The Army West Point Black Knights opened the 2020 college football season in dominant fashion, beating Middle Tennessee and ULM by a combined score of 79-7. However, following a canceled meeting with similarly impressive BYU and a 24-10 loss to Cincinnati, arguably the two toughest opponents on the Black Knights' rebuilt schedule, it's unclear whether or not Army is fully recovered from a disappointing 2019.
Saturday's clash with the Abilene Christian Wildcats my not provide much clarity, either. Abilene Christian, a member of the FCS Southland Conference playing a seven-game independent schedule, suffered a hard-fought 17-13 loss to UTEP on Sept. 20 in its first and only game thus far.
Abilene Christian at Army
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 3, at 1:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Army -31
When Abilene Christian Has the Ball
The Wildcats had success through the air against UTEP. Quarterback Peyton Mansell completed 13 of 20 passes for 197 yards, an average of 9.9 yards per attempt. Taelyn Williams caught two passes for 77 yards, including a 49-yard completion and Lionell McConnell led the team with three receptions, which gained 44 yards, 43 of which came on one play. Remington Lutz also recorded a 35-yard reception on his only catch.
But despite the big-play flashes, ACU struggled to punch the ball into the end zone. The Wildcats fumbled twice and lost the ball on downs — all in UTEP territory — to spoil promising drives, and twice settled for field goals after reaching the red zone. The only score was a two-yard touchdown run by Jermiah Dobbins in the first quarter. Dobbins gained 36 rushing yards on nine carries, while Tyrese White led the team with 41 yards on 11 rushing attempts. Mansell chipped in with 18 yards, but the Wildcats managed just 2.9 yards per carry against the Miners.
Things probably won't get easier against Army. The Black Knights have allowed 10.3 points per game this season, which ranks No. 9 nationally in the early going. Army has surrendered just 60.3 rushing yards per game and 2.29 yards per carry, which rank fifth and eighth, respectively. Though slightly more susceptible to the pass, Jeff Monken's team still ranks in the top 20 in pass defense (178.0 ypg), yards per attempt (6.5), and has four interceptions, including one returned 43 yards for a touchdown by linebacker Jon Rhattigan. Jabari Moore also scored a defensive touchdown, taking a fumble back 41 yards against Cincinnati.
When Army Has the Ball
Part of Army's defensive success can be attributed to its offense. Though Army's triple-option attack has the ability to break off big plays and quick touchdowns if the opponent fails in its responsibilities, and the Black Knights lead the nation with 320.3 rushing yards per game, the unit is often content with long, time-consuming drives. Against Middle Tennessee, Army had two 19-play touchdown drives, including a 99-yard march that took 12:26 off the clock.
However, Cincinnati limited Army's time of possession by forcing the Black Knights off the field, thanks in part to its success on early downs. According to data from CFB-Graphs, Army had a 26.9 percent success rate across first and second downs against Cincinnati, and the Black Knights faced an average third-down distance of 8.96 yards in the loss. Army converted just three of 13 third-down opportunities and failed on both its attempts on fourth down as well. In the two games prior, the Black Knights had converted 20 of 28 (71.4 percent) times on third down. Quarterback Christian Anderson was 9-for-21 with 94 passing yards and an interception in the loss. He has completed 11 of 28 pass attempts for 122 yards this year.
Anderson leads the Black Knights with 230 rushing yards and 53 attempts. Fullback Sandon McCoy leads the team with four touchdowns — one more than Anderson — and has gained 110 yards on the ground. Jakobi Buchanan had a big day against ULM with 106 rushing yards and two scores, and exciting freshman Tyrell Robinson started his career with 94 rushing yards in the opener. In other words, Army spreads the ball around (seven players have carried it 10 times or more through three games), though Anderson and McCoy carry the heaviest load.
Following a wildly successful stint at Northwest Missouri State, where he won three NCAA Division II national championships in six years, Abilene Christian head coach Adam Dorrel is now 13-22 with the Wildcats. His 2019 squad finished 5-7 and lost a lot of experience on both sides of the ball.
Army also entered 2020 with a lot of new faces, including Christian Anderson as its starting quarterback. However, the Black Knights are off to a familiar start with the nation's leading rushing offense. Big plays on defense have helped, but the most encouraging sign for Todd Monken has likely been his team's ability to control the game against lesser competition. That trend should continue.
Prediction: Army 38, Abilene Christian 7
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and managing editor of CFB Winning Edge. Follow him on Twitter @CFBWinningEdge.
(Jabari Moore photo courtesy of @ArmyWP_Football)