The Buffalo Bulls take their 1-0 record down south to West Point to take on the storied Black Knights of the Hudson, aka, Army. The task will not be an easy one for a couple of reasons. The first, as we know is the tricky offense that coach Jeff Monken runs; the triple option. In Monken's last game as coach, his then Georgia Southern squad beat the Florida Gators at The Swamp without completing a single pass. If that doesn't tell you how much Monken loves running the football, then nothing else will. The second, is that Army was idle last week, so as they say, there is no film for the Buffalo coaching staff to break down. Sure, you can look at some from last year, but that Rich Ellerson's option offense, so good luck with that.
Army has run the option offense for many years and because they're undersized, it helps them by using deception to keep the bigger, stronger, and more athletic teams at bay. As Rece Davis would say, it's trickeration, but it's trickeration that is the core offense . Army tried the West Coast offense with Todd Berry and the pro set offense with former NFL coach Bobby Ross and both failed miserably as the Knights were pushed around and basically "out athleted," on both ends of the ball. In 1996, when Syracuse was still a top 20 program, I watched at the Carrier Dome as Army ran the ball for well over 300 yards in a 42-17 loss. That Army team went 10-1 in the regular season before losing 32-29 to Auburn in the Independence Bowl, the last real good Army team. They finished ranked 25th in the final Associated Press poll.
Army averages just 260 pounds on it's offensive line, and their big guy is right guard Matt Hugenberg who weighs in at a whopping 285 pounds. Their projected starting left tackle, Todd McDonald is just 240 pounds so expecting him to pass block 45 times per game is outrageously impractical. In contrast, the number one ranked Florida State Seminoles average 316 pounds on its offensive line with left tackle Cameron Erving checking in at 302 pounds.
With any offense, the key is the quarterback and with the option offense, it is no different; in fact there is more pressure on the option quarterback than most. In some ways, watching Army---and Navy---is refreshing because in the copycat world we live in, everybody runs the spread and the Knights are a throwback to the time where running was the thing to do in football. Senior Angel Santiago (10 rushing touchdowns in 2013), a 5-11 188 pound senior is expected to start at quarterback, but he will be pushed by sophomore A.J. Schurr who rushed for four touchdowns in 2013. Schurr was banged up a bit this spring and summer, but if Santiago is inconsistent, look for Schurr to take some snaps this season.
Army will rush the football and though you may beat them, they will get their yards. Fullback Larry Dixon will be a focal point---fullbacks always are in the option---as will running back Terry Baggett. As juniors, they rushed for a combined 1,828 yards and more will be expected of them this year. Wide receivers Xavier Moss and Chevaughn Lawrence won't pile up catches and yards, but they'll be expected to block to free up space for the runners.
The Knights do return three starters on the offensive line in LG Steve Schumaker, C Ryan Powls and RT Justin Gilbert which should make the transition to Monken's option offense a bit easier. Of the projected starters on offense, eight are seniors and three are juniors. The Knights are banking on experience as the key reason to improve on last year's 3-9 season, which included a 12th straight loss to Navy.
If Buffalo wants to win the game, it's best to run the ball. That accomplishes two things. Obviously, it keeps the Army offense off the field and by getting ahead forces the Knights to throw the football, something that they don't want to do. Last year, the Knights gave up 379 points, an average of just under 32 points per game, so moving the football shouldn't be that challenging. Their best defensive player is safety Geoffrey Bacon, who despite battling injuries last year, made 63 tackles in 2013 and 136 in 2012.
Monken says that the 2014 Knights are not the same team that went 3-9 last year, but they will be hard pressed to finish 3-9 this year. Their schedule is not an easy one and the only game that they will be a clear cut favorite is the September 27 contest versus Yale at the Yale Bowl. They have trips to Stanford, Wake Forest, play Connecticut at Yankee Stadium and will face Navy in Baltimore to conclude the season. Coaches never think ahead, but if Monken and his staff are realists, they see Buffalo as a "winnable" game and because it's their lid lifter, they and their fans, who will pile into majestic Michie Stadium will be pumped and ready to go. it should be an exciting game between two New York based schools.
Notes: Army hosts Air Force on November 1.....they host FCS Fordham on November 22; the Rams are ranked 8th in FCS and went 12-2 last year.....they travel to Yale on September 27. Normally, an Ivy League school would not play an FBS school, but this game commemorates the 100th anniversary of the historic Yale Bowl, which now seats 61,446.....Monken compiled a 38-16 record in four seasons at Georgia Southern, taking the Eagles to the FCS semifinals three straight years (2010-2012). He was named head coach at Army on December 24, 2013.....this is the first of a four game series between Buffalo and Army, with two games at each venue. The Bulls will travel to Army in 2014 and 2020, while the Knights will visit Western New York in 2016 and 2018.......Michie Stadium, voted by Sports Illustrated as a must-see destination seats 38,000 and the cadets are required to attend all home games, and of course, make the trek to the Navy game each year. There are approximately 4,600 cadets at West Point.