Army’s defense remains a tower of strength for the Black Knights. Jeff Monken’s defense hasn’t played a bad game yet this year. Not every game has been a masterpiece (Abilene Christian), but most games have been very productive for the West Point defense.
Even in defeat against Cincinnati several weeks ago, Army’s defense stood tall and played well enough to win. The offense has been less consistent; the defense has carried this team. As Army prepares for another FCS game against Mercer, there is a specific concept – and an attached goal – which must become paramount for the Black Knights.
1 – The Plain Game
What is a “plain game,” you might ask? Good question. It’s the game on the schedule when a team plays an easy opponent just before a really big game on the schedule. Whenever a team arrives at a “plain game,” the object is not just to win, but to win as plainly as possible, with the simplest approach and the smallest playbook. Get the game done in two and a half hours if possible. Get the game done without any wrinkles or exotics, or disguised defensive looks. Give the upcoming quality opponent nothing on film it can look at for a unique advantage or any degree of added tactical leverage. Keep everything plain so that the upcoming opponent – two weeks later, in this case – has to sit in the dark not knowing what’s coming when game time arrives.
Army’s game against Mercer should be a time to strip everything down to its bare essentials. Come up with the simplest game plan imaginable. Army’s defensive quality and physical prowess should enable the Black Knights to handle the Bears under any circumstances. The playbook doesn’t need to be complicated. Just use brute strength to get the job done… and give the Air Force Falcons absolutely no hint of what’s coming on Nov. 7, Army’s next game on the schedule after Mercer.
2 – The first 20 minutes
Part of what will enable Army to successfully pull off a “plain game” is for the team – specifically the offense – to max out in the first 20 minutes. By the middle of the second quarter, this game needs to be close to done: 17-0, 21-0, 14-0 with Army in or near the red zone. Blasting Mercer in the first quarter and immediately getting this game under control – in marked contrast to the shaky offensive performance versus The Citadel, another FCS opponent – will provide the perfect lead-in to the Air Force game and give backups meaningful snaps in the middle of the season, sharpening them for bigger games later on in the year.
3 – Remove doubt on offense
Army was better on offense against UTSA than it was against The Citadel, but that’s a relatively low bar to clear. It was hard for Army’s offense to be worse than it was in that 14-9 win over an FCS team. Army doesn’t have to dazzle in this game against Mercer, but it needs to be mistake-free. Eliminating doubts about sloppiness and carelessness is an important goal to achieve before the game which will shape the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy race this season.
Saturday’s game kicks off at 1:30 PM ET. Watch on the CBSSN network.