When you go to sleep this Friday, you’ll have gone 246 days since you last saw a down of Army football. But come Saturday, the drought will end.
It’s game week! It’s time to get excited!
The Summerhill neighborhood of Atlanta plays host this weekend to the Army Black Knights when they take on Georgia State. This is the first half of a home-and-home series that’s scheduled to finish next year at Michie Stadium.
The last and only previous meeting between these two programs came in 2019. Army’s offense left a lot to be desired that day. But this Army team looks much deeper than the 2019 team, especially on offense.
We’ve got plenty to be excited about on the banks of the Hudson. Let’s preview the game.
Army Black Knights
The Quarterback Room
Any one of six different players could start under center this Saturday, and none of them would necessarily shock the fanbase. QBs Jabari Laws, Tyhier Tyler, Christian Anderson, Jemel Jones, and Cade Ballard have all started at least one game for the Black Knights, and QB Maurice Bellan has seen significant snaps. All of those guys can run the offense.
Still, the depth chart seems to be shaping up according to recent reports. While the coaching staff has yet to name a starter, it appears that either Tyler or Anderson will be QB1 this Saturday. Jones and Laws could also potentially see snaps depending on how the game plays out. Ballard and Bellan look less likely to hit the field, though Monken has said that they may use different quarterbacks depending on the situation. All of these guys are extremely talented, so it’s even possible that some of them will see snaps elsewhere on offense.
The Captain’s Room
A lot of Army’s success last year came on defense. But after losing team captain DE Amadeo West and All-American LB Jon Rhattigan to graduation, fans could be forgiven for wondering whether the Army defense would retain the same hard-nosed identity.
That question got answered quickly. The Black Knights named four team captains this season, and all four play on defense. LB Arik Smith tied Rhattigan last year for the most tackles. NT Nolan Cockrill became arguably the best defensive playmaker, generating a forced fumble, 2 blocked kicks, 2.5 sacks, and 3 passes defended. That is outstanding production from a nose tackle. DB Marquel Broughton is the team’s third captain. He had 3 turnovers last year — 2 interceptions and a forced fumble. A Lawrenceville, Georgia native, this weekend’s contest should be something like a home game for Broughton. Finally, outstanding S Cedrick Cunningham registered 70 tackles, 37 solo, plus an interception, 4 passes-defensed, and a forced fumble in 2020. Wow!
Of the captains, all are firsties save Broughton, who was selected as a cow — a rare honor at Army. With all that leadership, we’re expecting Army’s defense to function just fine.
A Normal Offseason
Army fans might have overlooked the importance of this past offseason because Army’s season turned out nicely in 2020. But let’s not forget what happened to Navy and Air Force. Their inability to practice inhibited their ability to run the option. Both teams struggled as a result.
Having a full offseason ought to make a difference, though, even at Army. OC Brent Davis and DC Nate Woody both did a nice job cobbling schemes together in 2020. But rumors out of camp indicate that this year we’re going to see something different — and entirely more explosive. Having time to install the full playbook with the presumed starters over the spring ought to make a huge difference.
The Panthers went 6-4 overall in 2020, 4-4 in the Sun Belt. That was good enough to tie for 3rd in the East Division and 5th in the conference overall. However, Georgia State went just 1-3 against teams that finished with a winning record while going 5-1 against teams below .500.
Alas, we all remember what happened two years ago. A constipated Army offense and a fumble on the Army half of the field led to the Panthers securing a seven-point advantage in the fourth quarter. Worse, Army never established the pitch, allowing their slotbacks to finish with just 6 carries for 14 yards. The Panther’s defense always seemed to stunt to the Army B-backs at just the right times, holding the Black Knights to just 6/15 on 3rd down.
That game was truly maddening all the way around.
Two years later, Georgia State has become a sneaky team. They return all 11 starters on offense and 9 of 11 starters on defense. Ten of their starters, mostly on offense, have already won some sort of All-Sun Belt preseason award. That same offense, led by sophomore QB Cornelious “Quad” Brown IV, averaged 423 yards/game last year. Leading rusher RB Destin Coates and leading WR Sam Pinckney also return. Thus, this team should mount a potent and balanced attack.
They were fairly balanced last season. Passing accounted for 41% of their plays but 54% of their yards, though they were maddeningly dependent on the deep ball. Still, this team ought to outperform last year’s numbers by a wide margin since every single offensive starter is back.
Somehow, Georgia State’s defense might actually be the scariest part of this match-up, especially against an option team. Though they gave up 31 points/game in 2020 — twice Army’s average — their opponents gained just 137 yards/game on the ground. Moreover, 15 different players had at least 20 total tackles last year. Leading tackler MLB Blake Carroll returns this year and could cause problems for Army’s B-backs. The good news, though, is that sack leader OLB Jordan Strachan transferred to South Carolina. With that, most of Georgia State’s linebacking corps is new, though they have an experienced D-Line and a talented secondary.
This game ought to be close. Though the line opened at Army (+4), it has since slid all the way to Army (+2) with the Over/Under falling from around 53 all the way down to 49 as of this writing.
The Black Knights can win, but they can’t let this contest devolve into a shoot-out, and they might have to force some turnovers as well. They’ll also need to feature their slotbacks a little more prominently than they did in 2019.
This weekend’s forecast calls for mostly sunny skies with highs in the mid-80s but relatively low humidity. It’s still gonna be plenty hot out there, but that might actually favor Army if they can keep their offense on the field and let all that Georgia sun wear away at Georgia State’s dark-blue-clad defenders.
Army’s first game of the season will kick off at noon. ESPNU has TV coverage.
Go Army! Beat Georgia State!!!
* Cover image via @ArmyWP_Football.