Army kicks of the 2018 season on Friday night with a trip to North Carolina to take on Duke. The Black Knights beat the Blue Devils 21-16 in 2017, the last loss that Duke suffered before winning three on the bounce to close out the year.
By Steve Wright
Here are the three keys to beat Duke on their own patch:
Find a way to run the ball
It is weird going into a season with questions about the Black Knights rushing attack. That, though, is where we find ourselves in 2018, with Army looking to replace Ahmad Bradshaw at quarterback along with some pieces of the offensive line. Normally we take it as a given that Army will be able to move the ball on the ground, but what if that is not the case against Duke?
The Blue Devils defense returns perhaps the best pair of linebackers in the entire ACC in Joe Giles-Harris and Ben Humphreys. On top of that, reports are coming out of camp that the Duke defensive line is stronger and deeper than it was in 2017. If that proves to be true – and we are going on nothing more than hearsay at this point – then expect Duke to have all the weapons it needs to stop an Army rushing attack that will still be in its formative stages on Friday night.
Head coach Jeff Monken simply has to figure out a way for Army to move the ball on the ground. The quarterback will have to almost be secondary in this version of the triple-option, with Army returning playmakers at slotback and fullback who will have to carry the load.
Win the turnover battle
One of the reasons that Army was able to beat Duke in 2017 was because the Black Knights made key plats at key times. Duke quarterback Daniel Jones will be back under center for the Blue Devils, and last year Army both intercepted him and caused him to fumble the ball for turnovers. There was also a blocked punt thrown in by the special teams unit for good measure.
The Army defense will need to play to a similar level in this one to compensate for an offense that will not be firing on all cylinders. Special teams has been hit or miss for Army under Monken, but a hit here would be huge as Army will need to find a way to create more possessions and – importantly – pick up possessions in positive field position areas.
Find a way to get to Jones
The Army defense isn’t noted as being a pressure unit, but if they can find a way to get to Jones it will make this game a lot easier. Jones is a player that has been known for being a little fragile and Duke just simply isn’t the same team when he isn’t at 100 percent. Army needs to be fair, but the defense needs to take every chance possible to hit the Duke quarterback and let him know he is in a game.
This might be more difficult that it was last season as Jones will be playing behind a revamped offensive line that should offer him more protection in the pocket. Jones also has most of his receiver corps back, meaning he will be comfortable with his pass catchers and able to work timing patterns based on previous experience. It will be tough for Army to cover these players on long routes, making it even more important that the front seven find a way to get to the quarterback.