Notre Dame Runs Over Army; Shuts Down Black Knights Rushing Attack
(SAN ANTONIO, TX) — It’s been a season of starts and stops for Jeff Monken’s Army West Point team. The Black Knights started 3-0, including an impressive win against Temple, before dropping games to Buffalo and North Texas. Army bounced back with a win over Wake Forest, their first win against a Power 5 opponent since beating Boston College in 2012. The next week, Army fell to Air Force for the fourth straight season. Sitting at 5-4, and facing a young Notre Dame team that likely won’t make a bowl this year, Army was hoping to beat the Irish for the first time in the last 14 attempts, going all the way back to 1958.
That hope lasted ten seconds.
Notre Dame returner C.J. Sanders took the opening kick-off 92 yards to start the game and Notre Dame never looked back. The Irish scored on every first half possession while the Black Knights struggled to build any momentum whatsoever.
DeShone Kizer Steps On The Gas
Army’s defense has had its moments this season, holding six of their previous opponents to 14 points or less. But none of those previous opponents had DeShone Kizer playing quarterback. Kizer led a Notre Dame offense that scored more points against Army in the first half (38) than any team has scored against Army in an entire game all season long. Kizer’s first half stat line was impressive, although not incredible. He was 13-19 (68%) for 171 yards passing and had five carries for 59 rushing yards in the first half alone. Kizer finished 17-for-28 (61%) for 209 yards, three touchdowns and one interception passing and added 77 rushing yards on 7 carries.
Army’s defense came in to the game ranked sixth in the nation in total defense (286.4) and 13th nationally in scoring defense (18.1). The Irish surpassed that in two quarters of play.
Kizer’s biggest assist came from his offensive line. Kizer had ample time to find open receivers against an out-matched and depleted Army secondary all day long. And when he did face pressure, he either delivered first down throws or gained a first down with his legs.
The Black Knights struggled to get pressure against Kizer all game long. And when defensive coordinator Jay Bateman brought pressure from the second level, the Army secondary couldn’t keep man-on-man coverage with the Irish receivers.
Army Rushing Attack Stalls
But offense hasn’t been Notre Dame’s issue this season. Only twice – in monsoon conditions against North Carolina State and against Stanford, have the Irish scored less than 27 points. It’s the defense that has likely cost Notre Dame a chance at a bowl game this year. Many Black Knight fans thought the Army rushing attack, second in the nation, could exploit the Irish defense and set the stage for an upset.
It was not to be, as the Army offense only mustered 10 first downs for the game. Army’s rushing attack, averaging 320 yards per game, accounted for only 229 yards Saturday. This was against a Notre Dame defense yielding 184 yards rushing per game.
Notre Dame freshman safety Julian Love had one of the best games you will see against an option offense. The Irish moved Love from cornerback to safety and Love didn’t disappoint. He covered the Army slotbacks across the field and was absolutely key in the Irish defensive effort. He put together a very literal “game tape’ performance that opposing coaches will look at for the remainder of Monken’s time at Army.
Army’s starting quarterback, Ahmad Bradshaw, didn’t play because of injury. Chris Carter got his first career start. Monken said afterwards he was proud of Carter and would have to evaluate his decision-making through film.
Special Teams Break Down
Army special teams didn’t fare any better against the Irish. In addition to the opening kickoff return for a touchdown, Army missed an extra point, a short field goal, and had an 18-yard punt. Army already plays with the slimmest of margin of error; special teams is a phase they must win.
Army was out-played in every phase of the game.
Still On Course?
After winning their first three games, Army has now dropped five of seven. It’s hard not to be disappointed after the strong start, but this is a team that has 14 wins in the previous five seasons. As the Black Knights return to Michie Stadium against Morgan State next week, Army should be bowl eligible going into the season finale against Navy. And that’s a vast improvement over the previous five years. That’ll be step one. Beating Navy, that’ll be step two in Monken’s repair project.
A season of starts and stops has stalled in San Antonio. Army hopes to rev the engine back up and become bowl eligibility for the first time since 2010 next week.