For years now, Army football hasn't just been a distant third among the service academies, but one of the dregs of the FBS. Obviously, there's a cap on just how good a program Army can build up in West Point, but unlike Navy, which has become an out-of-conference opponent nobody wants to play, Army's struggled to pull off the upset they're obviously poised to.
Despite--or perhaps because of--the difficulties in building a powerhouse at Army, Jeff Monken jumped ship from Georgia Southern, where he'd built an FCS powerhouse just before the Eagles made the jump to FBS. With a triple option pedigree, and a history of success, the Knights have got as good a head coach as they could possibly hope for. It hasn't translated to wins yet, but in 2015, Army's been somewhat more competitive than in recent years. Take out the brutal loss against Fordham in the opener, and Army's hung with UConn and Wake Forest--two terrible power conference teams, but power conference teams nonetheless. And the Knights exploded for 58 points in a blowout win over Eastern Michigan last week.
Unfortunately, Black Shoe Diaries was unable to get in touch with an Army blogger for this week. We sent emails to a couple writers, but never heard back. I wasn't about to let that stop you, the readers, from gaining the kind of expert insight that you can only get from this feature. So I decided on the next best thing: I had Noel play a bunch of games on NCAA 14 with Army (with this year's updated roster, to ensure accuracy) and report back as our resident insider. We thank Noel for his selflessness and sacrifice.
Black Shoe Diaries: Army, like the other service academies, runs a triple-option offense. What players are likely to get plenty of carries, and what are their strengths and weaknesses?
Also Black Shoe Diaries: First of all, thank you for having me Devon. Having just played and simulated over four (read: five) games with the Black Knights with Operation Sports' NCAA Football rosters, I'm probably the foremost expert in the triple-option not currently squandering his team's chances at an ACC title. Last week Army ran for 556 yards on Eastern Michigan Fighting Rob Boldens, so there is a lot of talent on the ground mixed with the cut-blocking scheme that wears out defenses. The two biggest names to look out for are "fullbacks" Matt Giachinta and Aaron Kemper, who are two of the highest-rated players on Army's roster. Giachinta's not the fastest man on earth by any means, but at 6'1" 225lbs he's hard to take down. Kemper's biggest downside, conversely, is size. He's 5'6", and though that's paired with 210lbs of (presumably) solid muscle, it makes his ballcarrier vision rating very low. A-BAC and T-BAC Joe Walker and John Trainor will get touches, but they're pretty mediocrely rated in everything. They did both break off big runs for TDs against EMU last week, but they didn't do much in NCAA.
BSD: The Black Knights have thrown just 36 passes in 4 games this year. When Army goes to the air, do they have any success?
BSD: Short answer? No, not really. Both of their quarterbacks are rated in the 70s, a death sentence in NCAA football. Ahmad Bradshaw is the starter, and while he's thrown three touchdown passes they're paired with a pick and a 50% completion percentage. So essentially he's Christian Hackenberg. But really, I tried to play an Air Raid with Bradshaw versus Penn State, just to see what would happen. He was 7/35 with nine picks. Backup A.J. Schurr, who stepped in last week when Bradshaw was hurt, wasn't much better. Running 30 pass plays out of the triple option with him led to 11 sacks, two INTs, and a touchdown off of a broken screen play. I don't think success through the air is the key to victory for my boys.
BSD: What sort of schemes does Army favor, defensively? With a smaller group up front, are the Knights more vulnerable against the run?
BSD: Army's preferred defensive scheme is "give up a shitload of points and get the ball back and then run it a lot." They gave up 42 points in PSU's lowest scoring outing against them, and 84 in the highest. Hack threw for 10 touchdowns in that last one, presumably to shut up the haters and losers who doubt him. They ran some weird 3-3-5 hybrid paired with a base 4-3 and none of them worked. I tried to just run nickel and dime all the time and that didn't work too well either. Vulnerable against the run? You betcha. In one game I adjusted Penn State's offense to favor running the ball 65% of the time. They ran for 750 yards. But, so much grit.
BSD: Army was the second-worst defensive team and the worst road team in the country last year, according to SBNation's Bill Connelly. Did you find that to be the case?
BSD: I mean, I did an expansion career with Hofstra once and they had a better defense the first season, and their football program has been disbanded for years. So probably, yeah.
BSD: When you've had success with Army, what players have come up the biggest? Conversely, when you struggle, who ends up the goat?
BSD: The fullback tandem mentioned above is really the key to everything. Feeding those two got the closest score possible, a 42-16 loss, where each scored a touchdown and a two-point conversion on 75+ yards rushing. Heavy doses of angry running with lots of borderline-illegal blocking is the key to success here, so the line needs to come up big.
When Army struggles, it's because they remember the vertical passing game is the thing. I tried my hardest and lowered the difficult settings and still couldn't get them near a 60% completion percentage. Schurr in particular has like a 60 accuracy, which frankly is what I thought they rated people off the street. Bradshaw threw 11 picks once which I thought was impossible. So, the quarterbacks. Also, their punter isn't helping the field position game much.
BSD: How do you see this one shaping up?
BSD: Army Wins 177-6. BRING IN THE TANKS.