It’s been over 250 days since Quinn Maretski nailed a 39 yard field goal to beat Navy in double overtime. Quite a bit has happened since then. If you haven’t read our articles on the new offense, we recommend that you do! As always, your AFF team has been hard at work preparing you for Week 1.
This year marks the third in a row that the Black Knights begin their season on the road (Georgia State in 2021 and Coastal Carolina 2022). Army travels south again, this time to Monroe, Louisiana, to take on the ULM WarHawks.
Preseason is in the books after Saturday's scrimmage. Now it's time to gear up for Game Week! pic.twitter.com/Ut8Exp78JQ— Army Football (@ArmyWP_Football) August 27, 2023
The Warhawks are coming off a tumultuous offseason. They lost a whopping 19 players to the transfer portal. Just 13% of their rushing production — measured by yardage gained — has returned from last year. While they do have 56% of their receiving yards returning, a vast majority of that production has come from just one player — WR Tyrone Howell. Meaniwhile, not a single passing yard from last season is accounted for on this year’s team. And yeah, transfers happen regularly in college football these days. However, it’s still very unusual to see a team lose damn-near everyone with no change to either the head coach nor among the coordinators.
As noted above, the one true returning offensive threat is 6th year WR Tyrone Howell. His 852 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns in 2022 accounted for 22% and 38% of the Warhawks’ total offense and total touchdowns, respectively.
At quarterback, the presumed starter is former JUCO transfer Jiya Wright. He’s made his way around the college football ranks, but his only FBS experience is 20 pass attempts for the Warhawks way back in 2021. Despite falling into the D-II and JUCO ranks over the course of a collegiate career that started all the way back in 2018, Wright is now back in the FBS and ready to start his first game. Previews we’ve ready make him a better runner than passer, but at this point, he’s become an unknown quantity brimming with athleticism.
Someone will have to emerge at running back, but no one on the roster has yet recorded a rushing touchdown. The attempt to emerge may be stunted by 4 offensive lineman who transferred before this season. Nontheless, we’re expecting to see some kind of read-option rushing attack that leverages Wright’s athleticism to spring running backs into open space.
Everything about how ULM played last year and the list of who’s returning this year screams pass-oriented attack. That should reassure Army fans as the Black Knights were #3 overall in pass defense last season. They will have to look out for Howell (#4), but unless another receiver has a breakout game, Army’s defense matches up very well with the Warhawks, at least on paper.
Despite losing 10 defensive players to the portal plus their leading tackler to graduation, ULM returns a fair amount of defensive production. They also added a pair of Power 5 transfers in LB Trevell Johnson (Texas) and DT Donell Harris (Texas A&M).
Last year, ULM had a much better pass defense than rush defense. In last year’s matchup, Army rushed for 441 yards and scored all 6 touchdowns on the ground. Even more impressive, Army averaged over SEVEN yards per carry. The Black Knights totaled 3 runs for 30 yards or more including a 64-yard touchdown by Army’s 2023 starting quarterback, Bryson Daily.
Despite all of the question marks surrounding the new offense, Army should match up well against the Warhawks’ defense. ULM’s defensive line is somewhat inexperienced, providing an excellent opportunity for Army’s new blocking scheme to mesh together and work out some kinks.
Neither the starting kicker nor the punter will return to ULM this fall, so special teams will be an unknown this Saturday. As a team, they did have both a punt return touchdown and a blocked kick in 2022.
Army, meanwhile, returns starting kickers Quinn Maretski and Cole Talley available. We’re expecting Maretsk to take field goals and points-after with Talley taking kickoffs.
P Billy Boelke returns as a senior, but the depth chart currently lists 6’2″ yearling P Cooper Allen as the top punter.
This needs to be a successful start to the Thatcher Era. Army currently sits as a 10-point road favorite, and friends, if the Black Knights’ offense can get going, this game likely gets ugly. However, if the game somehow stays close, it will likely be a low scoring affair that sees both offenses struggle. Hopefully, though, new QB Bryson Daily and the offense will score early and often and keep our blood pressure low.
The week we've been waiting for 🤩 pic.twitter.com/fWsu60WNsB— Army Football (@ArmyWP_Football) August 28, 2023
Follow the Game
The game kicks at 7:00 PM on the NFL Network. If you’re on active duty, here’s your annual reminder that all games are available to watch for free. You can also download the Varsity Network app to hear Rich DeMarco make the radio call if and when the NFL Network crew gets to be too much for you.
As always, follow the usual suspects on twitter for pre-game updates and in-game analysis.
GO ARMY! BEAT ULM!!!
*Cover image via @ArmyWP_Football