yard touchdown pass to slotback Braheam Murphy wrapped up Army’s scoring with 5:29 left.
The game’s feel-good moment came when senior quarterback Jabari Laws entered the game to take his first snap since Nov. 2019 on Army’s final drive. Laws missed more than year, recovering from knee injuries. Teammates lifted Laws on their shoulders during Army’s postgame locker room celebration.
VIDEO: Breaking down Army’s win with Jordan Horvath of As For Football