Army Football Preview: Lafayette
After a hard-fought win over Air Force, the Black Knights are back at Michie Stadium this week for their first FCS game, a Patriot League contest against Lafayette. Army ought to win this one handily, but for fans of the team’s future, this might be our first chance to get a look at some of the near future’s rising stars.
— Army WP Football (@ArmyWP_Football) November 6, 2018
Army Black Knights
When the 2018 schedule was first released, it didn’t look like this season would feature a particularly compelling slate of games. Sure, we faced Oklahoma and Duke, but beyond that, most preseason prognosticators weren’t expecting the Black Knights to meet a ton of resistance. As one blog put it, Army Football was looking to take “a few bites at the cupcake.”
Fast forward a year, and those expectations have been turned on their heads. Nearly every team Army has faced is either bowl eligible or well on their way. This includes 6-5 Hawaii, a rebuilding program that’s way ahead of schedule, 4-4 Liberty, who needs just two wins in its next four games with New Mexico State and Norfolk State remaining, 8-1 Buffalo, with the inside track to the MAC Championship, and Eastern Michigan, currently 5-5 with Akron and Kent State ahead. Even 3-6 Air Force might still qualify for a bowl, though they’d have to beat Wyoming on the road and Colorado State at home. I don’t know if that’s necessarily likely, but it’s certainly not impossible. In fact, most of the teams Army has played are headed for the postseason. SJSU is going to miss a bowl, obviously, and Miami-Ohio would need a miracle, but everybody else has an at least realistic shot.
That’s not too bad.
The main question for the Army team this week is about the health of its quarterback, Kelvin Hokpins Jr. Hopkins soldiered through a tough start at EMU and again during Saturday’s rivalry win over Air Force, but speculation on Twitter said that he was hurting by the end of Saturday’s game. Hopkins himself would surely rather play, but I won’t be surprised if the coaching staff sits him again. We may yet see the mighty Cam Thomas make his second start against Lafayette. That wouldn’t be surprising.
My second question is this: what the heck happened to FB Calen Holt? Holt played extremely well in Army’s win over Hawaii but has virtually disappeared in the weeks since. Army missed Holt’s ability to catch out of the backfield against Air Force. Is he alright? Still with the team? The AFF crew is a little concerned about the Corps’ favorite Hawaiian.
Assuming the Black Knights score early and often this week, some names to watch for as the game progresses include the Bronx’s own QB Christian Anderson, plebe QB Clay Czynznski, converted plebe SB Jabari Laws, who might well see his first action at his new position, and FB Cade Barnard, arguably Army’s top recruit from the new class. QB Tyhier Tyler was named Army’s Offensive Finisher of the Week this week, which means that he’ll get to dress as well. Maybe that means he gets in, too? I’d like to see that. He’s a legit dual-threat, though I doubt they turn him loose and let him throw it all over the yard. On defense, my friend David suggests watching for LBs Ryan Parker, Arik Smith, and Jeremiah Lowery. Alas, I don’t know the backup players from the secondary or the names of the new plebe wide receivers, but Army’s got quite a bit of good young talent looking to make an impact out there. The second half of this game might well be a showcase for the future.
— Sal Interdonato (@salinterdonato) November 5, 2018
The Lafayette Leopards (3-6, 2-3 in the Patriot League) have really struggled this season. They opened with four straight losses, including three 35-point blowouts on the road at Sacred Heart, Delaware, and Colgate. They finally broke through against Central Connecticut, winning at home 31-24, before dropping a defensive struggle to Georgetown, 13-6. Close wins against Patriot League foes Bucknell and Fordham brought the Leopards back to 3-5 with—amazingly—an outside shot at the Patriot League title. That lasted until this past week’s game, a blowout second-half loss to Holy Cross. As it stands, Lafayette remains in the middle of the pack against a weak Patriot League schedule. Only one team in the entire League has a winning record, and that’s 8-0 Colgate, currently ranked about 12th nationally in FCS college football.
The Leopards are led on offense by sophomore QB Sean O’Malley and senior RB C.J. Amill. O’Malley looks to be about a 55% passer who’s prone to taking sacks and throwing interceptions. In fact, the Leopards have given up 13 sacks and thrown 12 interceptions this season against just 3 passing touchdowns. This comes on top of another 6 fumbles lost for a net turnover margin of -10. Similarly, Amill can be a dangerous runner in space, but the Leopards have struggled to open running lanes. As a result, it’s hard to find anything that this Leopards team can build around offensively. They are throwing for just over 180 yards/game and rushing for not quite 90. The games they’ve won have mostly been low-scoring, supremely defensive-minded affairs.
It is therefore not surprising to note that the Leopards have been a bit better on defense. They’re allowing just 3.6 yards/carry on the ground and a little more than 138 yards rushing/game. That’s not terrible, though the Patriot League isn’t the most run-heavy conference in college football. The Leopards have also generated a whopping 19 sacks. That’s really good! This has allowed them to hold opposing offenses to just a 41.4% conversion rate on 3rd downs, presumably by keeping opposing passing attacks in 3rd-and-long situations. But they’ve given up an unsettling 73.3% conversions on 4th down, indicating that their run defense hasn’t been stout enough to stop power runs at the point of attack. Like EMU, it appears that the Leopards are good at keeping opposing running backs from breaking off long runs but less good at stopping the initial burst through the line.
Finally, Lafayette struggles with place kicking. On the year, they are just 6/12 kicking field goals and 13/15 kicking extra points.
— Lafayette Football (@LafColFootball) November 3, 2018
— Lafayette Football (@LafColFootball) November 3, 2018
I’ve got exactly one.
Army Secondary vs. QB Sean O’Malley. The Leopards have struggled to generate offense this season, especially in the running game, and they’re about to go up against a defense that just held the nation’s #8 rushing attack to 125 yards on the ground a week ago. If they’re gonna have a chance this week, the Leopards are going to have to be aggressive throwing the football. But O’Malley has been neither accurate nor particularly careful with the ball this season. This presents an opportunity for the Black Knights’ secondary.
If Army’s gonna hang 50 this week—and to be clear, that *is* the expectation—the secondary needs to generate turnovers. I’m not sure what the team’s goal ought to be, but I would think three takeaways is entirely doable.
— Army WP Football (@ArmyWP_Football) November 4, 2018
Since this is an FBS/FCS matchup, there’s no betting line posted. However, ESPN’s FPI gives the Black Knights an overwhelming 99.6% chance of winning. That is hard to believe, despite this series’s recent history.
As of this writing, the weather is expected to be mostly sunny with highs in the mid-40s and maybe 10+ mph of wind. That ought to make for a decent day of triple-option football. I’ll be out there with my daughter Hannah, and though I’m not sure what we’re gonna do in terms of food or tailgating, we’ll surely do something. I’ve gotta reach out to some folks to see who’s gonna be where.
If you’ve never been to an Army Football game, and you’ve always wanted to go, this ought to be a good first-time experience. Tickets remain readily available, and after last week’s sell-out, the logistics of this week’s matchup will be MUCH less challenging. I’m expecting half the traffic or less and none of the lines.
That won’t suck, to be honest.
— Army WP Football (@ArmyWP_Football) November 5, 2018
As always for home games, CBS Sports has the broadcast. Kickoff is at noon. Army will wear the 1st Armor Division patch.