What a game! After a disappointing 5-8 finish in 2019 and the longest, strangest offseason in living memory, the Army Black Knights opened 2020 rolling hot. They absolutely steamrolled the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders by a final score of 42-0. That made this Army’s first opening day shutout since September 11, 1993, when they beat Colgate 30-0.
I was actually at that game, friends. I was a cow in Company E-1.
Folks, this Army team looked terrific. The Blue Raiders hadn’t been shut out since 2012. Hell,
Army hadn’t shut out an FBS opponent this was Army’s most dominant shutout since the glory days all the way back in 1963 (47-0 vs. Wake Forest).
Army ran for 340 yards and 5 touchdowns on just 62 carries (5.5 yards/carry), and they added 2 receptions for 28 yards. The real story in this game, though, was their defense, which held MTSU to just 184 yards of total offense en route to forcing 4 turnovers.
Considering the way this season’s schedule came together and the Blue Raiders’ inexperience on defense, we thought Army might run effectively. However, no one thought Army’s defense would hold MTSU standout starting QB Asher O’Hara to just 46 yards passing and 18 yards rushing total. This is a guy who threw for more than 2600 yards last season (62.7%) and ran for another 1000+ (5.2 yards/carry). He’s never had a game like the one we saw yesterday. Even overmatched last year against the Iowa Hawkeyes, O’Hara managed 15 completions for 110 yards (68.2%) with no interceptions and some 33 yards rushing on 10 carries. The Hawkeyes won that game 48-3, but MTSU at least managed some highlights.
Yesterday, they got skull-dragged for 60 long minutes.
— U.S. Military Academy at West Point (@WestPoint_USMA) September 4, 2020
QB Christian Anderson managed Army’s offense efficiently in only his second start. He barely carried the ball through the first quarter — it looked to me like MTSU’s defense was keying hard on the Quarterback Keeper — but he still somehow finished with 10 carries for 51 yards (5.1 yards/carry) and a touchdown. By comparison, FB Sandon McCoy did most of the grunt work, carrying 15 times for just 50 yards (3.3 yards/carry) but carrying defenders where he had to. That kept the chains moving, and it allowed McCoy to score Army’s first three touchdowns.
We’ve been hearing for years about Army’s talented young recruits. Yesterday, we finally saw them in action. Plebe SB Tyrell Robinson was a revelation with 94 yards on just 9 carries (10.4 yards/carry). The Blue Raiders had absolutely no answer for Robinson’s speed on the outside. Similarly, the Black Knights brought in yearling FB Jakobi Buchanan as their short yardage back yesterday, and he rewarded them with 9 carries for 33 yards (3.7 yards/carry), most of which went for first downs. Fellow yearling FB Anthony Adkins got just 4 carries, but he broke one off for a 22-yard touchdown, giving him 34 yards total and a whopping 8.5 yards/carry.
4th-and-3, no problem.
— Army Football (@ArmyWP_Football) September 5, 2020
Offensively, the best thing about this game was the way the Black Knights were able to get the ball out to the perimeter. Robinson and firstie SB Artice Hobbs carried 14 times collectively. Both guys broke off multiple long runs, coming off both the pitch and the Rocket Sweep. Granted, some days everything works, but this wasn’t really one of those days. Instead, Army’s offense just ground away inside with the Fullback Dive and pitched when the defense came down against the quarterback. That was almost every time, especially early, but it left space for Army’s slotbacks to break free for big gains. It’s worth noting that those same slotbacks just outworked their defensive counterparts repeatedly.
Army also threw the ball effectively. Anderson went just 2/4 passing, but both completions came in obvious passing situations that still either gained a first down or set up a makeable situation for 3rd down. Anderson also threw the ball away once, which was fine, but he did have one truly egregious throw that should have been picked off as well. This was still his best performance as a passer by far, but it no doubt helps that Army’s got a couple of receivers who have better hands than we’ve seen from this team in the recent past.
It’s hard to pick a defensive player of the game, but my vote would go to either firstie LB Jon Rhattigan or cow “Apache” linebacker Malkelm Morrison. This was Rhattigan’s first start on defense, and he was absolutely outstanding. He had 6 tackles and a half-sack, but more than that, he was always right where he needed to be. In a brand new defense introduced with no spring football, that’s huge. Rhattigan even jumped a route in coverage for pick-six. That gave Army more total touchdowns than they had offensive drives! Similarly, Morrison moved up to Apache this season from defensive back, and it’s his range that makes this defense go. He had 4 tackles (1 solo) and 1 tackle-for-loss, but he was absolutely everywhere. How do you plan for a guy who can drop into coverage, come down into the box and play the run, or blitz and hit the quarterback with equal efficacy?
— Army Football (@ArmyWP_Football) September 5, 2020
Army was the hungrier, better prepared team this week. We saw that in the execution on the field, but we also saw it in injuries among the Blue Raiders. It’s hard to go from practice to game speed, especially after a short training camp. Indeed, I expect we’ll see that quite a bit around college football overall as the season gets going. In this strangest of college football seasons, Army’s flexibility and overall athleticism will likely be one of the team’s most-decisive edges.
Final note: K Landon Salyers had a 40+ yard field goal that came off the board because of a roughing the kicker call. It was encouraging nevertheless that he hit that kick right down the middle with plenty of distance to spare. The Black Knights are gonna need that eventually.
Next up, the Black Knights of the Hudson host the Warhawks of Louisiana-Monroe. This will be the Warhawks’ first game after their match-up with Troy was pushed to December 5 due to a coronavirus outbreak. Well, those Warhawks had better put on their big-boy pants because these Black Knights look ready to rumble.
— ULM Football (@ULM_FB) September 5, 2020