Notre Dame heads to San Antonio, needing a win this weekend for any chance to make it to Brian Kelly’s seventh-straight postseason. And in the Black Knights, the Irish have a foe that’s fitting—a double-digit underdog, but one who presents some of the same challenges that made Navy so difficult.
Jeff Monken’s third Army team has shown considerable improvements. They’ve won big games, beating Wake Forest and Temple while hanging tight with Duke. But coming off a tough loss to Air Force that ends their chance at winning the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy, The Black Knights come to the Shamrock Series hoping to spring an upset, the latest opponents to add to Notre Dame’s nightmare season.
In a crazy week, Sal Interdanto of the Times Herald-Record steps in and saves us. After doing three or four of the same Q&As, Sal pumped these answers out in the midnight hours, and corrected a few of my mistakes as well.
It feels like the Air Force loss took quite a bit from Army’s sails. Coming off an impressive win against Wake Forest, and after a really nice start to the season, can you give us an update on where the Irish find this Black Knights team?
The Black Knights have proved to be a very resilient team this season and I wouldn’t expect a hangover from the Air Force game. Army had to overcome the passing of Brandon Jackson, its best cornerback, to a car accident on Sept. 11. The Black Knights rebounded with its biggest win of the season at Wake Forest after a 17-point home loss to North Texas.
One thing that’s just striking is Army’s defensive success. Alex Aukerman and Andrew King are putting up really nice numbers with King grading out incredibly impressive against the run, too. What does defensive coordinator Jay Bateman do that’s so effective?
Bateman has mixed up defensive packages to fit his talent. Army will occasionally play with a lone defensive lineman, five linebackers and five defensive backs. He’s moved Aukerman around as an outside linebacker, defensive end and over the center. Army also has some depth at defensive line where it can rotate fresh players, something it hasn’t done much of in the past.
Offensively, Army seems to be struggling lately, especially against their stiffer competition. For Irish fans who just saw Will Worth and Navy’s triple-option pitch what might as well have been a perfect game, what does Ahmad Bradshaw bring that makes this unit scary and what might be different?
When Army’s offense is rolling, Bradshaw is making all the right reads in the triple-option. Bradshaw is not a game-breaking threat. He has just three rushes of 20 yards or more this season. Bradshaw is a strong runner, who breaks tackles and moves the chains.
Jeff Monken is making strides. The defense is obviously vastly improved. Wins against teams like Temple, and Wake Forest are huge steps forward. But Army is 0-5 against fellow service academies. Is that the next step for Monken—beating Air Force and Navy? Two-thirds of the way through year three, does it feel like he’s on the right track?
Most Army fans would probably take a win over Navy in December breaking a 14-game losing streak to the Midshipmen over playing in a bowl game. The service-academy games carry that much weight. Army has improved its talent and toughness under Monken. The 31-12 loss to Air Force last week proves Army still has ground to make up amongst service academies.
The urgency for Notre Dame is obvious. You could say the same for Army. Is the formula different for a Black Knights win?
Army’s best chance for a win is to control the clock with its offense. Time-consuming touchdown drives are a staple in the triple option. When Notre Dame’s offense is on the field, Army needs to find a way to pressure DeShone Kizer. If Kizer has all day to throw, it could be a long day for the Black Knights.