Thursday, November 10, 2016

Army Football Preview: Notre Dame

After a disheartening loss at home, Army travels to the wilds of Texas this week to take on the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.
Why is this game being played in the Alamodome?
Who knows?
What we do know is that Army’s ticket allotment is sold-out, and with Ft. Hood only a few hours away, it’s a good bet that Army fans will be out in force.  Whether they’ll be enough to drown out the inevitable legion from Notre Dame remains to be seen.  Deep in the heart of Texas, however, this remains at least a theoretical possibility.  
The Shamrock Series: Army vs. Notre Dame
This game is being billed as part of the “Shamrock Series”.  I think that means this is technically a Notre Dame home game.

The Army Black Knights
The toughest thing about last week’s loss is that it made me feel like we’ve seen the Army team’s ceiling.  They made mistakes, sure, but it’s not like they went out there and beat themselves.  A dropped halfback pass notwithstanding, I felt like Army executed its game plan reasonably well.  They limited Air Force early and forced turnovers, giving themselves a chance to build a lead.  The offense couldn’t do anything with their opportunities, however, and that was your ballgame.  Air Force was just too fast and too familiar with what the Black Knights were trying to do for Army to sustain any momentum when they had the ball.  
Last weekend’s loss didn’t hurt the Black Knights too badly in statistical terms.  They are still 2nd in rushing yards/game and 13th in scoring defense.  However, Army has now dropped four of its last six games.  Alarmingly, the Black Knights have fallen to 63rd in scoring offense.
What can you do?  
Simple statistics.  Click to enlarge.
Nine games into the season, I feel like we know who and what this Army team is.  They’re better than the squad that lost so many close games last year, but they’re still searching for that spark on offense to truly take the next step.  Similarly, the defense has been good, but it didn’t have enough speed to both stop Arion Worthman’s scrambling and cover downfield.  With that, it has become imperative to take advantage of opportunities.  When we’ve been able to do that this season, we’ve won.  I expect that will be true again this week.
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish
It could be worse, Army fans.  The Fighting Irish came into the season as one of the most talented, most highly touted squads in the entire nation.  They had dreams of playing for a National Championship.  Then they lost to Texas, and their season came apart.  At 3-5, the Irish have dropped games to Texas, Michigan State, Duke (behind a freshman quarterback), NC State, Stanford, and Navy.  They’ve beat Nevada and Syracuse--both teams that Army might well beat, as well--and they won a shoot-out in Miami.  That’s it.  Despite having one of the most talented teams in America, this year’s Notre Dame team will probably miss postseason play.  To make a bowl game, they would have to run the table, beating not only Army but also a very good Virginia Tech team and USC in Southern California.
Probably not going to happen.
Notre Dame’s stats are mediocre at best.  They are 40th in passing yards (259.2 yards/game) and 96th in rushing (149.4 yards/game).  They score at about the same pace as the Black Knights, putting up 29.4 points/game (65th vs. Army’s 63rd) while giving up 27.7 points/game (67th).  QB DeShone Kizer has gone 162/268 (60.4%) for 2,261 yards with 19 TDs and 7 interceptions.  That’s hardly terrible, but it’s no better than what we saw from John Wolford from Wake Forest.  RB Josh Adams has carried 113 times for 583 yards (5.2 yards/carry) and 2 TDs.
The problem is that the Irish defense hasn’t stopped anybody.  They let the Mids gain 368 yards of offense and 21 first downs, almost entirely on the ground.  Navy’s quarterback carried 28 times last week for 175 yards and 2 TDs.  That will get you beat every time.  It tells me that the Irish played the Fullback Dive and the Option Pitch but didn’t have anybody left to account for the quarterback.  The Army team has seen that a few times as well this season, but last week’s game provides a rather extreme example of a specific coverage style.  It’s also worth noting that the Irish only got the ball six times in last week’s game.  They punted once, and they scored a field goal once, and they ultimately lost on those two failed possessions.
The Navy game provides an obvious template for attacking the Irish, but after a week of getting torched by the Quarterback Keeper, Notre Dame is sure to have made some adjustments.  This may open things up in the middle, but it’s more likely to mean that Army is going to have to pitch and throw successfully, and that’s liable to make it tough.  Though he started hot, Bradshaw has completed just 43% of his passes this season for a mere 7.3 yards/pass with 3 TDs and a whopping 8 interceptions.  That’s not going to scare anybody, and worse, Army’s starter has regressed as a passer as the season has gone along.
On defense, Army needs to hang with the Irish receivers.  Notre Dame is not the best rushing team in college football, but Army will have to contain the run while playing its best game of the year with its young secondary, and that hasn’t always been the Black Knights’ strength.  If Army’s young cornerbacks can limit the passing game, especially over the middle of the field, however, this becomes a winnable game.
Final Thoughts
Army is a 13-point underdog on the road this week with the over/under set at 51.  If you’re an Army fan, this is exactly where you want the team to be.  Army has played exceptionally well in road games where it was expected to lose.  Where we’ve struggled is in games where we were expected to kick ass.  I’m not sure what that says about the team’s psychology, but we may yet get one more miracle.  It’s certainly possible, anyway.
Army needs to win this week to become bowl eligible.  There may be some theoretical bowl chances even without a win, but a victory on Saturday would all but clinch a postseason berth.  Failing that, Army would have to get an invite on the basis of a 6-5 record with two FCS wins before the Navy game.  
That may not be impossible, but it is hardly likely.
Kickoff is Saturday at 3:30.  The game will be on NBC.
Go Army!  Beat Notre Dame!!!


  1. Go Army! Love these previews, Dan!

    1. Thanks. Unfortunately, this is the last one for awhile. I'm taking a break for the Morgan St. game--there's just not much to preview there--and then we have two weeks' worth of byes.

      See you for the Navy game.