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Preview, How to Watch: Army faces Western Kentucky in home opener

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With four class reunions taking place on the 20th anniversary of 9/11, the Black Knights seek their first series win over the Hilltoppers at Michie Stadium.

NCAA Football: Army at Georgia St. Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

Fresh off a commanding 43-10 victory over Georgia State, Army will look to ride momentum into Saturday’s game for their fourth meeting against Western Kentucky University. The two teams have met three times since 2013, with the Hilltoppers winning all three contests. Also on the line for Army is extending their home win stretch after going 8-0 at Michie Stadium in 2020.

Offense

The Black Knights impressed last Saturday against Georgia State on offense. While finishing with under 300 yards rushing (a by-product of short field position for most of their drives), Army connected on 3-of-4 passes for 98 yards and two touchdowns.

Quarterbacks Tyhier Tyler, Christian Andersen and Jemel Jones all saw significant playing time, adding more than 100 yards of rushing between the three of them. Nine other ball carriers toted the rock for Army, helping the Black Knights average 3.9 yards per carry. With great success between fullback dive and quarterback draw plays, expect plenty of midline option action against Western Kentucky.

The Hilltoppers enter this game after an overwhelming victory over UT Martin, 59-21. Houston Baptist transfer QB Bailey Zappe had a standout performance in his WKU debut. With an 80% completion rate, Zappe threw for 424 yards and seven touchdowns. The Hilltoppers also managed another 109 yards rushing, with a 4.4 yards per carry average.

Zappe has a multitude of dangerous targets, with fellow transfer Jerreth Sterns posting impressive numbers in seven receptions for 107 yards and two touchdowns. Nine other receivers also got touches, averaging 16.5 yards per catch and accounting for the other six touchdowns against UT Martin. It’s more than likely that WKU will attempt to continue its aerial barrage against Army.

Defense

Army’s defense was ranked No. 1 nationally in several stat categories 2020, and demonstrated that not much has changed to start the 2021 season. The Black Knights stifled Georgia State in every way possible, allowing just 177 yards of total offense and 10 points against. In addition, the Army defense tacked on a fumble recovery by Arik Smith, an interception by Jabari Moore, as well as three sacks from Andre Carter.

On the other hand, despite a lopsided win, Western Kentucky’s defense wasn’t terribly tight against their FCS opponent. The Hilltoppers allowed UT Martin to still put up 21 points along with almost 400 yards of total offense (219 yards rushing and 195 yards passing). What’s especially telling — and good news if you’re an Army fan — is that WKU allowed an average of 5.9 yards per-carry on the ground against an FCS team. That’s not a great stat-line when you’re getting ready to face one of the best ground attacks in the country.

Things to Consider

Again, with just one game under each team’s respective belts, it’s hard to define actual trends but given how Army and WKU played last week, it sets up a few conversation points.

  1. Western Kentucky likes to pass, and did it to great effect against UT Martin. However, against a much more talented defense, how will WKU’s Zappe respond if the Black Knights are able to apply effective pressure? Furthermore, if the Hilltoppers have to balance their attack on the ground, can they be effective against Army’s aggressive defensive line and linebackers?
  2. Army will obviously bring a run-heavy attack against WKU. Will the Black Knights be able to gash the Hilltoppers as bad (or worse) as UT Martin did? Or will Western Kentucky buckle down and force Army to get creative?
  3. Finally, Army struggled on special teams, particularly when fielding rugby-style punts, against Georgia State. Will this be something that WKU keys in on and attempts to exploit?

I overheard a synopsis from another source that covers Army football, that this game will either be a shootout or a blowout — and I’m excited either way. Unfortunately, I’ll be missing this game and the rest of the weekend’s reunion festivities with my USMA 2016 classmates, but I’ll definitely be tuning in from home.

How to Watch

Kickoff: 11:30 p.m. (EST) on Saturday, September 11th

Watch: CBS Sports Network — Ross Tucker and Tina Cervasio are on Saturday’s call along with Jason Horowitz. Additionally, active duty and reserve servicemembers can stream Army home broadcasts for free by visiting this page and filling out the form.

Where: Michie Stadium – West Point, NY

Spread: FanDuel has Army favored at -6.5, with the over-under at 52.5.