Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Army Football Preview: at Stanford

Army opened last week at home against the University of Buffalo Bulls, and it was glorious.  Not a perfect game by any means, but easily one of the most entertaining contests Army fans have seen in several years.

This Saturday the Black Knights travel out west to face Stanford, and for all that last week was a wonderful surprise, this weekend, if I'm being honest, is probably not going to be quite as jubilant.  That sucks.

Before we look forward, though, let's look back.

via @ArmyAthletics
We said before the game that Army needed to do two things in order to win--they needed to keep ball security, and they needed to cover down field.  Well, Army's quarterback put the ball on the ground on his first play from scrimmage.  That was not a good sign.  But this year's Army team showed a resiliency we've not seen in a while, and Army fought back, keeping the Bulls out of the End Zone after that early turnover.  They then scored twenty-one unanswered points, and then put the hammer down, going up by 30 in the 3rd quarter.

Last week, I thought the Army Team was liable to fix their ball handling issues, but they would have trouble covering deep.  Instead, we saw the reverse.  Army's secondary played exceptionally well, but their offense put the ball on the turf twice, and they gave up an oneside kick, and in even a slightly different game, that would have cost them.  In this contest, though, their offensive line dominated, and that put the game out of reach--though just barely.

So.  The Buffalo Bulls are a decent team.  But they're in the MAC, and no one thinks they're a powerhouse even there.  The Stanford Cardinal, on the other hand, are an emerging juggernaught.  They lost a close game to USC last weekend, but they're still ranked 15th in the AP poll and 16th in the college coaches' poll.  They are 33rd in overall passing yards, and they are 4th in points against, which in English means that they are an excellent passing team with a lights-out defense.  Stanford's quarterback is Kevin Hogan, and after two games he is 34-46 for 489 yards (73.9%) and 3 touchdowns with 1 interception.  Holy shit, that is some next level quarterback play.  Meanwhile, Stanford's defense has given up a grand total of 13 points in two games.

Against this, Army is 9th in rushing and 15th in points for.  To be fair, Army usually has good rushing numbers and a good overall ranking in rushing against other Division I schools.  However, the Army Team is not known for getting into shootouts, and they certainly don't win most of the shootouts they do get into, so being ranked 15th in point for has got to be a first--at least since I've been an Army fan.  Even against Stanford, Army's liable to rush for 200+ yards, but I don't know if that'll be enough.

With that said, this game may well be entertaining.  Army's secondary certainly looks good, and Stanford is a passing team.  In two games, the Cardinal have rushed for a mere 138 yards.  That is not some killer statistic.  If Army can get some pressure on Stanford's quarterback, who knows?  They may keep this game close.  At the same time, while I don't love the Black Knights' odds of rushing against that excellent Cardinal defense, the reality is that the Cardinal will probably not face the triple-option again this year, and as we saw with Navy at Ohio State in Week 1, unfamiliarity with the triple-option can be dangerous even for powerhouse schools.

I am not predicting an Army win.  But if Army's offense can hold onto the football, and their defense plays well against the pass, this may be a kind of statement game for the program.  A good showing against one of the best teams in the nation can do miracles for recruiting and announce nationally that Army Football is back.  As Army Football fans, I think that's what we'd like to see from this weekend's game.

Final Note: This game is being broadcast on the PAC-12 Network, which is not available from many cable companies.  That is a huge pain in the ass.

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