Army held off Duke 21-16 to complete an undefeated season when playing at home. Here is the Black Knight’s report card:
Rushing Offense: C+
It was a tougher day than normal for the Black Knights rushing defense. Duke had been good against the run early in 2017, before falling away as they faced some of the best teams the ACC had to offer over the last month or so. The power of those teams and some untimely injuries and knocks in the front seven had meant that Duke was playing a level or two below their best when facing the run over that time period.
Against Army the Duke run defense was much better. The Black Knights rushed for 226 yards on 57 carries with two touchdowns. The volume wasn’t quite there in terms of carries from what Jeff Monken would like, but the Blue Devils did a pretty good job of getting Army off of the field. Ahmad Bradshaw was good without being brilliant. He made a great read on his touchdown run, but in total he rushed for less than 100 yards on 20 carries. The rushing offense did just enough without ever being truly dominant.
Passing Offense: C
Only one pass was thrown by Bradshaw on Saturday and even that went to a slot back. Kell Walker took the reception 42 yards on a catch and run as Army didn’t look to the air because they had built a 21-10 lead that they then tried to protect with the running game. The theory was a simple one as Monken didn’t believe Duke had the firepower to beat his defense if they weren’t given a short field to work with.
Rushing Defense: A
The Army rushing defense has become a reliable and high powered unit over the course of the 2017 season. After successfully shutting down Air Force, the Black Knights front seven then held a very different type of rushing attack to nothing more than scraps on Saturday. The Duke rushing game may have picked up a couple of touchdowns, but every one of their 89 combined yards on 33 carries was hard fought and physical.
Shaun Wilson had a nice 22-yard run that dramatically boosted the Blue Devils overall numbers. Quarterback Daniel Jones is something of a dual-threat when at his best, but he was held to little more than one yard per carry as he rushed 19 times for 22 yards. Holding any team to 2.7 yards per rush will put you in position to win.
Passing Defense: A
The Black Knights passing defense was also on point against Duke. Army did not allow a touchdown through the air all day as they swarmed Jones with pressure and covered his receiver downfield. Jones went 19-of-29 for 164 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. The Blue Devils were not able to complete a single pass play of over 20 yards, even though Jones was able to dish the ball around and hit seven different targets. Normally a high amount of distribution like that will free up a receiver for a big play, but the Army coverage was exceptional on Saturday. The defense was also credited with four sacks, with Elijah Riley picking up 1.5 of those on his own.
Special Teams: B-
Army finally found the special teams play we have been craving all year long.
The Black Knights second touchdown of the game came directly from a blocked punt by Andy Davidson. Davidson has always been a solid special teams player and his extra effort to get to the punt allowed freshman defensive back Javhari Bourdeau to scoop up the ball on the run and return in 25 yards for an Army score. It was a huge play in the context of the game as although Army was winning, it could be argued that Duke was unlucky to be behind.
The gloss of the special teams’ performance was taken off a little as Army had a field goal that would have sealed the win – or at least pushed the lead to eight points late on – blocked, but even this cannot completely kill the grade after that monumental punt block.
Nothing bad to say here, as Monken and his team executed the game plan to perfection. The blocked punt was just a huge play as it gave the Black Knights a two-score lead against an offensively challenged opponent with a quarterback low on confidence. Monken must have known going in that a double-digit lead was going to be hard for Duke to run down, so he was very conservative in his offensive play calling, figuring his defense was strong enough to get the job done.