Jeff Monken’s Army Black Knights will return to West Point this week after a disappointing performance at Duke. Army will look to bounce back with a win against the Liberty Flames.
But Liberty is no cupcake. The Flames are an FBS Independent this year and handily rolled Old Dominion last week. They’re led by a big-arm quarterback with a great nickname, and he helped them upset Baylor a season ago.
Can Army correct last week’s mistakes for a win in its home-opener? Or will Liberty start off their first FBS campaign 2-0?
Kickoff: Noon (EST) on Saturday, Sept. 8.
Watch: CBS Sports Network – Ben Holden will handle play-by-play duties, former NFL kicker Jay Feely will provide color and Tina Cervasio will report from the sideline.
Where: Michie Stadium – West Point, New York
Rankings: Neither Army or Liberty are receiving votes in the AP or Coaches polls. In Bill Connelly’s S&P+ rankings, Liberty is 89th and Army is 98th (for an explainer on S&P+, click here). Liberty moved up 32 spots in Connelly’s rankings from Week One, while Army fell 15 spots.
Spread: Most books have Army favored by 7.5 to 9.5 points. Connelly predicts that Liberty will not only cover that spread, but win.
Army and Liberty have never met on a football field before.
The Flames officially became FBS Independents this season. Liberty’s football program has grown from 1973, where it played in NAIA until 1980. The Flames then moved to NCAA Division II and played there until 1988 before becoming a Division I-AA independent. The Flames joined the Big South conference in 2002, and stayed in the FCS ranks until 2017.
Army and Liberty do not share any common opponents this season.
Stephen Calvert: The Liberty quarterback’s actual middle name is Buckshot. His father lobbied for that to be his first name, but he and his wife compromised, giving Stephen a middle name based on his father’s favorite NASCAR driver, Buckshot Jones. And now, the middle name compliments his son’s cannon for an arm. A week ago, Calvert played a near-perfect game in Liberty’s rout of Old Dominion. Calvert, a 6-foot-2 junior from Florida, completed 25-of-36 passes for 345 yards and two touchdowns. A season ago, he threw for 447 yards and three touchdowns in Liberty’s upset win over Baylor. Army allowed just 197 yards and one touchdown through the air against Duke last week, but Calvert’s big arm could cause headaches for the Black Knights.
Stephen 'Buckshot' Calvert and the Liberty Flames were impressive in their first ever game as a member of the FBS – can they keep that up against Army this week? pic.twitter.com/2w9h9cVpWq— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 5, 2018
Army’s rushing attack: The Black Knights simply have to be better at running the ball this week. Against Duke, they coughed up the ball five times and totaled just 168 yards on the ground. The triple option is not built for passing, yet Army attempted 21 plays through the air last week because it fell in a big hole early. Liberty allowed Old Dominion to rush for 129 yards last week and gave up 225 yards per-game on the ground a season ago. The last time Liberty faced a triple option team, on Oct. 14, 2017 vs. Kennesaw State (coached by former Navy assistant Brian Bohannon), the Flames allowed 498 rushing yards in a 42-28 loss. To win, Army needs to find the holes in Liberty’s defense and hang on to the football.
They Said It
Army coach Jeff Monken, via GoArmyWestPoint.com: “Anybody that has guys on scholarships has got me concerned. (Liberty is) fast, big and talented. They went down to Baylor last year and beat them. We have a lot of guys from Virginia on our team that were not offered by Liberty. That tells you the level of player they are already recruiting. They are guys that are big, fast, and can run and come ready made.”
Liberty offensive coordinator Joe Dailey, via The Lynchburg News & Advance: “When you look at (Army’s) defense as a whole, the things that stand out most are they are physical. They play a physical brand of football. They aren’t backing down from anyone. They all play with the same fanatical effort and relentless energy.”
Army fullback Darnell Woolfork, via The Times Herald-Record: “It’s a reality check (fumbling five times vs. Duke). You have to always work on (ball security). It always has to be in the back of your head. It’s a basic fundamental that has to be thought of and reinforced… It just reinforces the fact that you need to switch the ball over and get it to the side and not in front of you as soon as possible. You need to cover it up with no hesitation.”
>> Army’s roster carries 16 players who played high school football in Virginia.
>> Liberty has never won a game in New York.
Army’s football equipment account hasn’t tweeted out the uniform for this week, but it’s safe to assume the Black Knights will wear their home black jerseys. The Black Knights will also wear helmet stickers this week for the 3rd Infantry.
Meanwhile, Liberty will be rocking these all-white uniforms…
Liberty makes it close, but Army takes a third straight win in home openers, 31-28.
Here’s Army’s hype video for the week: