Key Matchups: Army vs. San Jose State

The sixth game of the year matches Army West Point Black Knights (3-2,Sagarin 51) and the Mountain West West San Jose Spartans (0-5,0-2, Sagarin 154).  This is the first meeting between these schools and Army’s only trip to the West Coast this year. 

Army is coming off a bye week after a very impressive win at Buffalo.  This will be the first game this season, where Army’s opponent is not undefeated.  San Jose suffered another loss at home and must be losing confidence in their ability to win, while Army is beginning to believe that they will win each game.

 Two weeks ago

In Buffalo, NY

Army rushed for 281 yards and passed for another 91, held the ball for 37:34 as the Black Knights routed the previously unbeaten Buffalo Bulls 42-13.

Buffalo’s quarterback Tyree Jackson came into this game averaging 265 yards per game and I was expecting a high scoring affair.  There was a swirling wind in Buffalo, the cadet defense closed in and played with one safety cover.  Jay Bateman kept changing coverages, but always brought at least four pass rushers.  While they never came close to sacking Jackson, he wanted no part of the Black Knight rush and threw the ball early and rarely moved or was forced to move from the pocket.  The Army defense played a fantastic game.  They were able to contain Emmanuel Reed and Kevin Marks and when they keyed on the run, they stopped them cold.  Aided by the swirling wind, the corners and safeties were fantastic.  Elijah Riley missed a tackle on the first drive that resulted in a touchdown, but after that, they were shut down.  Riley, Jaylon McClinton, Max Regan and Mike Reynolds had a great day with coverages and rarely was there separation like we are used to seeing.  The Bulls were averaging 40 points a game, but someone forgot to tell the cadet defense.  There were two drives where Army gave up scores and two other drives where the Bulls were held on downs or forced into a field goal attempt.  There was not a defensive star of the game; this was a team effort, where they all stepped up and did what they had to do to contain a very potent offense.

I have been watching Army for many years.  It was very common for the Army defense to allow seven to eight-yard passes and their objective was to make the other team take ten snaps in a drive and hopefully they would make a mistake.  This team is different.  Riley is a shutdown corner back and Jaylon McClinton is starting to get the hang of it.  The Army linebackers have continued the great tradition of fast thinkers who can hit and limit the run.  The Army defensive line in most years past was a welcome mat to the Army linebackers.  This squad is big, fast and they do a great job closing the running lanes.  You must thank Jay Bateman and the way he plans for the games.  He and his staff have been ready for every opponent and have had a different strategy each game – it has really been fascinating to watch.

In years past, if Army faced an opponent that had played a service academy earlier in the year or Army the prior season, the opponent would put nine in the box, run blitz to the flats and crash the option.  Larger teams could stand up the offensive line and Army could do little but dive into the line and be held to 14 points.  This year is a little different.  For the exception of the first game of the season, this offensive line has been able move all opponents.  They average 294lbs, nearly 40lbs bigger per man than in the days of Rich Ellerson.  They enter summer camp 10lbs heaver and stronger than they were after finals.  This is the offensive line that Army has always needed to compete in the top 25.  The cadre of fullbacks ensures that there is a strong fresh runner each dive.  There is real speed on the perimeter with Kell Walker and Jordan Ashberry.  The slotbacks and receivers not only catch the ball, but they block really well.  There was only one play last week where Fred Cooper failed to maintain his block.  Finally, we have Kelvin Hopkins.  He just may be the second coming of Ronnie McAda.  In game number five, Hopkins looks like he has been leading the offense for a couple of years.  He is a very good runner, a great decision maker and he can pass.  He let a couple of passes get away from him against Liberty, but he has been dynamite since then.  This is the offense that we always wanted.  In the second half of the season, Army will play lesser defenses and the six-yard gains will turn into 20 and 30 yard dashes to the end zone.  Army will lead the nation in rushing by the end of the season.

