Finishing 5-8 and without the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy is hardly what the Black Knights planned for in 2019. But following the tough loss of Army-Navy, Coach Monken and his team naturally have their sights set on improvements in the new year.
Army became somewhat of a breakout team in 2018-- ending the year ranked No. 19 in the Associated Press poll and elevating some of the teams secrets to success—sticking to fundamentals and analytics.
But in the next season, the Black Knights, with the loss with its playmaker seniors and defensive coordinator Jay Bateman, struggled to find a rhythm following its marquee game in The Big House.
“We won nine games in a row (after Oklahoma) but I think it also gave us the confidence for us to realize that we could win those games. We went to double overtime against Michigan and lost it ... I could feel some of the air kinda let out of our balloon a little bit,” Monken said.
The veil of player injury is rarely lifted in Army football as Monken mentioned “that just helps the opponent prepare,” but senior quarterback Kelvin Hopkins Jr. had been battling a leg injury since the beginning of the season, a sort of prequel to the challenges the team would face in the weeks to come.
Sophomore quarterback Jabari Laws was tapped to step up against UTSA with Hopkins on the sideline but he too was rotated out after being blindsided following a fumble in the following game against Morgan State. That left Christian Anderson to play in his absence.
The Black Knights continued to look uncertain in matchups and what followed was a series of single digit losses against the likes of Tulane, Western Kentucky, Georgia State, San Jose State, and Air Force.
By week nine, seemingly winnable games became even more questionable. While Air Force was a one score game, the Falcons had overwhelmingly outscored the Black Knights in each facet of the game including rushing for twice as many yards and capitalizing off their red-zone opportunities. When Army had its final shot at redemption against Navy, Malcom Perry performed as expected and the defense built by Brian Newberry was no contest for junior Christian Anderson who made his first career start in the decades old rivalry game.
Army’s program rebuilding has begun as Alex Herdon, Jack Sides, Jaxson Deaton, Jake Baumert, Mike Johnson, and Noah Utley will graduate. Connor Slomka and Kell Walker also leave Sandon McCoy and Artice Hobbs to fill major gaps left on offense.
The Black Knights also face a challenge with the loss of Cole Christiansen, the team’s leading tackler, who tied for 20th in program history with 275 tackles. Other departures include Jaylon McClinton and ,Jaylon McClinton Elijah Riley.
And we can’t forget about Kelvin Hopkins either, though Laws and Anderson now have significant game experience.
While Navy was a detrimental loss, much of the younger talent on defense including Nolan Cockrill, Kwabena Bonsu and Edriece Patterson offered a glimpse of what could be to come from Army in 2020.
“Unfortunately, there are just some things that you can’t fix right away and sometimes it takes the offseason to get those things corrected and fixed … we’ll evaluate the game, the previous 12 games and all the preparation leading up to them,” said Monken.