Black Knights stumble out of the gate, but hang on to win in Week 1.
Well that wasn’t exactly the start Army fans were expecting to see coming off the historic 2018 season. Although still a win for the Black Knights (14-7), it doesn’t bode well with a top-tier opponent in Michigan on the docket for Week 2. Army struggled to find a rhythm on offense, as the Rice Owls seemed to have an answer for everything Army threw at them.
While many fans thought the departures of Darnell Woolfolk and Andy Davidson would be the most significant to Army’s offense, Army’s struggle to control the line of scrimmage would indicate that former center Bryce Holland might have been the most critical loss. Army averaged over 350 yards of offense on the ground in 2018, yet didn’t even produce 250 yards of total offense against Rice. Senior fullback Conor Slomka’s absence due to an “undisclosed injury” certainly didn’t help; however, even Kelvin Hopkins had difficulty finding time and space to break off runs.
Luckily, Army was able to put together two scoring drives. The second scoring drive late in the game visibly wore down the Rice defense and ultimately led to the game-winning score for Army. The Black Knights did find some success in the air as well as some edge runs from Kell Walker and Artice Hobbs. Army did fumble once, which is uncharacteristic of this offense, but it did not lead to points for Rice. In a battle of defenses, Army’s ability to put together one more scoring drive together ultimately made the difference.
Army’s defense appears to be in good shape under new defensive coordinator John Loose. Despite not registering any sacks, the Black Knights brought plenty of pressure against the Owls. The Army defense did allow one big run for a touchdown, but other than that did a decent job clogging up the middle of the field against the Owls’ rushing attack.
True to form, the Black Knights stiffened in the red zone, forcing Rice to attempt two field goals both of which the Owls missed. John Loose said he wants to run the defense just as aggressively as former defensive coordinator, Jay Bateman, and it appears that Cole Christiansen and company have risen to that challenge.
Army punter Zach Potter probably had as many punts against Rice as he had all season in 2018. Conversely, the Black Knights didn’t do much in the way of returns - the Owls did well pinning Army deep in their own territory (both of Army’s scoring drives were over 95 yards).
Freshman Cole Talley was 2 for 2 on extra points for Army, which bodes well given Army’s history of poor extra point/field goal kicking in recent history. The Black Knights didn’t attempt any field goals, so Talley’s performance in that regard remains untested.
Army emerges from Week 1 with a victory, extending their home win streak as well as their 2nd-place overall win streak behind Clemson. Although not the commanding win that most Army fans likely expected, it’s certainly a better start to the season than Army’s opening loss to Duke in 2018. Rice spent a majority of their offseason preparing for Army’s triple option attack, and the preparation showed.
Army wasn’t able to dictate the game the way they’re used to, and that’s a slight concern as they head to Michigan to take on the Wolverines at home. Defensively, the Black Knights looked good, and will need to sustain the pressure and physicality they displayed against Rice. It’s hard to gauge a team off of Week 1 performance, but I think tonight’s win against Rice was a bit of a gut check for Army.
In any case, a win is a win, and the Black Knights have plenty of positives to build on as they take a 1-0 record into Week 2.