After yet another heartbreaking loss at Michie Stadium, your Army Black Knights head to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, this weekend to take on the #15 Wake Forest Demon Deacons. Given the way last year’s game played out, a path to victory most certainly exists for the Black Knights, but actually traveling that path will not be easy. Wake has looked good all season, and now that they’ve got QB Sam Hartman back, the Deacons seem to be hitting their stride just as we head into the heart of the season.
Army Black Knights
Army has been pretty good this season on offense, even if they’ve committed too many turnovers and struggled occasionally to convert in short yardage, goal-to-go situations. They play hard, and they fight until the end, and at a certain level that’s all we can ask. They’ve scored a heck of a lot of points, and after some adjustments, they’re now running the ball well and playing complimentary football by managing time of possession in exactly the manner Army fans have come to expect.
Unfortunately, this is a team with some obvious holes. They look undersized on defense and are often not getting quality play along the line of scrimmage on that side of the ball. With that, their rushing defense has fallen apart. After 4 games, Army is 127th in FBS college football in rushing defense, making them the 4th-worth rushing defense in all of college football. They’ve been better as a red zone/scoring defense, but when you’re allowing 222 yards/game on the ground on 5.2 yards/carry, this becomes a somewhat theoretical distinction.
The results have been all too predictable.
To win, Army needs to run the ball, stop the run, and avoid committing turnovers. When they can do all three of these things, they win nearly all the time. If they can do two of the three, they at least give themselves a realistic chance. Army is running the ball well, so if they could also either avoid turning it over or stop the run, they’d probably be at least 2-2 right now. With just the one thing, though, this team is fighting hard but somewhat futilely against the upper half of FBS college football. Unfortunately, we’ve really only got teams from the upper half of FBS college football on the schedule this year, at least until we get into mid- to late-November. Army will need to fix either its turnover problems or its issues defending the run in order to begin getting its season turned around.
#15 Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Friends, Wake Forest is good. They are 4-1 with their only loss coming in an overtime barnburner against #5 Clemson. Clemson looks like they’re all the way back, so yeah, that was a tough loss, but it still came in an entirely respectable performance.
For the Demon Deacons, it all starts with QB Sam Hartman and the slow-mesh read-option offense. Hartman is just that good. In four games this season, Hartman has gone 86/134 passing for 1,196 yards (64.2%) with *15* touchdowns against just 2 interceptions, though he has also taken 12 sacks. Even then, we have to put that into some context. Hartman missed most of the summer plus the first game of the season with a medical issue, so as good as those numbers have been, the truth is that this guy is only now starting to round into form.
So yeah. Hartman has been amazing. He’s already leading a top-20 passing offense and a top-25 scoring offense. But he’s also been getting better week-to-week. He’ll be better this week than he was last week, and he’ll be even better than that when next week rolls around.
Wake Forest is also better on defense this year than they were last year. Teams ran on the Deacons at will last year. This year, those same Deacons are giving up just 135.4 yards rushing/game on 3.8 yards/carry. Granted, that doesn’t give the Deacons an elite defense — they looked distinctly mortal against Liberty’s rushing attack, for instance — but they are still loads better than they were last season. Moreover, this defense has generated 12 sacks, 4 interceptions, and *8* forced fumbles. That’s gonna create a problem, I expect.
All in, the Wake Forest team we see this year has improved markedly from the team that went to the ACC Championship last year. Once Hartman rounds fully into form, this team will have every chance to make some real noise in the postseason.
Unfortunately, Wake Forest is good in all the wrong ways. To have a chance this week, Army will have to run the Hell out of the football, scoring points with relentless efficiency while simultaneously maintaining an overwhelming time-of-possession advantage. They cannot afford to turn the football over. They need to make literally every possession matter on offense.
If they do that, then maybe their offense can hang with the Deacons in a track meet similar to the one we saw last season. Army’s offense has been good enough to make this work, but they’ll need to find a whole new level of consistency to get a win on the road this week.
When the world is burning and all you wanted to do was watch an Army Football game on CBS Sports pic.twitter.com/2OMBcDbIaA— Drunk Old Grad (@DrunkOldGrad) November 7, 2020
On a play-by-play basis, ESPN’s proprietary SP+ program thought Army played a close game against Georgia State, winning on slightly more snaps and therefore giving themselves every chance to win on the scoreboard. The ultimate result, however, told a different story, meaning that on the snaps that Army lost, they really got their asses kicked.
That possibility is alive and well again this week, though on a far grander scale.
The line opened this week at Army (+16), slid for some reason to Army (+15.5), and has now bounced back and landed at Army (+17). Notably, Wake is 4-1 against the spread this season while Army is 1-3. This means that Vegas has been systematically overvaluing the Black Knights and undervaluing the Demon Deacons. This is not pessimism; I’m simply telling you what the math is telling me. Meanwhile, the Over/Under sits at 67.5.
My weather app tells me that the high in North Carolina this Saturday will be in the lower-60s while the low will be in the upper-30s. The game kicks at 7:30 pm, so it might get chilly as we get into it. That might favor Army depending on how much opportunity the Demon Deacons have had to practice in cool weather. Cold weather fumble-fingers are a thing for teams from the South. We’ll see.
With the game at Wake Forest, the broadcast will go out on regional sports networks. Most of us will watch via ESPN3. As always, As For Football recommends the Varsity app and Rich DeMarco’s radio call in lieu of the TV announcers whenever coverage comes via ESPN.
Go Army! Beat Wake Forest!!!
*Cover image via USMA Flickr.