For about two months, we all thought Army was going to Shreveport, Louisiana for bowl season. The Black Knights were the first FBS team to accept a bowl invite — punching their ticket to the Independence Bowl — after beating Mercer to improve to 6-1 back in October.
Then, Selection Sunday came. A bunch of teams opted out of playing extra games, and bowls — including the Independence and Military — started getting canceled. Suddenly, a 9-2 Army team was cut out of the bowl picture. Jeff Monken, Mike Buddie and the athletic department went to work. They started spreading Army’s story via high-profile interviews and sent a message to bowl games that, if someone dropped out, the Black Knights would play anyone, anytime, anywhere.
Sure enough, on Dec. 21, Tennessee bowed out of playing in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl after the Vols had multiple positive tests for COVID-19. Army slid in and they’ll face the West Virginia Mountaineers.
For most of the Black Knights’ seniors, the New Year’s Eve clash in Memphis will be the last competitive football game they will ever play in. And they hope to go out with a bang.
When: 4 p.m. EST on Dec. 31
Where: The Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tennessee
Watch: ESPN | An ACC Network crew of Wes Durham and Roddy Jones will have the call, while Eric Wood reports from the sideline.
Weather: It’ll be cold. Weather.com projects a high of 42 degrees and about a half-inch of rain.
Spread: Most sportsbooks have WVU favored by about a touchdown, with the over/under set at 41 points.
This is just the fourth-ever meeting between the Mountaineers and the Black Knights, and the first since 1961. West Virginia won that game 7-3 at West Point. Army has a 2-1 record against WVU, beating them in 1941 and 1946.
At stake for Army
A victory for the Black Knights would give them their third double-digit-win season under Jeff Monken. It would also give Monken his fourth bowl win. Army hasn’t lost a bowl game since 1996, going 4-0 since.
The Mountaineers are 5-4 on the season in Neal Brown’s second season at the helm. WVU was beaten badly in its final regular season game — a 42-6 loss to Iowa State — but notched solid wins over Kansas State, TCU and Baylor this season.
West Virginia is pretty good at defending the pass, holding opponents to under 200 yards through the air in nine of its past 11 games, but that won’t really be a factor in the Liberty Bowl because — you know — Army doesn’t throw much, if at all.
Still, the WVU defense is stout. The Mountaineers are fifth in the nation in total defense, allowing just 297.2 yards per-game. They’re also 24th in rushing defense, giving up 126.2 yards on the ground per-game.
Offensively, WVU is pretty efficient. The Mountaineers have thrown just three interceptions all season and scores 88.9% of the time in the red-zone, good enough for the 22nd best mark in the nation.
Running back Leddie Brown powers this offense, as his 945 rushing yards this season are 14th best in the country. Quarterback Jarret Doege is no slouch either though, ranking eighth in the country in pass completions per-game with 24.89.
Who starts at quarterback for Army? Will it be the veteran Christian Anderson, or the dynamic freshman Tyhier Tyler? Tyler has started Army’s last three games, but left in the second quarter of the Air Force contest after taking a helmet-to-helmet hit. Anderson entered and guided the Black Knights to victory. Army has started four different quarterbacks this season and has seen six different quarterbacks line up under-center.
- This is the second straight year a Service Academy team has played in the Liberty Bowl. Last season, a Malcolm Perry-led No. 23 Navy team beat Kansas State 20-17.
- Army hasn’t faced a Power 5 team since Sept. 7, 2019. The Black Knights lost in overtime, 24-21, at Michigan.
- Black Knights’ linebacker Jon Rhattigan was named a Second Team All-American by USA Today recently. He was also named Third Team All-American by Pro Football Focus.
West Virginia-Army Liberty Bowl Preview: Host @MikeAsti11 talks with @primetimeMitch on his “From the Other Side” series about Army’s season, if Army will ever join a conference and the matchup with WVU.— Pittsburgh Sports Live (@PGHSportsLive) December 30, 2020
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