Army football meets West Virginia on Thursday at the AutoZone Liberty Bowl in Memphis. Here are your three keys to an Army Black Knights victory.
The Tennessee Volunteers could not play in the Liberty Bowl, so Army volunteered to replace the Vols. It was merely the latest pandemic plot twist to affect the college football season, this time in a bowl game. Army, at 9-2 and freshly crowned as the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy holder for 2020, got the bowl bid it richly deserved and fully earned. Now the Black Knights get to test themselves against the Big 12… but also against a program which, geographically, is not that far from West Point.
The West Virginia Mountaineers are the geographic outlier in the Big 12, and they have struggled to gain a foothold in the conference since joining it several years ago. West Virginia has not been able to make the Big 12 Championship Game in any of the past four years. The Mountaineers have their moments but can’t string together complete, consistent seasons. The 2020 campaign is a perfect example. West Virginia crushed Kansas State when the Wildcats were riding high, but that was an occasional flicker of quality, not representative of the team WVU had all season. Coach Neal Brown is still trying to build depth and dependability in the program. This is a very winnable game for Army. Let’s see what the Black Knights need to do:
1 – Rush the passer
West Virginia’s offensive line is vulnerable and flawed. The Mountaineers gave up at least two sacks in each of their last four games this season, a total of seven combined in their last three outings. This O-line can be exploited, and Army has a defensive line which can certainly do damage in this matchup. Being able to fluster WVU quarterback Jarret Doege is a centerpiece goal for the Black Knights, and that’s a very achievable aim.
2 – Shut down the big play
Doege’s last three games show that if defenses can force West Virginia to patiently dink and dunk the ball down the field, the Mountaineers’ offense can be kept under wraps. Doege completed under 215 yards worth of passes in each of his last two games. In a loss at Texas on Nov. 7, he threw for 317 yards but needed 35 completions and 50 attempts to do that. When defenses deny large chunks of yards to Doege and the West Virginia passing game, they can thrive. West Virginia scored a total of 43 points in its last three games, an average of just over 14 points per contest. This reveals a clear connection between denying big plays and having success against the WVU offense.
3 – First-half offense
Army’s defense has stood on its head the past two weeks, and the offense hasn’t delivered the goods until deep into the second half. The Black Knights can’t depend on the defense to be letter-perfect through three quarters and then win in the fourth. The offense needs a big start in the first half to make sure this game isn’t more mentally exhausting than it needs to be. If Army tempts fate with another slow start on offense, it will be asking for trouble against West Virginia.
Thursday’s game kicks off at 4:00 pm ET. Watch on the ESPN Network.