If Army fans have learned anything through three games this season, it’s to not take any team for granted. The Black Knights were heavy favorites against both Rice and UTSA, both of whom put up a much bigger fight than expected, and gave Army fans fits at times as the margins of victory seemed much too narrow. On paper, the Black Knights’ matchup against Morgan State falls in the same vein as Rice and UTSA. Army should blow Morgan State out of the water.
The Black Knights are a double digit favorite over the Bears, and if the past is any indication of the future, Army fans should be at ease. This is Morgan State’s third trip to Michie Stadium. In their previous two outings combined, the Bears have only put up 15 points! The Black Knights defeated the Bears 28-12 in 2013, then ran an absolute clinic in 2016 against Morgan State, winning 60-3.
No right-minded person expects the Bears to win; and if they do, I’ll eat my least favorite Army T-shirt. However, there are a few factors at play that will determine just how lopsided this game turns out that are worth keeping an eye on, especially since they may have implications beyond this match.
The first factor that will weigh heavily in this game’s outcome is how Army decides to approach the game strategically. The Black Knights played it safe against UTSA and started backup QB Jabari Laws. Laws had an outstanding debut with his least impressive statistic being a 2-of-2 completion rate for 18 yards. Will Jabari Laws start against Morgan State to keep starter Kelvin Hopkins healthy and rested for Army’s match-up against Tulane in two weeks?
There have been a handful of other injuries on both sides of the ball for the Black Knights, so resting those players in an FCS contest makes complete sense, especially with a formidable foe in Tulane just around the corner. It would also give non-starters some valuable game experience that could pay off later this season, and will definitely pay off in the next couple of years as some of Army’s current starters will inevitably graduate.
Simply put, the more starters Army employs, the more one-sided the score should be in their favor. However, as we saw last week with Jabari Laws, some non-starters may see this an opportunity to make their mark and put up some impressive statistics themselves.
Army has turned the ball over every game so far this season, with some of them coming in critical points in the game. Interceptions, while unfortunate, do happen. But, the fumbles are absolutely uncharacteristic of an Army offense under Jeff Monken. The turnovers have given me some unpleasant flashbacks to 2012-2014 where I was a firsthand witness to game-killing fumbles prior to Monken’s arrival at West Point.
The only team to make Army pay for turnovers thus far, has been Michigan. But if the Black Knights don’t tighten things up, then Michigan won’t be the last. Tulane, Air Force, Hawaii, and Navy are all shaping up to be legitimate threats on Army’s schedule. Fans may remember that in the past two seasons, the Black Knights have had a handful of close games where they managed to squeeze out a win. In those types of games, Army’s discipline and lack of turnovers made the difference.
If Army fails to start eliminating turnovers against Morgan State and beyond, then they may start losing those close, tough games.
Army’s defense, formerly known as “Bateman’s Bad Boys,” have completely surpassed expectations in 2019. With the departure of legendary defensive coordinator Jay Bateman and several key players, most Army fans expected some growing pains from a younger, less-experienced defense. That has not been the case. New defensive coordinator John Loose and his crew have been playing lights-out defense since the opening kickoff against Rice.
The Black Knights’ defense has been absolutely relentless, and of note, held the number 7 ranked Michigan Wolverines to just 14 points in regulation. There are experts and analysts out there that believe the Army defense is capable of shutting out Morgan State completely. That would be impressive to watch, but I’m sure there are some betting fans out there that wouldn’t mind seeing the Bears put up a few points just on the off-chance Army needs help covering.
Shutout or not, Army’s defense will once again be a huge factor in this game. Regardless of who John Loose works into the lineup, don’t expect the Black Knights to pull any punches - they have a 14-game home win streak to defend, after all!
Saturday’s game against Morgan State should be a welcome reprieve for an Army team that has been on the road the past two weeks. It affords them an opportunity to rest up and hopefully address some of the issues we’ve seen through three games this season. Expect a huge Army win, with the only question really being “by how much?”.