Armed Forces Bowl Key Matchups: Army vs. Houston

Army mule

The final game of the year matches the #22 ranked Army West Point Black Knights (10-2, Sagarin 55) and the American Athletic Conference West Houston Cougars (8-4, 5-3 Sagarin 61).  Houston leads the all-time series 5-2, with the last victory coming in 2004, when Houston prevailed at home 35-21. 

Houston is coming into this game after losing a game to Memphis that cost them a chance to play in the American Athletic Conference Championship.  Defensive Tackle Ed Oliver announced that he will not play in the game to prepare for the NFL and Quarterback D’Eriq King will miss due to a torn meniscus. Three other starting linemen will miss the game due to injuries.  Army is coming in on an eight-game winning streak, a win over Navy and their first consecutive 10-win seasons; looking for their first 11 win season.

Last week

In Philadelphia, PA

The Black Knights limited the Midshipmen to 208 total yards and forced four turn-overs to sink the Navy 17-10 and win their third straight against their arch rival.

The Army defense put forth their best performance of the season against Navy.  They limited the Midshipmen who averaged 289 yards per game rushing to 127 yards on 37 carries.  The Black Knights shut Navy out for three quarters, limiting them to 63 total yards, but Navy applied consistent pressure in the second half and put a couple of wrinkles in their offense that kept them in the game.

Army also limited the Navy passing game to 5/17 for 81 yards.  They were particularly hard on Zach Abey, who was intercepted twice, without throwing a complete pass.  Additionally, they forced fumbles from Abey and Garret Lewis.  The fumble by Lewis inside the Army five-yard line thwarted a drive.  The fumble by Abey on a sack by Kenneth Brinson, gave Army the ball near the red-zone and allowed Army to go up by two scores in the fourth quarter.

Jaylon McClinton had his best game of the year as he had an interception, nine tackles, six solo tackles and one tackle-for-loss.  James Natchtigal had eight tackles and Wunmi Oyetuga had seven.

Mike Reynolds was stellar at safety breaking up three passes and an interception.  Elija Riley blew up Garret Lewis on a trick play pass to the quarterback and knocked him out of the game.

The Army offense on the other hand was far from perfect.  Army gained 283 total yards (222 rushing and 61 passing).  They were a season low 5 for 14 on third down and 1 for 3 on fourth down.  Navy was crashing the run, which gave Hopkins some fantastic throwing opportunities.  He was able to complete a couple of mid-range passes, one was a third down to Glean Coates to continue the game opening scoring drive.  However, he missed a couple of throws to open receivers that would have been touchdowns and a couple of his passes were dropped that would have been big yard plays.  Give the Navy defense credit though – they stopped the fullback dive and limited the option on the edge.  When Hopkins did try to throw, there was usually pressure.  The marginal performance by the Army offense can be attributed to a very aggressive and well-prepared Navy defense.  Taylor Heflin and Juan Hailey kept the goats in the game with 14 and 13 tackles respectively.

Hopkins ran for 64 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries.  Darnell Woolfolk was contained for most of the day as he gained 62 yards on 16 carries; 18 of those yards came on an option play where he danced on the near sideline.  Kell Walker had a very good game.  He had a 51-yard rush, which set up the first Army TD and also had a 25 yard reception.

John Abercrombie was 1 of 2 on field goals.

Three weeks ago,

In Memphis, TN

The Tigers gained 610 yards in total offense as they mauled the Cougars 52-31, to earn a berth in the American Athletic Conference Championship.

The Memphis Tigers gained 401 yards rushing on 59 attempts for a 6.3 yard per play average.  Derek Henderson was their leading rusher who gained 178 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries.  Patrick Taylor Jr. was not far behind with 128 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries.  Brady White was 21/33 for 209 yards, one touchdown and an interception.  The Tigers averaged 6.8 yards per rush.

The Cougars gained 394 total yards (138 rushing/256 passing).  Clayton Tune was 18/43 for 256 yards for three touchdowns and one interception.  Keith Corbin had four receptions for 61 yards and two touchdowns.  Tune threw to six different receivers.   Patrick Carr was their leading rusher with 83 yards on 12 carries.  Dalton Witherspoon kicked a 44-yard field goal.

Who is favored?

Army is favored by 3 points.

What to look for?

If you missed the Armed Forces Bowl last year, you could very well see a very similar game this year.  Houston has a prolific offense, averaging 46.4 points per game on 538 yards and a porous defense, averaging 34.4 points and 489 yards per game.  The Cougar run defense allows 197 yards per game and 4.2 per rush.  Against Navy earlier in the year, they allowed 349 yards and 5.2 yards per rush.

Army scores 29.7 points per game on 376 yards per game (296 rushing/80 passing).  The allow 17 points per game (108 rushing/185 passing).  Jay Bateman has done a phenomenal job creating defensive game plans to combat the opponent’s strengths and make them one dimensional.  Combined with some fantastic athletes and unpredictable defensive settings and blitzes – they have over achieved in nearly every game since Duke.  We do not expect Bateman to be with the team for preparation or the game, so this will be a huge loss.  Did Bateman include his assistants in the game preparation throughout the season?  Will they be able to create the plan on their own?

The Cougar Offense is well balanced rushing for 228 yards per game and passing for 310.   Their leading rusher is Patrick Carr who ran for 841 yards on 143 attempts.  D’Eriq King was their second leading rusher with 784 yards.  King also passed for nearly 3,000 yards this year and 36 TDs.  Back-up Clayton Tune played in four games this year and was 38/85 for 565 yards for seven touchdowns and two interceptions.   They are 80% in redzone TDs.  The Cougars have fumbled 14 times this year and lost eight of them.

Army ranked #9 is the best defense that Houston will face this year.  While Houston ranked #125 is the worst defense that Army will face this year.  You would expect that Army with some very good senior defensemen to stop the Cougars on a few possessions.  I think this game will be about tempo.  If Army gets on top early, I would expect Houston to make some mistakes offensively and Army could coast to an easy win.  If Houston gets on top early, the game could turn into a shoot-out.  That scenario has not happened this year as Army has scored on their first possession in every game.  Army’s real issues have come in the second half, when conservatism was their own worst enemy.  In this game, I expect the various fullback runs to be tremendously successful and there will be no third quarter let down.

Expecting Houston’s capable back-up quarterback to play a perfect game may be a lot to ask.  I like the Cadet’s chances.

Final Score – Army 37 – Houston 28 (predictions in 2018, 7-4-1)


This game will be shown on ESPN @ 3:30 PM EDT. Buy tickets to the Armed Forces Bowl.

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