Army Football just took the baton from Old Dominion University and methodically marched up and down Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium all night as they nearly upset the number five ranked Oklahoma Sooners on the road, showing yet again why you should schedule service academies at your own peril.
It wasn’t just that they were able to go into a hostile Norman environment and almost pull off a victory of gargantuan proportions, it was the way in which they executed triple option football to near perfection that should have Paul Johnson smiling, even after his team got blown out by Clemson earlier today.
For most of this game, Oklahoma marched up and down the field at will behind their fast paced offense led by dual-sport standout and future Oakland Athletic Kyler Murray. Oklahoma opened the game with a quick 6 play, 68 yard drive that finished with an 11 yard Murray TD pass to Carson Meier that took only 2 minutes and 40 seconds off the clock.
But every time the Sooners would sprint down and score, Army would initiate an excruciatingly long, yet absolutely glorious option heavy drive of their own to stay in the game. Army’s first response to Oklahoma going up 7-0 was a 16 play drive that ate up nearly 10 minutes off the game clock and included a total of ZERO passes. Kell Walker had a huge pickup on 4th and 2 and Connor Slomka rumbled in from a yard out to tie the game at 7.
OU followed that up with a nearly identical 6 play drive that took 2 minutes and 36 seconds off the clock and resulted in a, yep, you guessed it, another 11 yard TD pass from Murray, this time to CeeDee Lamb to put the Sooners back on top 14-7.
Army responded with, wait this is almost too predictable, a 16 play drive that took nearly 9 minutes off the clock and included a couple huge fourth down conversions and GASP an actual pass from Kelvin Hopkins, Jr. before he scored on a QB keeper to tie the game at 14.
Oklahoma increased their efficiency on the ensuing possession, needing only 4 plays and a 33 yard scramble from Murray as he showed off his wheels to take the lead again 21-14.
Army was then forced to finally punt the ball, but the defense stepped up when the Black Knights needed them to, with James Nachtigal getting a huge sack on Murray to force a Sooners punt as well.
Army took a 21-14 deficit to the locker room, but they had to feel good about where they stood, having limited Oklahoma to just four first half possessions and getting the ball to start the third quarter.
Coach Jeff Monken wasn’t satisfied, though, declaring that the Black Knights came to win, not simply keep the game respectable. He wasn’t looking for any moral victories for his team.
Army was forced to punt on their first possession of the third quarter after a three and out, but they got a huge turnover as Mike Reynolds intercepted Kyler Murray deep in Army territory on the second play of the ensuing drive to give the ball back to the Black Knights. Army would then take advantage in a way that only a god-fearing, red-blooded, triple-option running service academy team could.
They started a 19 play, 85 yard drive that took them 10 minutes and 47 seconds to complete, essentially removing the Oklahoma offense from the third quarter all together. The drive was capped off by an Andy Davidson 3 yard touchdown that tied the game at 21 a piece.
Oklahoma marched down the field on their next series, but an incredible goal line stand that included back-to-back stops at the one yard line by the Army defense gave the Black Knights the ball back with 99 yards to go and just over 12 minutes on the clock.
Army would put together another terrific, time consuming drive that consisted of 17 plays and took another 10 minutes off the clock, but it ultimately resulted in a Kelvin Hopkins interception, giving Oklahoma a final chance to win the game in regulation.
The Sooners would put themselves in prime position, getting the ball down to the 16 yard line for a 33 yard field goal attempt, but Austin Seibert missed wide left from the middle of the field, sending the game to overtime.
In overtime, Kyler Murray needed only two plays as he found CeeDee Lamb for another 10 yard strike to put the Sooners back on top 28-21.
Army was unable to convert for the first time on fourth down all night after getting all four of their previous attempts as Kelvin Hopkins was intercepted by Parnell Motley and the Black Knights were defeated by a final score of 28-21.
I know Monken said that there would be no moral victories, and reminiscent of Navy coming oh so close against Ohio State twice in the last decade, they have to feel that they let it slip right through their fingers, but man did Army put on a triple option clinic in this one.
They would end up holding onto the ball for nearly 45 minutes in regulation. That’s nearly 3 full quarters that the Army offense was on the field. Oklahoma only ran 41 plays the entire game, including overtime!
To put this in perspective, Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray had 28 tackles. TWENTY EIGHT! That’s the most tackles in the NCAA since 2000 when they started recording them. That’s how much option running took place tonight in Norman, Oklahoma.
Kelvin Hopkins proved once and for all that he can lead this team. There was some questions coming into the year about replacing a guy like Ahmad Bradshaw, but all of those doubts were silenced on the field in Norman tonight. He carried the rock 25 times for 102 yards and the one touchdown, but it was his poise, consistently stepping up again and again that led the way for the Black Knights.
Darnell Woolfolk had big run after big run, ending up with 21 carries for a hard earned 71 yards and Kell Walker ended up with 80 yards on the ground and 40 through the air to pace both the backs and the Army receiving game on the evening.
Of note, yet again, if you wanted to see all of this unfold, you had to pay $54.99 to watch on Pay Per View. Otherwise, you probably resorted to watching a stream on Twitch as the college football world scrambled to find a way to tune into what was nearly the *second biggest upset of the day.
I know people hate on how boring the triple option is to watch, but if you can’t appreciate a game like that, given the disparity in apparent talent between the two teams, and the complete polar opposite approaches to trying to win, well then I don’t know what to tell you.