There was only one service academy football game this past weekend, but it was a thriller, and it made national news.
The Army Black Knights almost won at the University of Oklahoma in 2018. The Black Knights frustrated the Sooners and took them into overtime before losing, 28-21. The Sooners learned how much of a complete headache it was – and is – to face the triple option. Oklahoma’s defense was flustered by Army’s offense, which played ball control and gave Oklahoma’s offense few chances to score.
The time of possession for Army in that Oklahoma game: 44:41. That means Oklahoma had the ball for just 15:19.
This Army game against Michigan was similar to the OU game only in the sense that Army annoyed Michigan with a feisty, physical performance. Unlike the Oklahoma game, Army’s impact came primarily on defense. The Black Knights forced three turnovers from Michigan (just one from Oklahoma a year ago). They stopped Michigan on two fourth downs (only one against Oklahoma in 2018). Army showed on a national stage that the transition at defensive coordinator from Jay Bateman to John Loose is proceeding smoothly. Army hasn’t lost a step – or any sort of edge – in the process.
A year ago against Oklahoma, Army’s best defense was an offense which simply didn’t allow Oklahoma and Kyler Murray to touch the ball very often.
This time, Army’s best defense was… its defense.
The time of possession in this game was a lot more even than Army-Oklahoma 2018. Army had the ball for 31:35, Michigan 28:25. Michigan had the ball nearly twice as long as Oklahoma did a year ago. Army’s defense was on the field for nearly half the game, as opposed to merely 25 percent of the Oklahoma contest.
Get this: 2018 Oklahoma outgained 2019 Michigan (355-340) in 13 fewer minutes of possession. Army truly dictated this game with its defense.
Army’s lead dance step – as was the case in the season opener versus Rice – came on the defensive side of the ball. The offense therefore had to make sure to do what was realistically attainable, not making the spectacular play but the simple one.
This is why Saturday’s loss hurts so much: Army didn’t make enough of the basic plays. In fact, Army’s worst offensive play was not a play which should have been a touchdown or a first down; it was a third-down play which should have been an incompletion.
A needless interception in the Michigan red zone – a risky throw by quarterback Kelvin Hopkins which never should have been made – cost Army three points. Given how tough it was for Michigan to finish drives, and given how precious every piece of real estate was in a field position-driven game, a field goal mattered a lot.
Yes, Army can be very confident and encouraged about the rest of its season. The Black Knights are in position to make a run at another 10-win season and a Commander In Chief’s Trophy. They stood up to another big name in college football, on the road, and very nearly won.
Yet, for at least a few days, Army will regret not making the extra handful of plays which were right there for the making… and the taking.
Army will turn its attention this week to UTSA. The Roadrunners will not be nearly as physical as Michigan was, so the Black Knights should relish the prospect of playing an opponent they can boss around at the line of scrimmage.
Navy and Air Force were off this week. The Midshipmen play East Carolina in their AAC opener. This is a game Navy expects to win, especially since the Mids have had two weeks to prepare. Ken Niumatalolo should demand a sharp performance from his players on both sides of the ball, polishing the rough edges in evidence against Holy Cross in Week 1.
Air Force plays at Colorado, a 2-0 team which beat Nebraska in overtime this past weekend. How good is Colorado? Hard to say. We don’t know how good – or bad – Nebraska is. Colorado is a very good Week 3 measuring stick for Air Force. The Falcons face a Colorado team which has given up 31 points in each of its two games. AFA’s offense should be optimistic about what it can achieve.