Army’s worst nightmare pretty much came to fruition last week in a “neutral” site matchup against San Jose State in Santa Clara, Calif.
Kelvin Hopkins averaged over six yards per carry on the first drive, but Luke Langdon and Darnell Woolfolk ran for less than 1.33 yards per carry. San Jose State controlled the clock with short completions and allowed Montel Aaron to mix in some short and medium completions as the Spartans marched down the field.
Then, with the score 3-0 in favor of the men from San Jose, Army scored 52 straight. Virtually nothing went wrong after the first quarter for the Black Knights.
Four of San Jose State’s 10 first downs came on the first drive, and Army was only forced to throw 5 total passes in the blowout.
Army committed just three penalties for 15 yards, and they controlled the clock for more than 37 minutes. In all, the Knights had 23 first downs on 341 yards rushing in just 10 possessions.
After the cross-country flight home, they’ll welcome Miami (OH) to Michie Stadium for a noon kickoff. With a win, Army would need just one more victory to reach bowl eligibility. But first, they’ll have to get past the Redhawks.
Miami is just 3-4 but the Redhawks have won three of their last four, all in MAC play. They were last held below 31 points in a September loss at Minnesota. The Redhawks are no strangers to tough opponents. They opened the season with Marshall before facing unbeaten Cincinnati ahead of the trip to Minneapolis.
The Redhawks seemed started slow but seemed to have turned the corner offensively with their win over Bowling Green 38-23. They rank just 96th nationally in offensive S&P+ but five of their seven games have produced an offensive performance rating above 50% according to Bill Connelly’s S&P+.
Miami is led by the thunder and lightning tandem of Alonzo Smith (5’10, 215) and Maurcie Thomas (5’11, 180) who combine for 112 rushes for 525 yards, or right at 4.7 yards per carry. They’ve also combined for 17 catches on 20 targets in the passing game, giving their senior quarterback Gus Ragland a solid option out of the backfield.
Ragland has started 22 games during his time in Oxford, Ohio (the school is named for the Miami Valley, the land surrounding the Great Miami River—not all that exciting). The senior doesn’t possess a great completion percentage or touchdown numbers, but Ragland has done well holding onto the football and not forcing things when no opportunity presents itself.
With sacks on just 2.8 percent of his drop backs, Ragland’s quickness in the pocket (34 carries on the season excluding sacks) and solid line play upfront have allowed the Redhawks to get the ball in the hands of their playmakers.
Kenny Young leads the charge as the all-purpose back for Miami. The 5’7 182 senior has 23 carries for 212 yards and 24 receptions adding 142 yards. He leads the team with five touchdowns and is never more than a missed tackle from a huge gain. Jack Sorenson adds 424 yards on 27 catches to go along with a couple of touchdowns.
Past that, the Redhawk wide receivers have a little difficulty holding onto the football. Luke Mayock, James Gardner, and Dominique Robinson have been target 70 times this season, but have just 31 catches between them. Drops kill drives, and in a game with only 10-11 possessions each, whole quarters can go by before you get the ball back.
Miami is led by one of the most seasoned back sevens in the country. The Redhawks rank 48th in the S&P+ defensively, including 11th nationally at rushing explosiveness. Their defense is designed to bend but it rarely breaks. Army will need to grind out 15+ play possessions and be comfortable converting on a number of third and shorts. Nothing out of the ordinary, but Miami is extremely disciplined defensively and should be able to keep the big gains at a minimum.
De’Andre Montgomery is a long, athletic safety that will sneak into the box against this Army rushing attack. The 6’2, 210 senior leads the team with 41.5 tackles and has a knack for being getting to the ball-carrier.
Brad Koenig and Junior McMullen are big bodies at linebacker and combined they have 68.5 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 12.5 run stuffs, 4 sacks, and 3 interceptions. They don’t make every tackle for this veteran defense, but it sure seems that way. Past that, Army will have to deal with 6’2 295 nose tackle Doug Costin. He has just 21.5 tackles this season but 7.5 of them are behind the line of scrimmage and four are sacks. Costin leads the team with 11.5 run stuffs and two forced fumbles.
The middle of field can quickly become clogged up with a player like Costin inside, so blocking down on the nose will be a big key to the game this week for Army’s offensive line.
Miami also features an oversized linebacker in Pasquale Calcagno at defensive end. That quickness has led to Calcagno getting 5.5 tackles for loss to go along with his 6.5 run stuffs this season.
Many of Miami’s best playmakers reside at defensive back, so taking to the air may be out of the question for Army. They’ll have to run the ball effectively against one of the best defensive lines the MAC has to offer.
It’s safe to say these coaches are familiar with one another.
Chuck Martin is a graduate of tiny Division III school Millikin. There, he was a safety from 1987-89. In practice, he likely lined up against fellow Millikin grad Jeff Monken, who was a receiver for the Big Blue from 1985-88.
Martin is just 19-37 in his five seasons at the helm of the Miami program. There was no Ben Roethlisberger in the locker room when Martin took over, but he is slowly building his own program.
Martin came to Miami from Notre Dame, where he had strangely been both a defensive backs coach and an offensive coordinator. The season before Martin got to Oxford the Redhawks were 0-12. However, since the 2013 season, they’ve steadily progressed upward with a slight drop back last season. At 3-4 with Ball State and a middling Ohio Bobcat team left on the schedule, Martin has a solid opportunity to reach his second bowl game in five seasons.
Martin is no stranger to success at the head coaching level. As the head coach of Division II Grand Valley State, he led the Lakers to a 74-7 record, including two unbeaten national championship teams and another national runner up.
Martin is a graduate of Division III Millikin. There he was a safety from 1987-89. In practice, he likely lined up against fellow Millikin grad Jeff Monken, who was a receiver for the Big Blue from 1985-88.