After coming off a relatively smooth win in Buffalo last week, West Point is sitting at 3-2 during their bye week, but that doesn’t mean the Black Knights should get too comfortable.
Duke: While the Black Knight’s 197 passing yards was a bit of a cause for celebration, they had to answer to the pressure of Duke’s uptempo offense and that answer was fumbles. Unclear play calling and turnovers set the the tone for the Black Knights after the opening drive. Army fumbled on the first two plays of the season, recovering the first one before coughing it up on the second. The Blue Devils scored on a field goal on their second drive, creating a 3-0 lead that Army would never recover from. Following a Black Knights missed FG and Blue Devils touchdown, Duke put themselves in an easy position for another TD following a 61 yard pass. It was an easy one-yard walk into the end zone to spread the gap to 17-0. Army recovered in the second half following a fumble recovery by Wunmi Oyetuga and Kelvin Hopkins Jr. made his first rushing TD of the year during the third quarter to finally get the Black Knights on the board. Ultimately, what Jeff Monken called the “fundamentals” is what got the Black Knights during their season opener on the road: too many missed opportunities left the score Army - 14 and Duke - 34.
Liberty: In their first home game, Army forced three turnovers and put up 24 points before Liberty had a chance to catch their breath in the second half. Kelvin Hopkins Jr. connected with Christian Hayes’ on a 44-yard TD pass, his first career points, which gave the Black Knights the 24-point lead at the start of the third quarter. Liberty made their money in the third quarter with two touchdowns, but in the end, that would be the only points they put on the board, ending the game with an Army victory, 38-14.
Hawaii: Two major sacks by Kenneth Brinson and five tackles by James Nachtigal started Army capped off a good defensive posture against Hawaii. Overall, Kelvin Hopkins Jr. ran for 110 yards making him the first Army QB to throw and run overall 100 yards since 2015. A 48 yard TD run by Connor Slomka put the Black Knights ahead of the Rainbow Warriors, 21 to 14, with almost 4 minutes left in the first half, a lead they would never relinquish. Neither team put any points on the board during the third quarter but Army came back and scored a TD on a Darnell Woolfolk run early in the fourth to put them up by two scores. They would seal the game by breaking up three passes in the end zone to leave the final score at Army 28 and Hawaii 21.
Oklahoma: Army gave the Sooners all they could handle and then some in Norman. Using precision, time-consuming drives that resulted in them holding the ball for nearly three entire quarters of the game, they put themselves in a position to win late in the ball game driving on the Sooners side of the field. But pressure from #5 ranked Oklahoma forced Army to get creative with their passing game and Kelvin Hopkins, Jr. would throw an interception to give the Sooners the ball back with a chance to win. A missed field goal sent the game to overtime, but a 10-yard TD catch by CeeDee Lamb followed by another interception by Hopkins left the game unfinished for the Black Knights leaving the final score Army 21, Oklahoma 28.
Buffalo: Army’s defense was surely the name of the game last week against Buffalo and made for a smooth second half to win their first road game of the year. Wunmi Oyetuga’s blocked field goal returned for a TD by Elijah Riley set the momentum for the Black Knights going into the second half at 21-7. The ground game picked up where it left off in Oklahoma, rumbling for 281 yards and 4 TDs and Kelvin Hopkins, Jr. nearly had another 100/100 game as he finished with 91 yards passing and 89 on the ground.The game ended with Army - 42 and Buffalo - 13
Week three against Hawaii was a good skill matchup for the Black Knights. After scoring his first TD against Liberty, Calen Holt’s 63-yard catch and run on 3rd and 8 before being forced to dive out of bounds at the Rainbow Warriors 1-yard line shows just how much Army can do when they give their fullback the space to move, and he definitely showed out.
Kelvin Hopkins has stepped in for Ahmad Bradshaw and grown each and every week as the team’s new starting quarterback. He has 551 yards passing with three touchdowns on the year. Of note, he’s attempted 51 passes on the season through five games. Last year, the Black Knights only attempted 65 passes on the entire season. He is also the team’s leading rusher with 397 yards and four touchdowns on the year. The junior is on pace to come up just shy of a 1000/1000 season, but with Army looking more and more likely to head to a bowl game, and Hopkins getting better each week, I’d put my money on him eclipsing that mark.
On defense, Elijah Riley leads a talented Black Knights defensive backfield. He is the team leader in tackles with 29, tackles for a loss with 4, and pass break ups with 4. He generally is matched up with the opposing team’s best wideout and has held his own so far this season.
Don’t let big plays be a one-and-done. With last week’s first win on the road, the Black Knights need to keep that same defensive energy. The defensive line has been able to make some big plays to show themselves improved throughout the year but must continue to get better as the defensive backfield has held their own this season. With Duke, team communication and turnover mistakes made it difficult for the Army to gain their footing against a very good Blue Devils squad who is now 4-1 overall. Obviously, the Oklahoma game has been a highlight of the year, even in a loss, but Army took no solace in the defeat. They fully expect to be 9-2 when they face Navy in December. Though the San Jose Spartans are 0-4 so far this season, this will be Army’s fourth game on the road this year as they play a “neutral” site game in Levi’s Stadium, and they will need to put their best foot forward with a team that nearly upset Hawaii last week in triple overtime.