For the first time since September 14th, 2013, a ranked team is traveling up the Hudson River Valley to Michie Stadium for a football game. During the 2013 campaign, 5th-ranked Stanford won a 14-point game against Rich Ellerson’s final Army squad.
This time around, undefeated, 16th-ranked Wake Forest will make their way to West Point. This will be the Black Knight’s sixth time facing the Demon Deacons since 2012, and there are four more matchups scheduled through 2026. That makes Wake Forest Army’s most common opponent over that span, save Air Force and Navy.
The last time these two teams met, Army won 21-13 in Winston-Salem en route to their first 8-win season in two decades. This time, however, Wake comes in 6-0, their best start since 1944.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Deacon Head Coach Dave Clawson has openly stated that this is an offense-first team. You’re going to hear a lot about the “slow mesh” in this game. Let’s take a second to break that down.
A “mesh” occurs anytime two or more players cross each other to create some sort of defensive reaction to a play. With wide receivers, it can create picks and separation from defensive backs. Wake Forest uses the concept in the option football sense. The mesh occurs between the quarterback and the running back as part of a run-pass option (RPO).
After the snap, the quarterback and running back come together and start walking toward the line of scrimmage while they both hold on to the football. This allows the quarterback to delay the option decision until the play has time to develop. If the linebackers have dropped into coverage, the running back takes the ball and finds a hole. However, if linebackers are spying the mesh, the quarterback keeps, usually to throw to the most open receiver.
As fans of an option team, we hear about the importance of “assignment” defense damn-near every game. This time around, Army has to play assignment defense, too. Each linebacker and defensive lineman will have a particular assignment on every play, and they each have to execute individually for the defense to execute as a whole. Do not expect Army ballhawks to be waiting on an interception opportunity. If they do, it’s going to be a long day.
QB Sam Hartman has completed 63% of his passes this season for nearly 9 yards/attempt. His main targets are WRs Jaquarii Roberson (515 yards at nearly 17 yards/reception) and A.T. Perry (454 yards at nearly 20 yards/reception). On the ground, the Demon Deacons get about 4 yards/rush. That’s obviously not bad, but the main success here has come from the way the running game has set up the pass.
With the slow mesh, Wake Forest puts up a whopping 441 yards/game in total offense plus 39 points. However, if Army’s offense does its job, the Deacons should have something like four fewer possessions than what they’ve averaged so far this season. Expect Wake to score something like 24-35 points if the game goes as expected.
While Head Coach Dave Clawson has seen Army three times, Defensive Coordinator Lyle Hemphill has never seen an FBS triple-option team. Perhaps the closest he’s come was when he faced Willie Fritz’s Tulane team back in 2018.
Four out of the Demon Deacons’ top five tacklers are defensive backs, not linebackers or linemen. With that, this team is giving up 4.4 yards/rush, the worst by far amongst undefeated teams. Notably, this defense has struggled a lot against run-heavy teams like Syracuse and Louisville.
Army is going to have to make that work. The Black Knights’ offense will need to keep Sam Hartman cold. If Hartman is chilling on the sidelines, he and his offense won’t be able to wear out Army’s defense and run up the score. This all comes down to execution against a defense that has given up quite a bit of yardage to power running attacks.
The Black Knight offense is also going to have to put up a decent amount of points. In fact, they’re going to have to put up more points than they have against any Power 5 opponent since 2012 when they put up 37 and 34 points against Wake Forest and Boston College, respectively. The good news is that they won’t have too get too crazy to make that happen. They just need to be the very best version of the Army Team that they possibly can be.
K Nick Sciba is perfect on the year in points-after (24/24) and field goals (12/12). Similarly, P Ivan Mora averages 42 yards per punt. However, the Demon Deacons have allowed one blocked punt this year, so perhaps there’s an opportunity there as well.
Like Wisconsin, this is a winnable game for the Black Knights. The difference? This time, it’s on Army’s offense to give the defense a chance to win with a big play late, not the other way around. Army wins by being the most Army that they possibly can be.
The Black Knights are a 3-point home underdog, with a 13-game home winning streak on the line. The over/under sits at 52.5. That is much higher than last week’s affair.
This game will be on CBS Sports. Thankfully, we’re finally back to Jason Horowitz and Ross Tucker on game coverage. Wake Forest at Army kicks at noon.
Go Army! Beat Wake Forest!!!
*Cover image via West Point – The United States Military Academy on Flickr.