Army Football Preview: Colgate
Army Football stands 8-2, and aside from a rough first half at Duke to open the season, they’ve played with an uncommon mix of fire and hard-nosed consistency that has made them tough to beat this season. Now it’s almost Senior Day, the last home game for the Class of 2019. As we look back at the careers of the men who will take the field for the last time at home this weekend, the changes these guys have helped bring about in the program are almost unfathomable.
Three year ago, Army Football went 2-10. Now this same team is just a single win away from breaking into college football’s Top 25. One thing stands in the way of that goal, but it’s a biggie–the undefeated Patriot League Champion Red Raiders from Colgate.
The Class of 2019 has one more battle to fight at Michie Stadium. It might just be their toughest one yet.
— Army WP Football (@ArmyWP_Football) November 11, 2018
Army Black Knights
When this group of firsties first entered the Academy, they represented hope after what had felt like a near-endless period of gloom and defeat. Seventy-nine football recruits started on Reception Day for the Class of 2019. They were the best recruiting class Army had seen in years–if not decades.
OLB Kenneth Brinson and CB Brandon Jackson saw the field first for their class. I want to say that Brinson started immediately. I was in the stands with my buddy Chris when Jackson hit the field a few games later against Wake Forest. He made an immediate impact, recording multiple interceptions against the Demon Deacons and helping to stabilize a secondary that had to that point been too unsettled to be competitive. SB Jordan Asberry saw time pretty soon after that, bringing newfound speed and athleticism to outside pitch plays, and by the end of the year, something like fifty plebes had seen time, and not just in blowouts. Half the class or more played in close losses to Rutgers and Navy, then at their apex behind QB Keenan Reynolds. A halfback pass fell short in that first Navy game, but this group helped snap the streak the very next year. It was in the following season that we saw the emergence of the current group of fullbacks, guys like Andy Davidson and Darnell Woolfolk. It was those guys who turned West Point into Fullback U.
West Point has again become a place where kids want to play football. When these guys hit the field, they expect to win. New recruits are joining a tradition of success. But it wasn’t always like that. It wasn’t like that for these seniors, who started with nothing more than their faith, effort, and determination. The turnaround that these guys have been a part of has been unbelievable. This class really has a lot to celebrate.
— Jay Bateman (@CoachBateman) September 29, 2018
— CAM (@_Cjjones) September 12, 2018
Colgate Red Raiders
Folks, Colgate also has something to celebrate. They’re the Patriot League Champs, they’re now ranked 6th in FCS college football, and they’ve beaten everybody, often in convincing fashion. Sure, they beat Holy Cross and New Hampshire by just a touchdown apiece in their first two games, but since then they’ve won by at least three touchdowns every time they’ve hit the field. Their offense hasn’t always been super-prolific, but over their last eight games, they’ve given up a grand total of 12 points on defense. Twelve points!
In many ways, Colgate is going to try to out-Army Army. The Red Raiders run a run-first read-option offense behind QB Grant Breneman and RB James Holland Jr. With that scheme, Breneman has thrown the ball less than 16 times/game. As you might expect, Holland and Breneman are the team’s leading rushers, averaging 5.2 and 4.2 yards/carry respectively. Overall, Colgate has rushed for nearly 200 yards/game. However, Breneman has been very efficient when he does throw. He’s gone 87/141 passing this season (61.7%) for 1,149 yards or 164.1 yards/game. He’s thrown 5 touchdowns passes against just 3 interceptions. Colgate’s offense by itself hasn’t always been overwhelming, but their average output of 28.3 points/game has been more than enough to win given the way that their defense has played.
Make no mistake, this is a defensive football team. These guys stop the run and then get after the quarterback. On the season, teams have rushed 273 times for just 510 yards total against Colgate. You read that right; the Raiders give up less than 1.9 yards/carry. That’s unbelievable! In fact, this may be the best rushing defense Army has seen all season.
Stopping the run lets Colgate’s D-Line get upfield and attack. On the year, they have a whopping 26 sacks. That’s straight getting after it. With that attacking defense, the Raiders have been able to force 19 fumbles and 10 interceptions. That gives them 20 takeaways total; on the year, they own a +12 total turnover margin. They’re also very good on punt returns, averaging 26 yards/return.
So yeah. These guys can absolutely play.
