WEST POINT – Army has won two of its last three games, a combination of solid defense and blow-the-doors off offense. After a 1-3 start, a victory Saturday would leave the Black Knights with a .500 record. Further, they are playing Temple, which is winless in its six games, having lost its last two by an aggregate score of 68-27.
Perish the thought, but might the Black Knights enter this game overconfident?
“No,” Army coach Rich Ellerson said with the appropriate degree of firmness. “We respect the game, and we respect our opponent. We’ve got a longer memory than last week.”
Actually, its memory of Temple need go back no further than last year, when the Owls pulverized Army, 63-32. The Owls scored the first two and last two touchdowns of the game, and did a lot of damage in between. For the season, Temple was 4-7, with two of its losses coming against nationally ranked Rutgers and Louisville. This year, however, the Owls are without running back Montel Harris, who exhausted his eligibility last season. He hit up Army for 355 yards and seven touchdowns. And, as was Army earlier this season, they have begun alternating quarterbacks.
First-year coach Matt Ruhle started Connor Reilly the first five games; he was replaced by P.J. Walker midway through game five. In his first start last week against Cincinnati, Walker completed 12 of 22 passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns, but he could not keep up with what the defense was permitting. In its 38-20 loss, Temple gave up the last 17 points of the game. Cincinnati quarterback Brendon Kay completed 31 of 37 passes for 270 yards and two TDs.
A year ago prior to its game against Army Temple faced a similar quarterback quandary. Then, its starter was Chris Coyer, but prior to the game then-head coach Steve Addazio switched to Chris Granger, who was more of a rushing threat. And Temple ended the game with 565 yards of offense, only 31 of which came in the air. Prior to this season, Coyer was moved to running back. And Granger has appeared in only three games, in which he completed 6 of 16 passes for 58 yards.
“They’ve been in and out of a number of things offensively,” Ellerson said. “With P.J. in there, they’ve found a guy who can throw the ball. He didn’t have a great day throwing the ball [against Cincinnati], but he is so close on so many throws. He throws a very good deep ball and he can get it there in a hurry on those underneath routs. The dimension that he brings is that when things break down, he can use his legs. We expect them to have more quarterback runs. [Running back Kenneth] Harper can’t wait to get on the field against us because he’s been very good in the past. They’ll get out there with a bunch of wide receivers and spread you out to throw the ball, but they’ll also run it. They run the counter and they run the zone and they have some very talented guys touching the ball.”
Ultimately, Ellerson is preaching the they’re-better-than-their-record gospel.
“When you turn on the tape, they clearly have some gifted guys,” he said. “They have been playing some tough people and they, like us, have had some people come in and out of their lineup early on in the season. I think they are finding some things and doing things differently this year, and I am sure that they are growing within and becoming more comfortable within their system. They found some players along the way that they really like, and they do some things that drive us nuts. Their quarterback, Walker, is a freshman, and obviously it takes a while to find someone to be that guy. He throws it well and is relatively new to the game and their offense. When things break he can pull it down and break your heart. He has made better athletes then us look bad so we have to work it out for us.”
And while the Owls have gotten clobbered their last two games, its two losses that immediately preceded those included a 1-point loss to Fordham and a 2-point loss to Idaho.
“Once again, I think we find ourselves playing an opponent who has struggled this year, but they are really a gifted group,” Ellerson said. “I think they are finding themselves, and I think their personnel situation is similar to ours. They have played some really good people in the past few weeks but have struggled to get a win. They have been impressive and have competed so they are like what we talked about a week ago. They have struggled to win, but they have some confidence and play people very well. They have some confidence in their recent history with us. Conversely, we are battling the injury situation. We can obviously turn on the tapes for the past couple of years and see some concerns as we match up with these guys. Again, it will come down to a test of wills.”
Three Army players were selected to the first team and four to the second as Phil Steele released his Midseason All-Independent Team. Phil Steele’s College Football Preview publishes a preseason, midseason and postseason All-American and All-Conference teams.
Running back Terry Baggett, defensive lineman Robert Kough and defensive back Shaquille Tolbert were chosen for the first team while running back Larry Dixon, offensive lineman Stephen Shumaker, defensive lineman Mike Ugenyi and linebacker Thomas Holloway were selected for the second team.
Baggett, a junior who set an academy record of 304 rushing yards last week against Eastern Michigan, has rushed for 744 yards. He averages 9.7 yards per carry, 106.3 yards per game and has scored six touchdowns.
Kough, a junior, has 18 tackles, including a team-high five tackles for loss. Tolbert a sophomore, is third on the team with 30 tackles.
Dixon, a junior with six touchdowns and 516 yards rushing, is averaging 7.5 yards per carry this season and 86 yards per game. Shumaker, a junior guard, is part of the offensive line that has helped Army to its current No. 1 national ranking in rushing, 352.3 yards per game.
Ugenyi, a junior end, has 13 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and 3.5 tackles for loss. Holloway, a senior captain, leads the team with 48 tackles. He has 24 solo tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, a sack and has recovered a fumble.