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Quick thoughts: Liberty Bowl

Army Athletics

Army looked well on its way to a fourth straight bowl win under Jeff Monken after its opening second-half drive.

The Black Knights offensive line was owning the line of scrimmage against a very talented West Virginia front for eight minutes. And, Army owned a two-score, 11-point lead over West Virginia with seven minutes left in the third quarter.

West Virginia coach Neal Brown’s switch to quarterback Austin Kendall turned out to be the difference. Army’s defense had bottled up starter Jarret Doege. Both of Kendall’s touchdowns were delivered to wide-open receivers, starting with a 4th-and-goal score to tight end Mike O’Laughlin.

Army never built on its momentum for that opening second-half drive as West Virginia successfully recovered an onside kick after the O’Laughlin touchdown cut Army’s lead to 21-16. After the Black Knights’ defense forced a 3-and-out on onside kick, the offense generated just 21 yards on 12 plays in its next two possessions.

Still not sure why quarterback Christian Anderson was taken out of the game one play after a 32-yard completion to Chris Cameron with Army driving for the tying field goal or go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Didn’t have a chance to ask Monken about the decision or if the game plan was to play both starter Tyhier Tyler and Anderson. The move of bringing in Tyler on 2nd-and-6 from West Virginia’s 25 with the offense in a good flow under Anderson was still a talking point 24 hours later. Bringing in Tyler, who didn’t attempt a pass, allowed West Virginia to load up the box and stop Tyler on back-to-back plays, forcing tough decision to go for 4th-and-3 or kick a 39-yard field goal. Army elected the later and missed the kick.

Tyler tied a Liberty Bowl record with three touchdowns. He shares the record with Colorado’s Bob Anderson (1969), Sherrod Gideon of Southern Miss (1997), Tulsa’s Alex Singleton (2012) and Alex Collins of Arkansas (2015).

Several starters and key players missed the game I’m assuming due to COVID and contract tracing. The biggest absence may have been freshman playmaker Tyrell Robinson. West Virginia’s defense was inviting Army to go outside and Robinson could have made a difference. The Black Knights had one run of 10 or more yards on 59 carries. Anderson’s 13-yard run came on Army’s 57th carry of the game on the Black Knights’ final drive.

Thought freshman linebacker Spencer Jones played well in place of leading tackler Jon Rhattigan, considering it was his first start.

The leadership of Army’s three captains have been mentioned often during this pandemic season. Senior guard and captain Mike Johnson is going to make a great Army officer. The moments after Tyler’s third touchdown could have gotten ugly as pushing and shoving ensued. West Virginia defensive lineman Jeffery Pooler pushed Army tackle Mason Kolinchak. Johnson pulled Sandon McCoy and Chris Cameron away from a potential confrontation with West Virginia players and pointed to the sideline for his teammates to leave the field.

Army’s bend-don’t-break defense played well enough to win the game. The Black Knights held Leddie Brown, one of the Big 12’s leading rushers, to 3.3 yards on 20 carries.

A pass interference penalty on Jabari Moore was a tough call that extended West Virginia’s go-ahead drive. The pass from Kendall sailed into the sideline and didn’t appear to be catchable.

Remember maybe one offensive holding penalty called on West Virginia. Officials were “letting them play” upfront as it looked like defensive end Ryan Duran was being held on every other pass rush.

Spencer Jones and tackle Kamaron Holloway became the 32nd and 33rd first-time starters this season.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Norm Remick

    January 2, 2021 at 12:26 PM

    Your commentary is right on, Sal. And I’ll add what (you know) I’ve been advocating for years now. Because foes defy/insult Army by putting 10 guys up front and only one guy in the middle, 5 yds back, it is sooo obvious we need quick, short, high % pass plays (that initially look like a run) to burn them and open up the option game. Coach Davis seems to stubbornly not want to do that. Given the excellent job of recruiting, teaching, and developing players that ALL the coaches, including Davis, are doing, I think with a few “non-telegraphed,” synergistic, high %, pass plays, Army could be a major top 20 or 15 team, and win games like the Oklahoma, Michigan, and West Virginia games they ended up losing. That’s the task that Coach Monken can achieve.

    • Tom Forsythe

      January 3, 2021 at 12:29 AM

      Many of us, to include Sal, have been hoping Army would start adding some play action passes to open up the defensive box but Monken has made it clear he eschews the passing game so it’s not solely on the shoulders of the offensive coordinator Brent Davis that Army is last in the nation in the passing department. And I no longer hold any hope for Army to show anyk kind of a passing game in the future…not until a Power Five team hires Monken away from Army and Davis is replaced.

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