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Turnovers, triple option ruin Middle Tennessee in disastrous 42-0 opener at Army

Black Knights score on every possession, force three turnovers to hand Middle Tennessee a deflating defeat.

NCAA Football: Middle Tennessee at Army Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Army only possessed the ball six times in its 2020 opener against Middle Tennessee. Yet, the Black Knights scored six touchdowns and handed the Blue Raiders an embarrassing 42-0 defeat in West Point, NY.

The Black Knights’ signature triple option attack was too much for the Middle Tennessee defense to handle, scoring on all possessions of the game except for the victory formation drive. Army controlled the line of scrimmage, routing its C-USA opponent 340-75 in the rushing yard battle.

Fullback Sandon McCoy captained the obliteration with a hat trick of rushing touchdowns, and the Black Knights’ 10 combined ball carriers never struggled to move the chains. Army converted on 13/15 third down attempts and quarterback Christian Anderson stormed to a 24-yard touchdown on the team’s lone fourth down try. Middle Tennessee’s defensive unit never forced a turnover on downs nor a punt on Saturday afternoon. Its closest stop was holding Army to a field goal in the second quarter, but a roughing the kicker call eventually extended the drive and led to another Black Knight touchdown.

Middle Tennessee’s offense entered the 2020 season with untapped potential, given the return of star dual threat quarterback Asher O’Hara to the lineup. But the Blue Raiders only entered Army territory three times on seven drives and only crossed the Black Knights’ 35-yard line once. Army’s relentless defense forced four Blue Raiders turnovers, and Jeff Monken’s team cashed in those costly errors for a combined 21 points.

O’Hara, fresh off a 1,000-yard rushing season, struggled to create on the ground and compiled 18 yards on 10 carries. The junior quarterback finished the afternoon 9/14 passing for 46 yards and a pair of interceptions. His final throw of the contest was a 43-yard pick-six in the middle of the third quarter to Army inside linebacker Jon Rhattigan, who jumped in front of an unsuspecting receiver and received an open lane to the end zone. Backup quarterback Chase Cunningham finished the day for the Blue Raiders.

But perhaps Middle Tennessee’s most glaring offensive mistake of the day was not a turnover, but poor clock management execution. Down 21-0 with 45 seconds left in the first half, the Blue Raiders faced a 1st and goal on the Army 2-yard line, with hopes of gaining life on the scoreboard to ease back into the game. A mishandled snap on first down sent Middle Tennessee back 12 yards, and head coach Rick Stockstill did not utilize any of his two remaining timeouts. The following snap occurred with three seconds remaining, and O’Hara threw an out route to C.J. Windham well short of the end zone. It was the only promising possession the Blue Raiders strung together all day, and they failed to produce a single point due to mishandling the clock.

Against an Army team renowned for hogging time of possession, scoring early and often was of utmost importance. Middle Tennessee moved the ball well on its first three plays of the 2020 season, but Army forced a fumble on the fourth play — a screen pass to Javy McDonald around midfield.

That turnover ultimately set the tone for the disastrous performance, but with Troy looming on the schedule in two weeks, Stockstill and the Blue Raiders cannot afford to let that play, or this game, set the tone for the rest of the season.