This week’s contest is a tough game against a good opponent. It’s a great match-up in the sense that you want your team to play meaningful football in November, and this is without a doubt meaningful football. However, this week’s match-up also presents one of Army’s biggest tests of the season. This might be a winnable game, but the Army Team will need to play really, really well in order to get a win on the road at Liberty.
Keys to Victory
We’ve got four keys this week, none of which should come as much of a surprise.
1. Pressure QB Malik Willis
As we noted in our preview article, Liberty QB Malik Willis is a uniquely talented guy playing on a team full of talented receivers and running backs. Willis has completed 63% of his passes this season, and he’s thrown 23 touchdowns against just 11 interceptions. All of that is really good. He’s also run for 10 touchdowns.
But the guy has taken a lot of sacks. He’s so athletic that he tends to try to run away from trouble, even when he should probably just throw the ball away. That’s hurt his team a few times this year and despite all his athleticism, it could cripple his career at the next level.
Army needs to contain Willis, keep him from running for too many first downs when plays break down, and force the kinds of mistakes that have dogged the Flames’ offense all season. If Army can shut down the QB-Keeper and get in Willis’s face, they’ll have a much easier time slowing this offense down.
This game features college football’s sack-taking-est quarterback against college football’s current sack leader. Bottom line, Army has to make that work if they want to win.
2. Contain Liberty’s Running Game
This goes hand-in-hand with the above. The Flames run a read-option rushing attack that has been highly successful this season. They run about 2.5 times more often than they pass, but because their running game works, they stay in makeable 3rd down situations, setting up an explosive downfield passing game.
Army needs to stop the run and force Liberty into as many 3rd-and-long situations as possible. This will make Willis more vulnerable to the pass rush, thereby making those explosive passing plays harder to set up and execute.
3. Get Good Push Along the Offensive Line
Liberty’s defense has been good this year. They’ve given up just 134 yards rushing/game and 3.5 yards/carry. But the Black Knights have played good rushing defense before and made it work.
Think of San Diego State in the bowl game in 2017. This is that kind of defense.
To win this game, Army’s offensive line is going to have to win at the point of attack. The Black Knights have been much better this season getting the ball to their playmakers in space, but they’ll need to get their B-Backs going this week as well and deliver a solid dose of blunt force trauma, too.
4. Take Advantage of Opportunities
In terms of sheer athletic ability, Liberty has one of the most talented teams in all of college football. Malik Willis is the star, but he is by no means their only great player. But though they have mad talent, they haven’t been what we might call precise or overly disciplined when it counts.
Liberty is one of the most penalized teams in all of college football. They average 7.2 penalties/game for 69.2 yards/game, good for 102nd and 117th respectively. They’ve also given up a mind-numbingly bad *45* sacks for 307 yards lost, making them the second-worst pass-protecting team in all of the FBS. Plus, they’ve lost 16 turnovers — 12 interceptions and 4 fumbles — giving them a turnover margin of -6. That puts them 109th in college football on total turnover margin.
With all of that, it’s hard to know exactly where Army’s opportunities will come from in this game. Liberty is sure to be the bigger, more athletic team. They’ll be flying around, trying to make plays. We know this. However, recent history suggests that they’ll give up some easy opportunities as well, and if Army can play disciplined football and take advantage of those opportunities, they will put themselves in a position to win despite the talent disparity.
Army needs to play its game — hard, fast, tough, and strictly disciplined — and they can win. Coach Monken always talks about the National Champions of Toughness. Thats’ the team that can get the victory tomorrow afternoon.
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Go Army! Beat Liberty!!!
*Cover image via West Point Flickr.