The one area where Colgate has struggled has been on 3rd down conversions. They’ve gone just 45/188 (38.1%) this season, indicating that they’re not great when they get behind the chains. They’ve been better on 4th downs, going 11/17 (64.7%). That’s to be expected given their offense. However, the Raiders can afford to punt. They’ve held opponents to just 29/128 (22.7%) on 3rd down and 9/25 (36.0%) on 4th down. Add in the team’s overwhelming turnover margin and their ability to return punts and thereby shorten the field, and it’s overwhelming. They’re not giving opponents any opportunity to win despite posting an occasional stalled drive on offense.
🏈 No. 8 @ColgateFB gave up its first TD since Week 1, but that was all Lehigh could muster as the @PatriotLeagueFB Champs complete sweep of League slate with a 48-6 win on Saturday. @NCAA_FCS @WatchStadium pic.twitter.com/9AumIJJ6AJ
— Patriot League Network | PatriotLeague.tv (@PatriotLeagueTV) November 10, 2018
To win this weekend, Army needs to be the more physical, more consistently attacking team. That is not complicated. Colgate will be trying to do the same things that Army does–run the ball, stop the run, play good defense, and shorten the game. Army will need to be the more precise team. What’s unusual is that Colgate is also very good at playing this kind of football as well.
Fullback Dive vs. Colgate D-Line. If Army can average 3.5 yards/carry or better with its fullbacks, the Black Knights will win. The Dive is the critical play because it hits the fastest, taking advantage of attacking D-Ends’ tendency to get upfield and overrun the play. In this, Colgate plays to Army’s strengths, but only if the Black Knights are hitting the hole hard and getting those critical first yards off the line of scrimmage.
It’s worth noting that Colgate has terrific linebackers and defensive backs. It’s not going to be easy to run against this team on the perimeter. Army really needs to win with power running in the middle in order to open up the rest of the playbook.
Army Linebackers vs. the Read-Option. The good news for the Black Knights is that Colgate’s strengths on offense play into Army’s strengths on defense. Army just played Air Force. In a few weeks they play Navy. Both those teams are diehard option/running teams. In Colgate we see another option/running team, albeit one that uses a slightly different scheme. Still, if you wanted to get a jump on preparing for a bunch of option looks requiring defensive discipline and assignment-based football, Colgate is exactly the kind of opponent you’d want to put on the schedule.
Colgate’s read-option offense mostly sets up runs in the middle. They either give to the running back or the quarterback follows the back through the hole. But running in the middle has been tough against Army. Air Force couldn’t do it; they mostly went to pitch plays or quarterback runs off-tackle, and even then, they got 130 fewer rushing yards in the Army game than they they’d been averaging on the season. If the Black Knights want to win this week, they’ll need a repeat performance.
Miss the show last night? LISTEN NOW! Hosts @Andy_Suekoff and Andy Mattison discuss the #Jets loss to the #Bills, and welcome @ArmyWP_Football Head Coach @CoachJeffMonken. https://t.co/3LmfjlQDKU pic.twitter.com/JpS2TWndD5
— SPORTSTALK1240 (@sportstalk1240) November 12, 2018
I find it hard to believe that Army could rush for 4.1 yards/carry against Air Force’s elite FBS rushing defense and hold the Zoomies’ 7th ranked rushing offense to just 3.6 yards/carry but then struggle against FCS Colgate. This is doubly true because Colgate’s offense isn’t nearly as versatile as Air Force’s. The Zoomies run a complex triple-option attack out of the spread. Colgate is really running a power inside game from a more limited set of looks. No one has succeeded at running inside on Army. That’s a tough ask.
Army should beat Colgate at home on Senior Day. This, of course, assumes that the Black Knights bring their best stuff. However, we haven’t seen this team play a legit complete game since San Jose State or maybe Eastern Michigan. However, these guys will need to bring their best selves to the contest this weekend, or they’re going to go out with an ugly-looking loss. After all they’ve accomplished in the past four years, that would represent an unimaginable loss of focus.
The current forecast calls for mostly sunny skies with highs in the mid-40s with maybe 8 to 10 mph of wind. Given our experience over the past two weeks, I might up that to 15 to 20 mph of wind, but at least it’s not supposed to snow. I wore canvas shoes and thin leather gloves last week, and I got cold. This week, I’ll be dressed a lot more warmly.
Army’s last home game will be on CBS Sports. Kickoff is at noon. The Black Knights will wear the 2nd Infantry Division patch, and I’m gonna wear one of my old 4-7 Cav hats in solidarity.
— Army WP Football (@ArmyWP_Football) November 12, 2018
Out front, sir! Garryowen!
Second to None!