Thursday, May 30, 2024

Army Football Preview: Troy Trojans

Army needs a win NOW, and in the worst possible way. The team must win four more games — not including Holy Cross — in order to become bowl eligible. With LSU coming next week, it’s hard to see a path to the postseason without a win against Troy this Saturday.

Last year, Army lost a defensive battle, 10-9, on a dry day in Troy, Alabama. This year’s game at Michie should find both more scoring and much more precipitation. The game starts at 3:30 pm, an odd start time for West Point. The 2017 game against UTEP was the last time Army hosted a game in this time slot, save the back-to-back CiC games in the Covid year, and the Black Knights struggled in that one, though we probably shouldn’t put too much stock into a would-be trend that consists of a single game six years ago.

The Corps in 2017 vs. UTEP

Troy Trojans

The defending Sun Belt champions have had a head-scratcher of a year. They started by winning a game against FCS foe Stephen F. Austin but allowed 30 points in the process. The next week, they got blown out by a then-ranked Kansas State. In their first Sun Belt game, undefeated James Madison beat them 16-14. They then won a non-conference game against Western Kentucky, followed by two straight Sun Belt win over then-undefeated Georgia State and a much less impressive team from Arkansas State.

Unfortunately, none of these results tell us overmuch about Troy itself. One thing that we’ve learned, however, is that their defense has improved over the course of the season. In their last four games, the Trojan defense has allowed an average of 12.5 points/game and 270 yards. That’s down from the 36 points/game and 319 yards they allowed in their first two games.

Offense

The Trojan offense averages 444 yards/game, which is good enough for 31st in the FBS. But Troy doesn’t do the best job at converting those yards into points. They average just 27.8 points/game, tied for 75th. The weird thing is that the Trojans have scored on 22/23 opportunities in the red zone. But they only get about 3 red zone opportunities/game, and 10 of their 23 opportunities ended in field goals.

QB Gunnar Watson completes about 61% of his passes for just over 8 yards/attempt. However, RB Kimani Vidal really powers this offense. Vidal averages a whopping 6.4 yards/carry and already has 835 total yards. With that, he leads all FBS running backs, sitting nearly 100 yards ahead of Texas’s Jonathon Brooks, who’s in second. No Trojan receiver has more than 25 catches, but WR Chris Lewis has proven to be the deep threat, averaging 24 yards/reception.

The biggest downsides to this offense are turnovers and sacks. They average 2 turnovers and more than 2 sacks allowed per game. So Army’s formula must be to create takeaways and/or sacks and to force field goals instead of touchdowns. Army will likely have some difficulty preventing the Troy offense from moving between the 20s, but if they can generate a few turnovers and stop the Trojans before they can get into the end zone, Army’s defense can do enough to win this game.

Defense

With their improvement over the course of the season, Troy now has the 15th best defense in the country. Worse, they have a top 10 rushing defense, allowing 84 yards/game on the ground on just 2.8 yards/carry. They’ll certainly allow more than that on Saturday, but the Army offensive line definitely faces a tall task this week.

LB Jayden McDonald leads the Trojan defense with 32 tackles. LB Javon Solomon is the team’s sack leader, averaging nearly 1 per game. But the Troy defensive line ought to be tested this weekend in a way they haven’t been this season. No lineman averages even 2 tackles/game.

Unfortunately, Army’s offense will have to combat the weather again on Saturday. If the Black Knights’ new scheme is going to work, they’re going to have to have at least some passing success despite the rain. Teams have struggled to move the ball on the ground against this Trojan defense, and Army may as well.

Special Teams

K Scott Taylor Renfroe is automatic on point after tries (PATs) so far this season, and he’s also been perfect on field goals under 40 yards. Howevcer, he failed to connect on either of his attempts from beyond the 30 yard line, missing from 42 and 49 yards, respectively. That means that in order to feel good about a field goal, Troy needs to be in — or very close to — the red zone. Add in the rain we’re expecting this Saturday, and we might expect to see an at-best short kicking game from the Trojans.

P Robert Cole averages 41 yards/punt and has put 8 punts inside the 20 with only 1 touchback.

Final Thoughts

On offense, Army needs to do more than just run a double-option between the quarterback and running back. Troy’s defensive front will likely be too disruptive at the point of attack. The Black Knights will have to get creative early and often to succeed this weekend.

Last week’s finish might’ve ended badly, but there are quite a few amazing pictures from the game on Army’s Flickr page.

Defensively, this game will be about stopping the run and preventing big plays. With Army’s bend-don’t-break scheme, Troy’s offense will be able to move the ball at times. But turnovers, sacks, and four-point stops, alloing field goals instead of touchdowns, will keep the Black Knights in this game.

The game kicks at 3:30 PM Eastern on CBS Sports. Radio with Rich DeMarco and Dean Darling is available on the Varsity Network. As always, follow the usual suspects on X (f.k.a. Twitter) for pre-game updates and in-game analysis. These include: @asforfootball, @BrigadeReview, @DannoECabeza, and @RobRobi00389452.

Cover image via Flickr: The U.S. Military Academy.

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