Army not intimidated by Sooners

September 20, 2018 ▪ By Ray Dozier

The No. 5 Sooners (3-0) are one of the top scoring teams in the country with an average of 46.7 points per game (10th). In order for them to put up a bunch of points Saturday against Army (2-1), the defense will have to force the Black Knights to plenty of three-and-outs. Kickoff is slated for 6 p.m. on pay-per-view.

The Cadets lead the nation in time of possession, holding the ball an average of two-thirds of a game. They run the triple option, not as well as Oklahoma ran it in the Barry Switzer days, but Army currently ranks sixth in rushing with 306.7 yards per game. Rarely do they throw the ball (only 17 percent of the time).

The Black Knights have accomplished most of their yards with a power fullback attack. Quarterback Kelvin Hopkins is the team’s leading rusher with 206 yards, but the fullback trio of Darnell Woolfolk, Calen Holt, and Connor Slomka have combined for 491 yards and six touchdowns (53 percent of rushing output).

Hopkins has completed only 18 of 38 passes for 420 yards and 2 TDs. Glenn Coates leads with 4 catches (52 yards), and Camden Harrison and Christian Hayes each have three grabs, and each has scored a touchdown.

The Cadets are allowing 386.7 total yards per game (275.0 passing and 111.7 rushing) and just a 29 percent (8 of 28) third-down conversion rate. The defense has yielded 23 points per game (58th). Linebacker James Natchtigal leads the defense with 18 tackles and one sack. Linebacker Kenneth Brinson and safety James Gibson have 2 sacks apiece.

Zach Potter and Nick Schrage have been sharing punting duties, but Schrage seems to have the better leg with a 47.8-yard average to 31.2 for Potter. Kicker Landon Salvers is perfect on his PATs, but he’s missed three of his four field goal attempts.

Army lost to Duke, 34-17, on the road to open the season. The Blue Devils rolled to a 17-0 lead and never looked back. The next week, the Black Knights jumped to a 24-0 lead en route to a 38-14 win over Liberty in West Point.

Hawaii came to West Point in the third week with a 3-0 record, but the Cadets handed the Warriors their first loss with a 28-21 victory.

Kyler Murray keeps racking up Big 12, and national honors as OU’s quarterback, plus his name is near the top of the list of Heisman Trophy hopefuls. The junior was named the Big 12 Conference Offensive Player of the Week for the second straight week by completing 21 of 29 passes for a career high 348 yards in leading the Sooners to a 37-27 win over Iowa State. Murray also garnered the Maxwell Award Player of the Week honor. Last week, he received the Walter Camp National Offensive Player of the Week and the Davey O'Brien National Quarterback of the Week following his performance the previous Saturday against UCLA.

Murray has completed 49 of 73 passing (67.1%) for 863 yards with 8 TDs and one pick. His QB rating of 199.8 is currently sixth in the nation. Murray also leads Oklahoma with 169 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns. Murray’s offensive production of 1,032 total yards and 10 TDs is one yard less than Baker Mayfield produced through three games a year ago, and matches Mayfield’s scoring output.

Murray is the favorite win the Heisman, according to ESPN’s recent Heisman Watch Experts’ Poll. If he does win it, he would be the first different player at the same school to garner the award since Doc Blanchard and Glen Davis did it 72 years ago for Army.

Most of Murray’s production has come from the help of his primary target Marquise Brown, who has 19 receptions for 412 yards and three scores. Cee Dee Lamb also has double-digit catches with a dozen for 225 yards and 2 TDs.

Oklahoma’s passing game has been phenomenal, but the running game could use improvement now that Rodney Anderson is out for the season. Trey Sermon had 12 carries for 77 yards against ISU, and he had a great run on his 22-yard touchdown. Marcelias Sutton and T.J. Pledger had a combined 22 yards on 10 carries. A ground game is vital to threaten foes with a balanced attack this week and for the rest of the Big 12 slate. Kennedy Brooks is likely to see action this week.

The return game in special teams, which had big plays in the first two contests, didn’t produce long gains against the Cyclones, but Austin Seibert stood out for his kicking chores to be named the Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week. The senior made a career-high-tying three field goals on three attempts, including a crucial 42-yarder with 2:51 remaining in the fourth quarter. He punted twice for an average of 48.5 yards and all eight of Seibert's kickoffs resulted in touchbacks.

The Sooners’ defense must be careful if they load the box to stop the run. Army, which leads the nation with 23.3 yards per completion, would love for the OU secondary to fall asleep on pass routes and throw a bomb for a touchdown. Oklahoma’s front seven must stay in their lanes, play assignment football and be disciplined. The Sooners defense has allowed 116 rushing yards (34th) per game and has the speed to get to Army’s backs before a big play happens.

The Knights are susceptible to the pass. They allowed more than 300 yards to Liberty and Hawaii and both foes combined to complete only 56 percent of their passes. Duke’s quarterback completed 13 of 17 but for 197 yards. The Cadets haven’t seen the likes of Murray, so far.

Oklahoma linebackers’ coach Tim Kish, who coached at Army from 1984-91, said the Black Knights aren’t going to be intimidated by a highly-ranked team like Oklahoma.

“They are not gonna be intimidated by anybody,” Kish said. “They’re gonna come in here full excitement and to be in front of a big crowd like this is gonna make things even more exciting for them as players.

“They’re a different breed of athlete. You’re looking at a bit different type of mentality there.”

Sooners 48, Black Knights 20.

Fast Facts

  • OU leads the series 2-1, including two straight wins.
  • OU is favored by 31.
  • Lincoln Riley is 15-2 (.882) overall; 7-1 at home; 11-1 vs. unranked opponents.
  • Army coach Jeff Monken is 62-43 (.590) overall; 26-27 (.491) at Army; 6-15 on the road; 1-3 vs. ranked foes.
  • OU is 6-1 in games played on September 22.
  • Army is 3-4-1 in games played on September 22, including three straight losses.

Articles by Ray Dozier