Key Matchups: Army vs. Buffalo

Army Cadets and flag

The fifth game of the year matches Army West Point Black Knights (2-2,Sagarin 65) and the Mid-American Conference East Buffalo Bulls (4-0, Sagarin 81).  This is the seventh meeting between these teams, with the Black Knights winning last year’s contest 27-17. 

Army is coming an incredible game at Oklahoma, where they took the #5 team in the country to overtime.  The Bulls are off to their best start since 1981, 4-0.  They are not just looking for bowl eligibility, but a MAC championship and Fiesta Bowl bid.  Aside from their initial contest in 1960, no subsequent game has been determined by more than seven points.

Last week

In Norman, OK

Kelvin Hopkin’s pass on a 4th & 7 in overtime was intercepted by Parnell Motley as the Oklahoma sooners held on to beat the Army Black Knights 28-21.

This was the triple option at its best.  Army ran 87 plays, held the ball for 44:41, made 26 first downs and rushed for 339 yards.  Army did not turn over the ball until their final possession of regulation and nearly eliminated the downfield penalties.  It is now a fact, that if Army can execute at this level, they can play with the best teams in college football.  However, playing at such a high level of efficiency means that a turn-over or penalty can significantly hurt their chances of victory.

This was a very interesting game.  Oklahoma was very disciplined on defense, however between the play calling and the size of the Army offensive line, the Black Knights were able to move the ball effectively.  Against a normal opponent, Army would have run for 500+ yards, but on most carries, the holes were quickly filled, and gains were stopped for five or six yards.  Army’s longest carry was for 23 yards by Kell Walker.  We have not seen him too much this year, but his speed was very impressive.  Army pounded the fullback 34 times to keep the Oklahoma defense honest.  Army rarely had room in the flats, but Hopkins showed tremendous craftiness on a few plays that made something out of nothing.  Kell Walkers’ speed was another factor on the outside.  Oklahoma came into the game only allowing 2.9 yards per carry and Army averaged 4.3.  It almost makes you want to play that Duke game again as this offensive line is starting to gel.  There were tremendous blocks by receivers and slot backs throughout the game.  It seems as though these players are taking a lot of pride in their blocks and it is really beginning to show.

Kelvin Hopkins led rushers with 102 yards and a touchdown.  Kell Walker gained 80 yards on 12 carries and Darnell Woolfolk was the work horse gaining 71 yards on 21 carries.  Hopkins was effective passing early, but Oklahoma was beginning to figure out the Army offense towards the end of the game and were able to pressure him on his final two throws that resulted in interceptions.

The Army defense only had to defend for 40 plays, but they managed to give up 355 yards in those 15 minutes and it was enough to keep them in the game.  Army did not allow a score in the second half.  Mike Reynolds was able to intercept a long pass in the third quarter and the Army defense stood up Oklahoma on a 4th and goal at the one yard line in the fourth quarter to give them a chance to win the game.  It was very interesting to see that Oklahoma did not want to try Elija Riley and instead went after Max Regan and Mike Reynolds – I never expected to see that.  Army Defensive Coordinator Jay Bateman did a very nice job mixing up coverages and different blitz packages against one of the top offenses in football.

In the end, Oklahoma was able to step up and make a few plays to win that game.  However, Army was able to dictate the tempo and their athletes were able to hang with a top FBS program.  This was nearly the greatest Army victory of my life and the days of 2-10 seasons and losing to mid-level MAC programs may be behind us for a few years.

In Piscataway, NJ

Tyree Jackson threw for 263 yards and three touchdowns as the Buffalo Bulls steamed rolled the Big 10 Rutgers Scarlet Knights.  The Bulls amassed 445 total yards.  Jaret Peterson led the way with 104 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries.  Kevin Marks gained 63 yards and one touchdown on 12 carries.  The Bulls rushed for 182 total yards and averaged 5.1 yards per carry.  Jackson was 14/28 and had two interceptions.

Rutgers ran the ball 38 times and gained only 116 yards.  Their longest run was from Raheem Blacksheer, who was their leading rusher with 69 yards and a touchdown.

The Scarlet Knights were only 2-18 on third down attempts and were penalized nine times for 97 yards.

Buffalo simply made several big plays and Rutgers did not and could not stop the Bulls.  The Bulls are now 4-0 and off to their best start since joining the FBS in 1999.

Who is favored?

Buffalo is favored by nine points.

What to look for?

Tyree Jackson is a big, athletic quarterback who throws long passes and gets a lot of fanfare.  He is passing for 265 yards per game and 13.3 yards per completion.  However, the Bulls run about 10% of the time more often than they pass.  Freshman Kevin Marks is their leading rusher with 282 yards on 57 carries.  He is averaging 4.9 yards per carry.  Jackson has two primary receivers: Jr. KJ Osborn with 19 receptions and Sr. Anthony Johnson with 18.  Osborn averages 17.3 yards per catch and Johnson averages 17.1.  The Army defense is averaging 247 yards per game, 5.5 yards per rush and 15.7 yards per completion.  Obviously with numbers like this, it is about limiting the opponent to possessions and forcing a couple of turn-overs.  Coach Jay Bateman has been magnificent at keeping the opponent’s offenses off balance.  The Bulls have only committed four turn-overs this year.  It will be interesting to see if Jackson goes after Elijah Riley and if so, how Riley responds.  The Army defense will have to limit the long gains and be unpredictable.  I do expect a couple of long scores for the Bulls, but I also expect four sacks and a couple of turn-overs.

Army will have to execute on offense to win this game.  Army is averaging 314.8 yards per game rushing and 115 passing.  Against Delaware State, Temple, Eastern Michigan and Rutgers, the Bulls have given up 609 yards on 176 carries for a 3.5 yard average.  In the previous two meetings (2016 & 2017) Army ran for 396 and 322 yards respectively.  I think Army will break 400 yards rushing and 150 yards passing.  While the Bulls are off to a great start, Army will be their toughest game of the year.  I think that the Bulls are going to pack nine in the box and Hopkins is going to have some wide-open receivers.

This is a tough match up for Army, especially coming off such a physical and emotional game at Oklahoma.  Is this team to the point where they can execute against anyone?  If so, this game and the rest of the season should be a wonderful experience.  If they execute on offense and put the pressure on the Bulls offense, Army should win comfortably.  If Army commits a couple of turn overs and kills a couple of drives with penalties – this game will come down to a field goal at the end.

Final Score – Army 35 – Buffalo 28 (predictions in 2018, 3-1)

This game will be shown on CBSSTV at 12:00 PM EDT.

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