The Army West Point Black Knights welcome Hawaii to Michie Stadium Saturday for a high noon showdown on the banks of the Hudson.
A lot has been made this week about the extent of travel required by Hawaii to make it to New York (9,966 miles to be exact) and the fact that the least that could have been done for them was to not play the game at noon EDT, which will feel like 6 AM for the ol’ body clock for the players. There is a reason that in the Navy, OPNAV 3710 states that anytime you travel over three time zones you have to take one day off from flying for every additional time zone you travel. This would mean Hawaii should have gotten to New York on Tuesday if they wanted to suit up for this game.
This has led the oddsmakers to give the advantage to the Black Knights playing in the comfort of their own stadium and time zone by spotting Army 6.5 points, making 3-0 Hawaii an underdog for the third time in four games this season. Take a look at our risk management guide for this week and you will see that this plus the over (62 points) are pretty minor risks for a team that is undefeated and putting up numbers at a torrid pace.
Army is coming off a game in which they dominated FBS newcomer Liberty 38-14 and got on the right side of the win column after an opening week defeat at the hands of a Duke team that seems to be on the rise early in the year.
It was hard to figure out what to make of Liberty after they manhandled Old Dominion University, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that that was more of an indication of how poor ODU is than how good Liberty could be. After turning the ball over five times against Duke, the Black Knights held onto the ball for the entirety of the game against the Flames while forcing three turnovers of their own. That will be a key component of the game against Hawaii if they hope to give the ‘Bows their first loss of the season.
When Army has the ball:
Stop me if you’ve heard this before! Army will need to control the tempo of this game as much as possible, putting their offense to work to maximize time of possession and minimize the number of opportunities they give Cole McDonald and the run and shoot Hawaii offense if they want to win.
Kelvin Hopkins Jr. has been limited in practice this week with coach Jeff Monken indicating that he suffered an undisclosed injury against Liberty in the second quarter but that he should be good to go by Saturday. He will be a key component in the ability of the Black Knights to do what they do best, run the ball early and often, and sprinkle in a few pass plays with their quarterback who has already shown this year the capability to sling it downfield.
I would expect a heavy dose of Darnell Woolfolk and Hawaii native Calen Holt from the fullback position. In Hawaii’s game against Navy earlier this year, the fullbacks, in particular Nelson Smith, were gashing the ‘Bows defense as they keyed in on Malcolm Perry. Holt is 9th in the country so far this season in yards/attempt with nearly 10 yards a carry. If Army can establish the fullback dive like they did successfully against Liberty, that might be the biggest factor in their ability to control the clock and therefore keep Hawaii off the field.
Hawaii is 119th in total defense this year, giving up over 500 yards a game. They have not proven the ability to stop anyone, and if there has been one trend that has materialized over the course of each game, it’s a fast start for the defense that fizzles down the stretch.
Here’s a rundown of the breakdown by half in their first three games:
Colorado State-7 points in first half, 27 in the second half
Navy-14 points in the first half, 27 in second half
Rice-10 points in first half, 19 in second half
I think if there is one area that the jet lag shows up, it isn’t in the Hawaii offense’s ability to produce, it’s in the defense’s inability to prevent themselves from wearing down in the second half.
If Army can keep the score respectable in the first half and limit the number of possessions for Hawaii, I like their chances to pull away in the second half.
When Hawaii has the ball:
There have been a number of surprises early in this college football season, but one of the biggest has to be the Hawaii offense.
2 star quarterback recruit Cole McDonald has surged onto the scene at the same time as coach Nick Rolovich decided to re-install the famous run and shoot offense that June Jones perfected with the Rainbow Warriors. Rolovich knows that part of their success is based on uncertainty from teams early in the year, but you can’t deny just how impressive McDonald has been.
The quarterback who didn’t have a single D1 offer until Hawaii called in the eleventh hour the night before national signing day to offer him has given Rolovich some serious return on investment and then some to start the year.
Though some of the stats have to take into account the fact that Hawaii has played one more game than everyone else, it’s still clear that McDonald is on another level right now. Hawaii is fourth in the country in pass yards per game at 391. McDonald is first in the country in pass yards (1165) and first in touchdowns thrown (13) with the next closest being a group that includes one of the Heisman favorites in Will Grier with nine.
It helps that McDonald has two elite receivers to sling it with. John Ursua leads the country with 423 receiving yards and is tied for first with five touchdown receptions. Who is he tied with you ask? His teammate Cedric Byrd. That one-two punch is nearly impossible to stop.
Army’s defense is currently 87th in total yards per game at 399. Junior Jaylon McClinton had a tremendous outing against Liberty that included a pick, forced fumble, and fumble recovery. Army will need him to step up along with Elijah Riley. Riley has proven he has what it takes to be a shutdown DB and will certainly have his hands full with Ursua and Byrd.
The difference in this game could come down to whether or not the defense can stop Hawaii in the early going. The ‘Bows defense, which has started strong and fallen apart late will not be able to keep the Black Knights off the scoreboard, but if they can do so early like they did against Navy, helping to mount an early 28-0 lead in that game, it could be too much to overcome. Army will have to get some stops in the first two quarters to give their offense a chance to get in a rhythm. Do that, and I think Army can pull this one out.
Interesting Stat of the Week:
There are two FBS teams who have attempted at least 5 fourth downs on the season and converted all of them, and you guessed it, those two teams play each other Saturday in West Point. Army is 5/5 on the season and Hawaii is 6/6. Whichever team is able to extend that perfect streak while ruining the others could be something to watch in this game as well.
I think Army holds Hawaii under their 48 points per game average on the season, and I think that this one is definitely the over (62 points), but I think the Rainbow Warriors not only cover the spread but they win this one outright.