Sometimes being an Army Football fan feels like a test of faith. This week, if you hung with the team through the tough times, your faith was rewarded.
Yes friends, your Army Black Knights went into Empower Field in Denver, Colorado, and freaking smoked the Zoomies as badly as they ever have, and they did it in front of more than fifty-thousand fans in attendance plus a national TV audience watching from home. They did it relentlessly on both sides of the ball for every bit of four full quarters.
Damn. That was awesome.
A DENVER DUB!! pic.twitter.com/mlcr5ZJAGd— Army Football (@ArmyWP_Football) November 4, 2023
It Started on Defense.
The Black Knights’ defense has struggled at times this season against the run, but yesterday they balled out. They held the nation’s #1 rushing offense to all of 155 yards on 40 carries (3.9 yards/carry) while forcing *5* fumbles, recovering 4 of them. With that, they continually set up Army’s offense on a short field. Not coincidentally, they absolutely stonewalled Zoomie FB Emmanuel Michel, holding Air Force’s rushing leader to just 8 carries for all of 37 yards. This let the Black Knights’ Bad Boys get after track star/QB Zac Larrier, allowing Larrier to rush for a mere 45 yards on 20 carries.
Air Force had a little more success running to the outside, but their game plan clearly wasn’t geared towards trying to win the football game that way. In the end, because they got down early and because nothing else was working, they had no choice but to try to make something happen through the air. That didn’t work at all. Army’s pass defense held Larrier to a miserable 9/22 passing (40.9%) for just 93 yards plus 2 interceptions. This from a man who hadn’t thrown a pick all season and came into the game completing fully 70% of his passes!
Larrier looked stunned and visibly confused once things started going against him, and we could see him losing heart even on TV. Once he’d lost faith in himself, he was dead meat, and worse, he took his team with him. Mistake followed mistake, and after a while, my man clearly just didn’t want to be there anymore. Army’s swarming defense never let up, and Larrier never made that play that might’ve changed the game.
On offense, Army played the kind aggressive but controlled game that has marked this team in its most successful seasons throughout the Monken Era. At other times this season, it has felt like guys were trying to do too much, creating fumbles and other errors, often in plus-territory. Yesterday, though, they just took what was there, aided by the fact that Air Force came into this game completely unprepared to stop Army’s new Shotgun-Option attack. It looked like the Zoomies came ready to stop Army in the same old way they always have, and it took them a full half to adjust to the reality that the Black Knights weren’t running that same old offense.
What an insane, unforced error!
Brotherhood. pic.twitter.com/FhwzkUJzyo— Army Football (@ArmyWP_Football) November 4, 2023
Air Force’s defense came into this game allowing just 65.8 rushing yards/game on a mere 2.4 yards/carry. Army caught them on the back foot with their new slow-mesh read-option look and exploited their mistakes. The Black Knights finished with 213 yards rushing on 51 carries (4.2 yards/carry), but that doesn’t exactly do justice to what happened given that the Black Knights spent the entire second half just trying to kill the clock. The first half of this game saw the team drop 156 rushing yards on 29 carries (5.4 yards/carry) en route to 20 unanswered points early and a 23-3 lead at halftime.
QB Bryson Daily was particularly good running the football this week. He finished with 36 carries for 170 yards and 2 touchdowns, including a 62-yard scoring run on the game’s third play from scrimmage. The guys in AFF’s Firstie Club started calling him BYSON Daily because he kept running dudes over, and that seemed to fit the moment perfectly.
A handful of players really stood out in this game in addition to Daily. In particular, this was the best that Army’s defensive line has looked since the 2021 season. Air Force’s O-Line has been really, really good this year, but Army’s D-Line bullied them continually, setting up the Black Knights’ linebackers to make play after play.
LB Leo Lowin made those plays. He finished with 12 tackles, 9 solo, plus a sack, a forced fumble, and 2 tackles-for-loss. S Quindrelin Hammonds had 6 tackles, 3 solo, plus another sack, 2 more tackles-for-loss. DB Bo Nicholas Paul had 5 tackles plus *2* interceptions. LB Jimmy Ciarlo didn’t show up as much on the stat sheet, but he shut down Air Force’s outside running game and got into the backfield at critical times. He finished with 4 tackles, 2 solo, plus a tackle-for-loss and yet another forced fumble.
Finally, both K Quinn Maretzki and P Cooper Allan played perfectly yesterday. Allan in particular has struggled at times, but he hit 6 punts for 234 yards with a long of 52 yards plus a critical pin inside the 20. Maretzki went 3/3 on field goals plus 2/2 on extra points with a long of 45 yards.
What a difference it makes having kickers you can count on!
This was a truly devastating loss for the Air Force football program. They came in undefeated, with a service academy’s first-ever ranking in the College Football Playoff poll, and with the opportunity to potentially represent the Group of 5 in a New Year’s Six Bowl. Army took all that away. Not coincidentally, Air Force Head Coach Troy Calhoun said before the game that the Zoomies weren’t gonna celebrate and parade the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy around the stadium after the game.
Well friends, he got that one right.
Meanwhile Army, in the midst of their toughest campaign since at least 2015, saved their season. Okay, they maybe can’t make a bowl game absent the kind of FCS scheduling waiver that the NCAA denied last year. However, they can still finish strong, get their new offense fully installed, improve on both sides of the ball every week, and set themselves up to join the American Conference with some real momentum. If they can get that done, then they have every chance to do well against a schedule full of teams in their own actual weight class. We saw what a difference that can make just this week. Oh by the way, Army can also still BEAT NAVY and win the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy.
That starts this week with a home game against Holy Cross. We’ll see you out there.
Go Army! Beat Holy Cross!!!
Cover image via @ArmyWP_Football.