Until Saturday afternoon Army hadn’t lost a home game since November of 2016. Willie Fritz’s Green Wave, however, snapped the Black Knights’ 15-game win streak in West Point this weekend and continued to strengthen the argument that Tulane is one of the premier teams in the Group of 5 this year.
Despite the win, though, it wasn’t all sunshine and roses for the Wave in New York.
Last week I said that it was probably a good thing the Greenies got a bye coming off that dramatic win over Houston, but the first few plays of Saturday’s contest begged to differ. Whether it was rust or otherwise, on the second snap of the game Tulane quarterback Justin McMillan coughed up the ball that was promptly recovered by Army. Two plays later, the Black Knights found the end zone for the quick 7-0 lead.
Fritz’s offense wasted no time in responding. Sophomore running back Amare Jones jutted in from 15-yards out after snagging a McMillan pass to tie things back up. Jones would prove to be the primary difference maker on the day, finishing with two touchdowns (one rushing, one receiving) and 65 yards on the ground. He also led Tulane pass catchers with 104 receiving yards.
Fellow Green Wave back Corey Dauphine also had a big day. He gave Tulane its first lead with a 30-yard scoring scamper in which he went quite literally untouched into the end zone. It wasn’t long after that McMillan himself took it in on a QB sneak to give the Wave a commanding 14-point lead in the second quarter.
Army refused to fold, however, and put together an impressive 15-play, 8:39 drive on the back of signal-caller Kelvin Hopkins Jr. Hopkins capped off the lengthy march downfield with a TD run of his own, cutting Tulane’s lead to just seven at half.
Hopkins and company picked up right where they left in the third with another scoring drive that knotted things back up at 21 all.
From there, Tulane started to pour it on. After Darius Bradwell punched it in for his first score of the season, the Green Wave D forced Army into a fourth down in which the Black Knights perfectly executed a fake punt. Unfortunately, the 29-yard run by Cole Christiansen was nullified due to a very untimely holding call.
The Wave proceeded to take advantage of the miscue and scored again shortly after with Jones’ second touchdown of the day.
Redshirt freshman Cameron Carroll joined in on the scoring party as well and flexed the Tulane lead to 42-21 early in the fourth.
The Black Knights would not go quietly though. Following a Chase Kuerschen interception with a mere 5:29 left... a play that should have all but sealed it... Hopkins tossed a touchdown to keep Army afloat.
On the next drive, McMillan took a brutal hit and fumbled again. This time it was Jabari Moore who recovered. Moore scooped up the loose ball and sprinted down the sideline 54 yards for the score. A game that once was essentially on ice was now far from over.
Kuerschen eventually did put the game away with his recovery of the following onside kick. Army’s last gasp drive came up fruitless and the Wave held on for the 42-33 win.
The Good: The Green Wave defense was phenomenal for much of the day holding Army to well below its usual rushing average. The Black Knights were able to muster up just 193 yards as opposed to Tulane’s 324. I said going in that whichever team’s rushing attack performed better would win and, well...
Army has to be pleased at what they saw from Hopkins. Before Saturday, he had only played one snap in the last two games due to an injury but against Tulane he looked no worse for the ware, rushing for a team-high 132-yards and two scores on 24 carries. That on top of 170 passing yards and another touchdown made for a pretty solid day. The only real blemish was a late-game pick.
The Bad: Tulane needs to be better at playing closer. Allowing two touchdowns in less than five minutes at the end is never good. Almost whiffing on an onside kick wasn’t fantastic either and, while they still held on, it certainly isn’t a method they can rely on week-in and week-out. Expect a much more dominant fourth-quarter performance in next week’s game against UConn.
The Black Knights have to find an answer to the run. The Wave averaged over six yards a pop and it resulted in an Army defense that was worn to a nub by the end. Yes, we’ll cut a little slack here because Tulane is a top-10 rushing team but 53 total carries for 324 yards by the opposition will never be a recipe for success.
The Ugly: Both of the Green Wave’s fumbles were really, really bad. The first bobbled out of McMillan’s arms and wasn’t caused by anyone; never what you want to see, especially on the second play of the contest. We can give him leeway on the second as it came after a flattening hit but it still went half the length of the field for a touchdown. Simply put, the turnovers will have to stop.
Army was abysmal on third down, going just six-of-15. Most of those six conversions came on their long drive in the second quarter. Being forced to pass... something that isn’t the Black Knights’ forte... made for the low percentage.
Army, now 3-2, looks ahead to Western Kentucky and Georgia State. The Black Knights will face both teams respectively on the road in the coming weeks before they welcome the Spartans of San Jose State.
Despite the heart failure his team may have put him through in the final stages, Willie Fritz is now 4-1 on the year and a win over Army is nothing to take lightly. With lowly Connecticut coming up, you’ve got to believe that following up last season’s bowl bid shouldn’t be an issue. Tulane’s clash with Memphis in a couple weeks will be a monster one that may very well decide the AAC West’s representative in the conference title game.