Date: Saturday, September 8th
Kickoff: Noon EST, 11 a.m. CST
Location: Michie Stadium, West Point, NY
Betting Line: Army -9.5, O/U 58.5
Series Record: First meeting
Outlook — Liberty Flames
Welcome to the big boys club, Flames.
Eyebrows were certainly raised when Liberty first made the announcement of their intended move to FBS. A smaller school with a modest athletic department and a modest budget, opting for a rushed timetable that would mean a lot of capital would need to be put forward, and that’s to say nothing of the brutal, unforgiving schedule of an FBS Independent. In spite of all this, the Flames ticked that box and said, “Sign me up.”
A decision this sudden, particularly with no FBS conference invite apparent, might point to a lack of experience on the part of the administration. But then the athletic department made an outstanding hire with Turner Gill, an underrated coach with a history of winning at a smaller FBS school, taking long-time underachievers Buffalo to their first bowl in program history in 2008, Gill’s third season on the job.
Not long after, Gill took a higher profile job at Kansas, where things did not quite work out the same way. But Liberty knew talent when they saw it, and knew he would do nothing to diminish their already winning tradition on the field. Gill has posted a winning record in all four of his seasons with the Flames, though all four were at the FCS level as members of the Big South. A week ago, against C-USA’s Old Dominion, the Flames were dominant, shutting down the Monarchs, 52-10.
Week 2 will see if the Flames can maintain that momentum at the FBS level, against a talented Army team that has gone to a bowl each of the last two years. Leading the charge will be QB Stephen Calvert, a junior out of Plantation, FL, who put himself on the map when he and last years squad squeaked by Baylor in week 1. Last week against ODU Calvert dominated, going 25/36 passing with 345 passing yards and four TDs. The Black Knights can expect that air attack to continue this week, with Kentory Matthews and Peytton Pickett pounding it out on the ground, the two combining a week ago for three TD’s on 188 rushing yards between them.
Outlook - Army Black Knights
Who is this team and what have they done with Army?
A year ago Army put up huge numbers on the ground, while treating the pass like their ex who won’t stop calling. There were games last year the Knights attempted two passes all game, sometimes as few as zero. Last week against Duke, Kelvin Hopkins Jr. went 10/21 for 197 yards and TD, which is more attempts than in all of 2017. Meanwhile, seven different backs combined for 168 yards and a TD. What a difference a year makes, right?
All this was part of a losing effort, however, as Army fell to Duke, 34-14. While Hopkins’ performance was nearly equal to Duke’s QB Daniel Jones (Hopkins threw identical yardage on fewer completions), it was the Knights inability to stop the run that killed them down the stretch, as Duke amassed only 184 yards on the ground but three TD’s while they were doing it.
That more than anything will make the difference for the Knights, as Jeff Monken clearly has a different gameplan, a very different roster, and has adjusted their goals to the talent on hand. Clearly his squad has some great receivers, breaking open for some big plays against the Blue Devils, but unfortunately, not much of it resulted in points on the scoreboard.
Also of note last week, Army fumbled five times, losing two of them. Lucky for the Knights, it was only week one, and all will be forgotten if they can avoid such mental mistakes in their home opener.
Monken has the experience, and the talent, to put together another double-digit win season. But to do that, they gotta walk through the Flames.
Liberty was off to a great start a week ago, but Old Dominion didn’t exactly look stellar, either. Turner Gill is a great coach, and if Army makes the same mental mistakes from a week ago, expect Liberty to run away with this one. Barring that, though, this is a bowl team against a transitional one, and Jeff Monken just has more success than Gill, and a defense that can stop Liberty’s one biggest threat: the pass.
Final Score: Army 28, Liberty 21