Monday, May 20, 2024

Beat Troy: 5 Keys to Victory Against the Trojans

The Army Black Knights have an absolutely critical home game tomorrow, and it’s against arguably the best team they’ll have faced in the season’s first half. Unfortunately, Army’s struggles against ULM and Boston College mean that the team simply has to have this weekend’s game. A loss will effectively end their chances at the postseason exactly halfway into the year. Given the promise of the new offense and the amount of experienced leadership that the team has on both sides of the football, that would be a real shame.

Let’s talk about how Army can win this weekend.

5 Keys to Victory Over Troy

1. Stop RB Kimani Vidal

The Troy Trojans boast an experienced quarterback in senior QB Gunnar Watson, but their real threat on offense is RB Kimani Vidal, the nation’s leading rusher through the first six weeks of the season. Vidal exploded last week against Arkansas State, carrying 28 times for a whopping 245 yards and 3 touchdowns on 8.8 yards/carry. Friends, he was downright unstoppable. Indeed, he might be the best, most explosive running back Army will see this season.

Are the Black Knights ready?

They’ve been dreadful this season against the run, having allowed 166.2 yards/game on the ground on an average 4.5 yards/carry. That ranks them 102nd overall among college rushing defenses and is a far cry from the norm for an Army defense during the Monken Era.

But. Army has mostly gotten burned by quarterbacks in the read-option game. They’ve been better against running backs overall this year, and QB Gunnar Watson isn’t much of a running threat. If Army can bottle up Kimani and force Watson try to win through the air, they’ll put themselves in excellent position to potentially win this game.

2. Contain WR Chris Lewis

We know that the Black Knights will give up quick outs in the passing game. The guy they can’t let free in this offense is Troy’s downfield threat, sophomore WR Chris Lewis. 

Lewis has 13 catches for 309 yards and 3 touchdowns. That’s good for nearly 24 yards/reception, which in turn means that Lewis is the guy who can change the game in one play for the Trojans.

3. Keep Troy Guessing on Defense

The Trojans have an excellent rushing defense. They currently rank 10th in the nation overall, having allowed just 84.3 rushing yards/game and 7 total rushing touchdowns on a mere 2.8 yards/carry this season. Thankfully, Army has seen these kinds of doomsday rushing defenses all season. For example, the Black Knights already faced Syracuse, the nation’s 32nd ranked rushing defense (3.0 yards/carry, 7 total rushing touchdowns) and ran on them. They also faced UTSA back before injuries hobbled the Roadrunners’ rushing defense, back when UTSA was allowing a mere 63 yards/game on 1.2 yards/carry.

Army should be able to move the ball. After all, Troy’s defense was actually better last year, and yet, Army somehow moved the ball pretty well then, too. 

But if we’ve learned anything this year, it’s that the Black Knights can’t just grind between the tackles and be successful. With the Gun-Option, they have to attack with the full power of their multifacet attack. That means reading the defense on the ground and throwing when the safeties come down into the box.

Last week, it took the Black Knights a half to get into the flow of the game. This week, they’d better not wait that long.

4. Win At Special Teams

Amazingly, Army will have better, more consistent kickers in every facet of this game. They’ve got a better field goal kicker with a longer range. They’ve got a better kickoff man. And they’ve got a better punter with a stronger leg.

Will this be decisive? Who knows? However, it’s a real advantage, and given that the Black Knights need this game more than they need to breathe, they’d better find a way to take advantage of every edge.

Between the rain and Troy’s tough rushing defense, we’re liable to see a field position game for long stretches tomorrow. Army’s special teams advantage could become critical in such a match-up, both flipping the field after failed possessions and pinning the Trojans deep in their own end. We’re expecting points to come at a premium.

5. Know When to Let the Devil Out

Reality is that this Army team should be 4-1. Of the games they’ve lost, two losses came because of multiple blunders on both sides of the ball. Missed assignments on defense. Fumbles, untimely penalties, and even illegal laterals on offense. It’s been dreadful. The team has lost by one play, twice, in games where they’ve made at least 4 or even 5 mind-numbingly bad plays. Syracuse outplayed Army, sure. But the Black Knights beat themselves — badly — against both ULM and Boston College.

Most of Army’s mistakes have been mistakes of aggression. Guys fight for extra yardage, and that’s good, but they wind up making colossally bad football decisions that end otherwise promising, potentially decisive drives in spots where they’ve already got the yardage they need to keep the possession going.

This can’t continue. Not if this team wants to reach the postseason.

There’s a time to fight, and there’s a time to play smart, and right now, this team is all over the place. If they can learn when to play it cool when necessary and when to let the Devil out, they’ll be legitimately unstoppable. They have literally everything they need save consistency of execution.

Final Thoughts

It’s supposed to rain again this weekend. That almost hurts to type after last weekend, but we are where we are. Worse, this Army Team sometimes struggles in the rain, and now they absolutely MUST win a game where conditions might again be downright terrible. What can you do? As we always say here at As For Football, play the game you’re in with the rules that you have, not the game you want with the rules you wish you had.

I wish it was gonna be sunny, and that we had a huge tailgate planned for Saturday afternoon. Instead, I spent $200 on new rain gear. We’re keeping pregame festivities decidedly low key.

But I’ll be there come Hell or high water. I better see you all out there, too.  

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



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