Here is a little more detailed analysis of the Army-Rice game, courtesy of Gordy Larson:
A Close Call
Like most Army fans, we expected this game to be more of a tune-up than a pitched battle fought in the trenches by the defenses of both teams. Many of us were hoping that Army would build a large enough lead to provide opportunities for the some of the new back ups to get some playing experience, but the Owls of Rice had a different agenda. They came to play and just missed a couple of opportunities to upset the Black Knights and snap the home game winning streak that is now up to 14 games.
In the end it was a patented 98 yard sustained drive followed by final strong effort by the Black Knight defenders that carried the day. Army scored only twice on the day, both on drives that were 95 yards or more. Arguably, Army benefitted from two missed field goal attempts by Rice, as they were forced to go for the fourth down conversion in the fourth quarter.
Defense: Many Army fans expressed some concern as to whether defensive coordinator, John Loose would be able to sustain the defensive performances the Black Knights had under Jay Bateman. We had a preview of Loose’s tenure in the Armed Forces Bowl, when the Army defense impressed the sporting world by holding Houston to 14 points, but that one game didn’t provide enough evidence to form any firm judgements. The Rice game provided additional evidence that the defense would continue to perform well under the direction of Loose. With the exception of a lapse that resulted in Ellerbe’s 54 yard scoring run in the second quarter, the defense was consistent in stopping the Rice offense all evening. The starting cornerbacks, Jahvari Bourdeau and Elijah Riley kept a tight rein on the Rice receivers holding their passing game to 7 completions of 14 attempts for 62 yards.
Special Teams: The kickoff team performed as well as could be expected. Allan Trammel was named to the C-USA team as a kick return specialist, but the Black Knights never let him get beyond the 21 yard line on his returns. The PAT and Punt coverage teams performed admirably as well.
Time of Possession: Despite several abbreviated offensive drives, the Black Knights dominated time of possession, holding the ball for nearly 35 minutes in the game. The two long drives accounted for about two-thirds of the possession time, but the strong defensive effort contributed by getting the Rice offense off the field quickly as well.
Inconsistent Offense: Other than the two sustained touchdown drives and the two short drives at the end of each half, Army had trouble sustaining drives all evening. They started the game with a meager 9 yards in 4 plays and continued to struggle on their next possession moving the ball only 7 yards in 4 plays. The offense finally came alive on their third possession, with the first touchdown drive of 95 yards that spanned the last 3 minutes of the first quarter and 6+ minutes of the second quarter. Just as it appeared the the offense had found its footing, they floundered again with an anemic 5 play 10 yard drive on their final possession of the first half.
We expected to see some major adjustments coming out of the locker room after the half, but the offense struggled once again, with an unimpressive 29 yards in 5 plays. The second drive of the half looked promising until Sandon McCoy fumbled the ball away on the 50, halting a 35 yard effort. The next possession was one of three that Army started inside their own 5 yard line, but unlike the other two, Army was unable to get themselves out of the hole gaining just 2 yards in 3 attempts. They finished the game on a strong note with a classic 98 yard drive for the winning touchdown in the fourth quarter.
231 Rushing Yards: One of the big reasons for the inconsistent offense was a mediocre rushing attack. The Black Knights averaged 4.1 yards per carry, well off of their 4.9 yards per carry in the 2018 season. This is a matter of concern going forward. Particularly disturbing was the inability to convert on 3d and short and 4th and short as we saw on the opening drive. As Jeff Monken once said, if we can’t pick up a yard when they need it, we aren’t a running team.
We were a disappointed that we didn’t see more production at fullback in this game. With Connor Slomka sidelined by an injury Sandon McCoy played nearly every snap. Cade Barnard had two carries in the fourth quarter drive, but we were hoping to get a better look at Rashad Bolton who we only saw blocking on a couple of plays. The fullbacks averaged just 3.5 yards per carry, which is a big dropoff from last year’s production at that position when each of the 4 top fullbacks averaged more than 4 yards per carry.
The Fumble: Sandon McCoy’s fumble on the 50 yard line appeared to be a lapse in concentration rather than the result of a good defensive play.
- Kelvin Hopkins led all rushers with 80 net yards on 21 carries including the first touchdown on the game on a 3 run. He completed only 3 of his 8 pass attempts for 53 yards including the final touchdown pass to Kell Walker. He had a 134.4 rating for the game.
- Cole Chrisitansen led all defenders with 7 tackles.
- Zach Potter got off four high-pressure, long punts that turned really bad field position into much more better field position. He averaged 43.8 yards on his four punts, one of which he had to kick from the end zone.
- Sophomore Akyah Miranda looked good on his one punt return attempt, but his return was called back on a holding call.
- Plebe place kicker Cole Tally got off to a good career start with two successful PAT conversions in two attempts.
- Christian Hayes had a career day with the longest run of the game at 35 yards and a 17 yard reception that set up Army’s first touchdown.
- Jahvari Bourdeau made two great plays in the first half on outlet pass attempts to Trammel. One was a tackle for loss and the other was a breakup which he did not get credit for in the statistics. Bourdeau later made a bad play on which he got a pass interference call, but overall, we thought he played very well.
- Jaylon McClinton had the game saving pass breakup in the fourth quarter to halt the Rice final drive of the game and recorded 5 tackles from his safety spot.
- Arik Smith did well in his career debut with 6 tackles, which tied Cam Jones for second highest number of tackles for the game.
Is Army ready for Michigan
All summer, Army fans and even the media have been focusing on next week’s game against the Michigan Wolverines, and the optimists were even predicting an upset. Meanwhile, Rice was not expected to give Army West Point much trouble in their opening game, but the Black Knights had all they could handle trying to move the ball against the Owls. Was Rice that much better, or were the Black Knights looking past the Owls toward their marquis game with Michigan?
We’re heard from a Michigan fan that the Wolverines have been preparing to defend Army’s triple option since spring practice; so we can expect them to be better prepared than Oklahoma was last season. The Black Knight offense did not appear to be firing on all 8 cylinders in this game, and they’ll have to perform considerably better against Michigan to have any chance of pulling off an upset or even keeping the game close. Only time will tell.