This upcoming game between Army and Texas-San Antonio is fascinating on a number of levels. It’s a good measuring-stick game for both teams, but the tricky part of the equation is that it’s hard to know where each team currently stands after the past weekend.
Is Army as shaky on offense as its 14-9 win over The Citadel might suggest? It was one thing when Cincinnati shut down Army; Cincinnati is a good team with a chance at the Group of Five championship and a berth in a New Year’s Six bowl game. The Citadel is an FCS team. Army didn’t do noticeably better against The Citadel than it did versus the Bearcats, so Jeff Monken has to wonder where his team is situated entering the third weekend of October.
Is UTSA as good as its narrow loss to unbeaten BYU indicated? The Roadrunners gave the Cougars far more of a battle than many were anticipating. As a point of comparison, BYU beat Navy by 52 points, Troy by 41, and Louisiana Tech by 41. UTSA lost to BYU on the road by only seven.
If UTSA is as good as that BYU game suggested, the Roadrunners are a lot better than Troy, Louisiana Tech, and Navy. Can we say that with confidence?
Army and UTSA are both coming off weird games. Was that the real Army offense and the real UTSA team we saw, or will we see very different versions when the Black Knights come to the Alamo City? Let’s see what Army needs to do:
1 – First-down defense
BYU limited UTSA to 72 rushing yards on 28 carries. One of those 28 runs for the Roadrunners gained 23 yards, meaning that UTSA ran for just 49 yards on 27 of its 28 rushing attempts. BYU smothered UTSA in that regard. This translated into third and medium or third and long for the Roadrunners, who rarely got into third-and-short situations. Predictably, UTSA converted just 4 of 13 third downs and couldn’t get going on offense until it was too late. The Roadrunners scored just six points through the first three quarters and scored two touchdowns only after falling behind by 15 points. UTSA’s touchdown drives occurred against prevent defenses.
If Army can shut down the UTSA running game, the Roadrunners – who tried to run the ball against BYU as often as they passed (28 rushes, 33 passes) – will have to pass in predictable passing situations. That’s more than half the battle for Army’s defense on Saturday. Creating second and longs will force UTSA to be one-dimensional… and not by design, but by circumstance. Maybe the Roadrunners will try to pass the ball a lot more against Army (it would frankly make a good adjustment). Army’s front four will need to be disruptive. UTSA quarterback Lowell Narcisse completed 17 of 20 passes against BYU.
2 – Turf battle
UTSA’s defense allowed just 27 points to BYU. The Cougars had scored 40 or more points in their previous games, so the Roadrunners did well on defense. Yet, they gave up 470 yards, so it’s not as though they controlled play; they didn’t. How did they limit scoreboard damage even while their opponent relentlessly moved the ball on them? Field position. UTSA watched BYU mount drives of 51 and 34 yards without scoring a point this past Saturday. BYU had to drive at least three-fourths if not the full length of the field to score. Army is built to mount a long drive, but the Black Knights will want to make sure UTSA has to work extremely hard for all of its points. Field position is likely to matter in San Antonio.
3 – Starting over
Army’s offense did one thing particularly well against The Citadel: Convert fourth downs (3 of 4). Everything else was below-average if not worse: rushing efficiency, penalties, turnovers, third-down conversions. This has to be a back-to-the-drawing-board week for everyone in that offensive huddle. Every position group needs to be substantially better. That kind of performance is not acceptable; this game will show if a bunch of teammates can band together, commit themselves to excellence, and solve problems. UTSA will have something to say about the outcome here, but playing better is under Army’s control and no one else’s. The path to victory starts in the huddle; it’s time to put an end to the turnovers and the inconsistent line play.
Saturday’s game kicks off at 12:30 pm CT. Watch on the CBS Sports Network.