2016 Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl Preview
It’s one of the most rare things in college football: the bowl game that serves as a rematch of a regular season game. With the plethora of bowl games and the regional nature of the college football season schedule, you would think this wouldn’t happen. But it does, and that’s exactly what the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl gives us this season. The Army Black Knights (7-5) face the North Texas Mean Green (5-7) in the historic Cotton Bowl and try to avenge an embarrassing loss earlier in the season. This Dallas do-over promises to be a dousy.
What: Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl
Where: Cotton Bowl, Dallas, Texas
When: 12:00 EST, Tuesday, December 27th
Rematch or Redo?
It’s always intriguing — albeit usually not useful — to look at the regular season results when looking at bowl rematches. That’s particularly tempting in this game. A quick look at the scoreline indicates a dominate 35-18 North Texas win against Army in mid-October at West Point, no less. But that probably won’t serve as an adequate preamble to this contest. In that October game, played in wet and blustery Hudson Valley weather, Army turned the ball over an incredible seven times. Three of North Texas’ five touchdowns came off of Army turnovers, including a pick-6. That pick-6 was one of four Army interceptions on the day. In fact, the statistics would make one think that Army was the victor that day. The Cadets outgained the Mean Green 403-320, had 24 first downs to 15, and had a 37:26-to-22:34 advantage in time of possession. But it’s hard to overcome seven turnovers, no matter how many yards you gain or how much time you have the ball.
If the game turns out to be a rematch and Army continues to cough up the ball to North Texas, you can expect a similar result. But if it is a redo, and Army can hold on to the ball, the Black Knights will justify their sizable favorite status. Army enters the game an 11-point favorite even after losing at home in the regular season and North Texas playing 44 miles from their campus.
On the March
Army comes into this game with momentum. Head coach Jeff Monken‘s squad is sitting at seven wins. That marks only the second winning season since 1996 (2010). A win in Dallas would be the most wins in a season since the 10 wins in the 1996 campaign. More importantly, Army is coming off a win against Navy for the first time in 15 years. Ending the losing streak to Navy is the biggest boost possible for an Army team going into a bowl game.
Army’s offense is on the march as well. The triple-option Army attack is second in the nation in rushing offense, averaging 327 yards per game. The Black Knights trail only New Mexico. Of course, they are also last in the nation in passing offense and are the only team that averages less than 100 passing yards per game (76 ypg). Quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw leads the Black Knight attack.
North Texas’ defensive unit will struggle to maintain the Army offense. The Mean Green are much better at pass defense and their run defense is suspect. They yield an average of 216 yards per game on the ground in a pass happy Conference USA (Western Kentucky, Louisiana Tech) and also allow opposing teams an average of 72 plays per game.
Holding the Line
Most everyone knows about Army’s rushing attack, though. What you might not know is that Army ranks 4th nationally in total defense. The teams ahead of them? Alabama, Michigan, Temple, and Ohio State (tied). This is very deceptive though, with the Army rushing attack limiting opposition possessions and total number of plays. Still, you don’t rank in the top five nationally in any category without being good in that category.
Army will have the advantage on this side of the ball as the Mean Green’s offense has yet to find a rhythm this season. Adding on to North Texas’ offensive woes this season is their injury/availability status. Quarterback Mason Fine is not expected to play due to a shoulder injury. Senior Alec Morris will likely get the start. Morris’ stat line is average, going 79-of-147 (53.7%) for 822 yards, six touchdowns and six interceptions in five game appearances this season. Morris started the last two games of the season. Additionally, North Texas will be without their top two running backs, Jeffrey Wilson and Willy Ivery, as reported by Brett Vito of the Denton Record-Chronicle. Wilson is out due to a knee injury and Ivery is acdemically ineligible following the fall semester.
This will likely be a complete opposite of the regular season game. Expect Army to come in focused and determined, still riding the momentum of the Navy win. They have an opportunity to give the Academy its best season in over two decades. And they are still playing for the memory of a deceased teammate, Brandon Jackson, who died in a car accident earlier in the season.
Additionally, North Texas is without their top three offensive players. That, coupled with their suspect rush defense, will make it tough to go 2-0 against Army this season.
Army 42, North Texas 24