Navy will be toughest test on Army football schedule, Jeff Monken says
WEST POINT – Army has faced eight teams who are bowl-eligible and six who finished first or second in their respective leagues. That includes a Wake Forest team that is ranked No. 18 and headed for the ACC title game and a Wisconsin team that was No. 18 before its upset loss to Minnesota that dropped the Badgers out of the Big Ten final.
With all that, Army head coach Jeff Monken believes the Dec. 11 game against Navy is the toughest game on the schedule.
“It’s just the intensity of each play, the intensity of the rivalry,’’ said Monken during his weekly press conference. This will be his eighth game against Navy, plus he was an assistant with the Midshipmen for six against the Black Knights.
“(I know) how hard that their team will be playing against us, and I hope that we’ll play really, really hard against them as well because it’s such an emotional game and because the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy is on the line. … (I know) how bad these two teams want to beat each other.
“It's difficult to prepare for because they know us so well. It’s difficult to prepare because of the personnel. It is so evenly matched. We almost mirror each other at each of the positions.
“It seems like every year every single play from the opening kickoff to the end feels like the whole game is hanging in the balance – that's intense, more intense than most games, for sure.’’
Monken wasn’t very pleased with his defense’s inability to track down elusive Liberty quarterback Malik Willis, likely a top QB selection in the 2022 NFL Draft. Two days later, though, Monken could at least chuckle about it, aided by the fact Army prevailed 31-16.
“That quarterback is unbelievable,’’ Monken said. “What a tremendous football player. (He was) really, really hard to tackle. We missed more tackles in that game than maybe we have since I've been here (starting in 2014) and, again, most of them were with that guy. There was one play where he broke four tackles and the last guy finally pushed him out of bounds. I mean, golly, the guy’s really dynamite.’’
A former Auburn quarterback, ahead of a transfer, Willis has rushed – and scrambled – for 820 yards, or 68 per game. His numbers have suffered because he has been susceptible to being sacked (50 times), sometimes while trying to do too much on a play.
Willis rushed for 74 positive yards but five Army sacks halved his overall total to 37 yards – that was Willis’ third-worst rushing total of the season. He had minus-8 yards in a six-sack game against North Texas, and 28 yards a week earlier in a 7-sack game against Louisiana.
Army’s five leading rushers are relatively close in production yards: slot back Tyrell Robinson (582, 3 TDs); quarterbacks Christian Anderson (519, 6 TDs) and Tyhier Tyler (470, 7 TDs); and, fullbacks Jakobi Buchanan (412, 11 TDs) and Anthony Adkins (345, 5 TDs).
Was this by design?
“I don't know that there's a conscious plan to do that,’’ Monken said. “We've got a lot of guys that we believe in, that we think can help us win games and move the football. Obviously, that group of B-backs (the fullbacks) I think is a really, really good group of running backs. And we got a lot of confidence in those guys carrying the football. I think both those top two quarterbacks are really good with the ball in their hands. They've done a nice job running the football and have gained yards on their feet. Then having a guy like T-Rob who's very explosive and I think a dynamic runner being able to get the ball in his hands. It's really I think an attempt to get the ball in the hands of the guys that we think have a chance to do something with it, to not just gain first downs but maybe take it the distance.’’
Monken made sure to credit the offensive line and other players who have made critical blocks on every play.
Army awaits its bowl designation. Sports Illustrated predicts the Black Knights will face North Texas in the Dec. 18 Boca Raton Bowl. CBS Sports predicts Army will take on Coastal Carolina in the Dec. 20 Myrtle Beach Bowl. College Football News predicts Army will take on Marshall in the Dec. 28 First Responder Bowl (in Dallas). ESPN also predicts the First Responders Bowl, with Kyle Bonagura tapping Texas El Paso as the opponent and Mark Schlabach picking Louisiana State. Last week, USA TODAY Sports predicted Army would face Tulsa in the Dec. 22 Armed Forces Bowl. Two weeks ago, Fox Sports predicted Army would face Utah in the Dec. 30 Fight Hunger Bowl (in San Francisco).
Couple extra days of rest
With the usual two weeks off ahead of the Navy game, the Black Knights practiced Sunday and will again on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday ahead of two off days. Next Sunday the team resumes a regular practice preparation schedule ahead of the Dec. 11 game.
The 2020 Game: Army avenges loss to Navy in historic matchup
“Their bodies are beat up and fatigued and we want to get them healthy,’’ Monken said. “Obviously (we) want to be at our very best physically going to this game, as fresh as we can be, as well prepared as we can be. We can practice really hard and have our guys mentally prepared but if physically they don't feel at their best then they're not going to perform their best.’’
Buchanan’s career-high three touchdowns make him the 10th Army running back to rush for at least three TDs in a game in 21 years. Sandon McCoy, a 2021 grad, rushed for three twice last season: Sept. 5 against Middle Tennessee and Oct. 24 against Mercer, and also once in 2019 against Massachusetts.
This article originally appeared on Times Herald-Record: Navy will be toughest test on Army football schedule, Jeff Monken says