There were some pretty high expectations for Army football in 2019. Some of those expectations, such as an undefeated season, went out the window with the team’s first loss to Michigan. Since then, the Black Knights have suffered two more losses at the hands of Tulane and Western Kentucky. There’s still plenty of football left, but it seems with each passing week that expectations for this Army team are starting to revert back to the default of being okay with wins over Air Force and Navy to retain the CIC Trophy. But even that is starting to look like a tall order.
Have the Black Knights been playing great football? Not really, but there’s plenty of time to turn the ship around, and a road trip to Georgia State this Saturday would be a great opportunity to do so. The last time Army lost three games was 2017 - and they still beat Air Force and Navy for the CIC Trophy. Additionally, they upset a heavily favored San Diego State team in the Armed Forces Bowl. There is no reason to totally give up hope yet, but let’s dive in to Saturday’s match-up at Georgia State.
Saturday’s game between Army and the Georgia State Panthers will be the first meeting between the two programs. Interestingly enough, despite Army’s slide and Georgia State’s solid play, the Panthers are home underdogs. ESPN’s FPI favors Army in this game at 53.7%.
While the FPI may not alleviate concerns for Army fans, a closer look at the stats might. Yes, Georgia State is averaging almost 10 points per game more than Army (26.5 vs 35.5) and over 150 more yards per game (323.2 vs 478.5). However, the Panthers are also allowing almost 17 more points per game than Army (20.7 vs 37.5) and over 100 more yards per game (340.2 vs 452.8). That’s not terrible news for Army.
In their past two losses to Tulane and Western Kentucky, Army has seemed to revert back to its identity under previous head coach, Rich Ellerson. Typically armed with an above average defense, Army teams under Ellerson lost too many winnable games to count due to inconsistency and inefficiency on offense. That, in turn, led to defensive breakdowns late in the game, as the Black Knight defense succumbed to being on the field for too long.
Still, against a Georgia State defense that is yielding close to 500 total yards to opposing offenses (199.8 rushing), Army should be able to get something going. The trick will be for Army’s offensive coaching staff to properly diagnose their play-calling early on to find what’s working...and what isn’t. From an outsider’s perspective, it’s seemed that Brent Davis has struggled this season to recognize and adjust Army’s plays in a timely fashion. And, it’s extremely frustrating to watch.
There hasn’t been a team thus far that has truly shut down both Army’s mid-line reads (FB dive plays from Connor Slomka and company, or QB keepers from Kelvin Hopkins) and Army’s outside pitch plays (designed to get the ball into the hands of the likes of Kell Walker and Artice Hobbs along the edges). But more than one team so far has been able to effectively stop one of those options, and the Black Knights would refuse to change course, forcing the offense into long third downs and an over reliance on Hopkins’ passing ability.
On defense, Army has looked good early on, but has also shown signs of fatigue late in the game due to the offense’s inability to control time of possession. Against Tulane and Western Kentucky, the Black Knights also struggled to truly get consistent pressure against the opposing quarterbacks, allowing them time and space to exploit the secondary to devastating effect. The Army defense needs to get to Georgia State QB, Dan Ellington, early and often.
Along with consistent play from defensive leaders, Cole Christiansen and Elijah Riley, the Black Knight defense just needs to keep playing the way they have been. What will truly make the difference is whether or not Army’s offense can make the most of their possessions and keep the defense off the field. Army head coach, Jeff Monken, remains optimistic about his team and the seniors’ leadership. Quite frankly, there’s no reason to not believe in them and keep expecting great things from them either.
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Game Day Info
Opponent: Georgia State University
Mascot: Pounce (the Panther)
Stadium: Georgia State Stadium
Surface: Field Turf
Tickets: Starting at $23.10 on StubHub
Kickoff Time: 7:00 pm EST
Odds: Army is favored by -5.5. O/U is 56.5.
Weather Forecast: 90% chance of rain with temperatures in the mid to low 50s.