Army rushed for 281 yards on 64 carries.  Hopkins gained 89 yards on 19 carries.  Darnell Woolfolk gained 58 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries.  Connor Slomka gained 52 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries.  Finally, Luke Langdon galloped 27 yards to score a touchdown late in the fourth quarter.  Hopkins was 4/5 passing for 91 yards and had one touchdown pass to Ashberry.  The Buffalo defense played well and limited the big play.  Army was 9/14 on third down and 3/3 on fourth down – those are the key to Army drives, keep the ball and limit the opposing offense possessions.

The biggest play of the game was a blocked field goal by Wunmi Oyetuga, which was caught in the air by Riley and he sprinted 80 yards for the touchdown.  This was a complete reversal of score and momentum.  I would like to see Army kick a field goal at some point so that Landon Salyers has a little confidence if he needs to make a game winner.

Last Week

In San Jose, CA

K.J. Carta-Samuels threw four touchdown passes and Colorado State (2-4, 1-1) overcame a 30-point third quarter by San Jose State (0-5, 0-2) to beat the Spartans 42-30 on Saturday night.

The Rams led at half-time 28-0, but a big punt return, an interception pick six and a safety put the Spartans on top for three minutes.  The Rams regrouped, scored a couple of touchdowns and won the game with much more stress than was required.

The Rams gained 391 yards compared to 285 for the Spartans.  The Rams gained 219 rushing on 45 attempts, averaging 4.9 yards per attempt.  Samuels was 15-29 for 172 yards and threw two interceptions.

The Spartans only rushed for 48 yards on 34 carries.  Josh Love was 17-40 for 232 yards, with three touchdowns and two interceptions.  Tyler Nevins lead the Spartan rushing attack with 73 yards on 20 carries and a touchdown.  The Spartans were only 4-18 on third down.

Who is favored?

Army is favored by 14 points.

What to look for?

The Spartans are having a tough year.  Their defense is surrendering 39.2 points per game, while they are only scoring 26.  They are becoming increasingly more competitive through the course of the season as they opened with a tough loss to FCS UC Davis, but were competitive in their last two games against Hawaii and Colorado State.

The Spartan defense is averaging 151 yards rushing and 3.8 yards per carry.  The Black Knights are averaging 329 yards rushing per game and 4.7 yards per carry.  The Army total offense averages 382 yards per game, while the Spartan defense averages 488 yards.  The Spartans have 23 sacks on the year.  Opponents are 35% on third down conversions, but 71% on fourth down conversions.

The Spartan offense is led by Josh Love Who has passed for 1030 yards, completing 74-149, for eight touchdowns and five interceptions.  He has only been sacked eight times.  His main target is Josh Oliver who has gained 382 yards on 31 receptions.  Their leading rusher with 157 yards, is Tyler Nevens who has only played in two games.  The Spartans are converting 30% of their third downs.

If the Army Team comes motivated to San Jose, they should be able to move the ball on the Spartans.  The Spartans are giving up a lot of points and a lot of yards, but that has been mainly through the air.  They held Washington State to 124 yards rushing and Oregon to 134.  The Spartans may be a little tougher up front than most expect.  Hopkins should have some open receivers and a few long pass completions.

San Jose is not efficient on offense, but they do put up a lot of yards and are able to score.  I would expect Josh Love to throw 30 passes.  I think that he will make a few completions, but Jay Bateman and the stingy Black Knight Defense will limit the big play and cause turn-overs.

I expect Army to dominate the time of possession, but scoring will not be fast as the Spartans will load nine in the box.  The Cadets have a tremendous amount of confidence and the Spartans are reeling.  It is possible that a few long drives could break San Jose’s spirit early and this could be a laugher.  However, I think that the Spartans will get up for the game at Levi Stadium and make this one competitive.

Final Score – Army 35 – San Jose 14 (predictions in 2018, 4-1)

This game will be shown on ESPNU at 3:30 PM EDT – I will be there.

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