The Oklahoma Sooners are gearing up for another Saturday of football, and this week’s game brings forth a special occasion. The Army Black Knights travel to Norman from West Point, after all. Plenty is planned for this weekend, and I think we’re all expecting a unique experience. Here to give us some background on the opponent is Nicholas Carr of Against All Enemies — SB Nation’s brand new blog dedicated to the service academies.
Also, make sure to check out this week’s podcast, which features Mitchell Northam of Against All Enemies and Tyler Palmateer of the Norman Transcript.
Army has already tallied more passing yards through three games than they recorded all of last season, and that can be attributed to new QB Kelvin Hopkins. What stands out about him as a QB, and what separates him from some of the QBs Army has had in the past?
As crazy as this may seem for an Army quarterback, but Hopkins arm strength is unmatched in recent years at West Point. The coaching staff believes in his ability to throw the ball with some zip, and they trust his judgment on when to throw the ball away. Glen Coates and Camden Harrison have added an element at receiver Jeff Monkey has lacked in the past. The size and ability to find soft spots in the defense has really transformed the passing game.
Plenty of backs get work in this triple-option offense, but which back has stood out so far in 2018?
Calen Holt averaged 5.1 yards per carry last season, but in his senior campaign has 150 yards on 20 carries for 7.5 yards per carry. It seems like every time Holt touches the ball he falls forward for a first down. Like a lot of Army backs, he’s a tough runner that is hard to bring down once he gets going.
As far as Hopkins’ targets are concerned, who has the best chance to deliver the big play this weekend?
Christian Hayes only has three targets this season, but he’s caught all three of them for 87 total yards. He’s also taken one to the house. When the Army passing attack gets a big gainer, it’s likely to be Hayes.
This offense is designed to control possession and limit the opposition’s offensive opportunities, but unfortunately the defense is currently 90th in defensive efficiency. What’s been the biggest issue on that end?
The defense line has struggled getting immediate pressure up front. Service academies tend to struggle in the trenches. Weight requirements limit the ability to recruit a certain type of player, and it shows along the defensive front. Army ranks 121st in defensive line havoc rate, but 7th in defensive back havoc rate. That inability to get pressure up front limits the amount of stops behind the line. When you struggle to stop the run, and you don’t get many stops for negative or no gain, offenses take what you give them.
Which players on defense should Oklahoma fans be aware of?
James Nachtigal is the senior leader at linebacker. He’s 6’0, 235 and fills the gaps quickly up front. He has 2.5 run stuffs and a TFL this season. After that is a pair of junior defensive backs in Elijah Riley and Jaylon McClinton. They combine for 24.5 tackles, 3 tackles for losses, 3 passes defensed, and an interception. The defensive backs are the strength of this team and these two get things started.
Jeff Monken inherited a program that had been mired in on-field mediocrity for years, but Army has gone 20-9 since the beginning of the 2016 season. What’s been the key to turning things around?
It’s taken recruiting a different type of player, but above all else the program didn’t believe they could win. Coming off the long losing streak to Navy, the players were beaten down, and at times it felt like the streak might not ever end. Monken has done an outstanding job getting players to buy in and now that he has a competent passer in Hopkins, the offense is far more dynamic.
We’ll certainly see plenty of Army veterans and current servicemen and women at Saturday’s game, but how much of a West Point/Army Black Knights contingent do you think we should expect this week?
Of course, Army has more than the traditional 85 players on the roster, but in all there are 27 players from states which touch Oklahoma. Most of these hail from Texas, and I am sure they’ll have lots of friends and family in attendance. Likewise, there are Army grads and former servicemen across the area that will enjoy getting to see the Black Knights in their backyard, plus Oklahoma is home to a pretty big Army population in Fort Sill just up the road.
Which service academy appears to have the best squad at this point?
Malcolm Perry at Navy is electric, and their win over Memphis is loud. But, Army is no slouch. The win over Hawaii last week was a big step forward against a team with a fast paced, fun offense. I’m not handicapper but I’d peg Navy as a couple point favorite if they played today.
What’s one fact about West Point that you think Oklahoma fans should be aware of?
FBS football isn’t the only football played at West Point. Sprint Football is limited to players of 178 pounds or less, and it was started at Army back in 1957. And yes, Army is the defending national champions.
Who was more of a hardass -- Former Army basketball coach Bobby Knight or West Point grad George Armstrong Custer?
Few people could throw a chair like Bobby Knight, but I must pick the man who literally made the South quit way back in 1865.
Does Army beat the spread? Why or why not?
Who is the greatest West Point alum of them all?
In football terms it’s Doc Blanchard. He was a three-time national champion, three-time All-American, and won the Heisman back in 1945. Blanchard was nicknamed Mr. Inside and Glenn Davis Mr. Outside. You don’t get that kind of nickname by mistake. Otherwise, that’s none other than General George S. Patton.
What is it about Navy that Army hates the most?
I asked a Navy grad friend of mine what his thoughts were on this. His response — Navy does almost exactly everything we (Army) do, except better. I believe that sentence sums it up. It’s way more fun to sing the alma mater the second after beating Navy.