For the first time since 2004, the Army West Point Black Knights and Cincinnati Bearcats will face each other on the football field. The former Conference USA foes have gone different ways in the 16 years since their last meeting, but they will be reunited this weekend in the first top-25 matchup between the two schools. In fact, this will be the first time in the series that either team is ranked in the AP Top 25, never mind both being ranked. These are historic times.
Army has two games under its belt so far this season, and the Knights absolutely demolished their two previous opponents (Middle Tennessee and Louisiana-Monroe). After a top 25 showdown with BYU had to be scratched, Army will now face its stiffest test early on this season, and potentially their biggest one of the season. Cincinnati looked pretty polished in its season debut this past weekend in a rout of Austin Peay, living up to the expectation of what many consider the best Group of 5 program in the country this season. But Army will pose a much different problem for the Bearcats with their option running game looking to control the clock.
This one should be a blast.
Army West Point at Cincinnati
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 26 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Cincinnati -14
When Army Has the Ball
One of the biggest keys to success is being able to work the clock with sustained drives on the ground. In its previous two games this season, Army thrived with long drives against defenses that were strategically worn down throughout the course of the game. For Cincinnati, forcing Army into third-and-long situations will be the key because Army's offensive game plan is not necessarily designed to take advantage in those situations. Army has converted a nation-leading 71.43 percent of its third-down attempts in its first two games.
Quarterback Christian Anderson leads the Black Knights in rushing with 149 yards and three touchdowns, while sophomore Jakobi Buchanan has rushed for 139 yards and two touchdowns. Cincinnati star cornerback Ahmad Gardner may not get the opportunity to make as many plays as he is accustomed, given that Army may not pass often, but expect him to be involved in other ways. Elijah Ponder will help close running lanes up front for the Bearcats.
When Cincinnati Has the Ball
Cincinnati will offer a much more balanced offensive approach, with quarterback Desmond Ridder coming off a fine season debut. Ridden completed 13-of-19 passes for 196 yards and two touchdowns and he rushed for a team-high 57 yards last weekend. Expect more dual-threat looks from Ridder against Army, but look to see if Jerome Ford can help contribute more in the Cincinnati running game.
Army entered the season with big shoes to fill after the graduation of leading tackler Cole Christiansen and cornerback Elijah Riley, who led the team in sacks and interceptions. But the Black Knights have looked dominant, only allowing one score and 496 total yards through two games. The rush defense has been especially strong — fifth in the nation at 56.0 yards allowed per game.
Army has a knack for cutting down on just how many offensive possessions their opponents may get. This is a matchup where Army can limit Cincinnati to as few as six or seven possessions. That makes it extra important for Cincinnati's offense to make sure they have good effective and efficient drives that result in points. Army's style may also make it difficult for the Bearcats to get in any offensive rhythm. But expect Cincinnati to take care of that by putting together a couple of good early offensive drives and jump out in front. That will put pressure on Army and may play to Cincinnati's advantage.