Army’s narrow, season-opening win over Rice was a surprise to many.
After all, the Black Knights were as high as 24-point favorites at home. Rice was coming off a two-win season.
Those following Army closely over the recent years shouldn’t be completely shocked by the final score. The Black Knights now have won 14 straight games at Michie Stadium. Eight of those victories have been decided by seven points or less.
Plain and simple, Rice’s defensive front outplayed Army’s line for a majority of the game to a tune of four negative rushes, two on back-to-back carries on the Black Knights’ second drive.
Yes, Rice had all spring and preseason to prepare for Army’s rushing attack. But, credit Rice’s defensive line for executing the game plan and timing the snap count to near perfection.
Rice was loading the box against the run, like most teams do against Army, almost daring the Black Knight to throw. Surprised it took until Army’s 20th play to put the ball in the air considering it has senior Kelvin Hopkins, the program’s most accomplished throwing quarterback in more than a decade. Maybe, there was some concern over pass blocking from an offensive line playing for the first time.
Don’t think Army’s analytics book said to go for it on 4th-and-1 from your own 15-yard line on the first drive of the season. Jeff Monken’s confidence to move the chains on fourth down has become a prideful part of Army’s culture over the last three winning seasons. But, multiple Rice defenders were waiting for fullback Sandon McCoy almost instantly as he received the handoff for no gain.
Army missed senior fullback Connor Slomka, who didn’t play due to a leg injury. Could Slomka made a difference in Army’s running game? Absolutely. But, the offensive line needs to create bigger gaps and holes for ball carriers. Moving the line of scrimmage only gets more difficult against Michigan this week.
Know the success with the fullback is essential for Army’s offense but the speed of slotbacks Kell Walker and Artice Hobbs is too game-breaking to have only 10 combined touches (eight carries, two receptions) when the Black Knights are struggling to pound the ball up the middle.
Enough offensive chatter, Army’s defense gets an “A” for its performance in its first game with John Loose as official coordinator.
Monken said Loose predicted Rice’s fourth-down, play-action pass in the waning moments. And, what can you say about senior safety Jaylon McClinton’s textbook breakup. Simply, McClinton is one of Army’s most clutch defensive players and game changers in recent memory.
Army started five new players on defense – Kwabena Bonsu, Jacob Covington, Jeremiah Lowery, Arik Smith and Rod Stoddard. All five were assignment sound. Smith is as good as the coaching staff advertised the sophomore linebacker. He’s heavy hitter, who closes gaps quickly.
The Black Knights gave up two big plays – Nahshon Ellerbe’s 54-yard touchdown run and a 38-yard pass to Austin Trammel. Ellerbe’s score was Rice’s only carry among 30 attempts to go for 10 or more yards.
Senior punter Zach Potter was one of Army’s MVPs. Potter averaged 43.8 yards on four punts in a field position game. Monken also praised Potter for securing a shaky snap on Army’s second extra point.