By Troy Phillips
The rankings and numbers say Army, with its ever-throwback triple option offense, should help the 15th Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl stay right on or well ahead of televised schedule.
Extra commercials? Not likely.
The Black Knights (9-3) are set to face San Diego State (10-2) in what could be a run-based slugfest Saturday at TCU’s Amon Carter Stadium, with kickoff scheduled for 2:30 p.m.
Army is back for a second Armed Forces Bowl go-round, last beating SMU in 2010 when the Mustangs served as a “neutral” host. The game was moved to SMU’s Ford Stadium temporarily while Amon Carter was under reconstruction.
Army’s program fell off after that victory, and Jeff Monken replaced Rich Ellerson as head coach. After seasons of 4-8 and 2-10, Army broke through last season at 8-5, beating rival Navy for the first time since 2001 and winning a bowl game.
Service academy football is often predicated on doing what you do best, and Army is as good at running the ball as anyone. The Black Knights’ 4,270 rushing yards (355.8 per game) lead the FBS.
This season, only three teams either checked Army’s run game or won in spite of it: Ohio State, Tulane and North Texas.
The notion if all things are clicking in Army’s run game that few or any teams can contain it … well, Monken isn’t buying that.
“Yes, everybody can [stop it],” he said. “That’s the scary thing. We’re not so talented and so big and so fast that we’re this unstoppable machine. We’re just a bunch of guys that play really hard, tough and physical.”
Discipline, patience and composure are necessary for a crisp triple option, which all three FBS service academies (and Georgia Tech) employ. Like the Air Force version needs a great pilot and Navy its captain, Army has its general in Ahmad Bradshaw.
His 1,566 yards rushing lead the Black Knights, but Darnell Woolfolk (725), Kell Walker (592), Andy Davidson (546) and Connor Slomka (four rushing touchdowns) grind it out.
Balance isn’t Army’s thing; through the air, Bradshaw has only 13 completions and one TD.
“A lot of people in a lot of games stop us, oftentimes every game,” Monken said. “There are times when the other team does a good job defending us and playing off our blocks. It’s not like we’ve scored every time we had it.”
That San Diego State plays Air Force every year provides the Aztecs insight on defense, Monken added.
“They’ll have a plan how to defend it and the athletes and coaches to do it. It’ll be a slugfest every time we snap the ball on offense.”
Army had a contractual agreement to play in this year’s Armed Forces Bowl pending bowl eligibility. That sixth victory came Oct. 21 against Temple, eight games into the season. Army was the first team in 2017 to accept a bowl invitation that day.
“The whole team was fired up in the locker when we were able to accept that bid,” Army athletic director Boo Corrigan said. “Coach Monken accepted, and our fans and team were so excited that day. We’re just thrilled with the job he’s done and what we’ve been able to do to get Army football back.”