Siege of the Black Knights: Ohio State-Army Preview

Have you ever had reservations at a really nice restaurant, the kind of place everyone wants to go eat? The fated day arrives and you get all dressed up to go, hardly able to contain your excitement. You get there and are just woefully disappointed. You can’t believe how underwhelming the meal is. The evening deteriorates, and the whole experience leaves a bad taste in your mouth. In a fit of hunger and rage you drive to McDonald’s where it might not be as healthy in the long term, but the fries are juuust right. The No. 8 Ohio State Buckeyes hope that Oklahoma was the fancy restaurant and the Army Black Knights will be the franchise.

Saturday marks the first ever meeting between OSU and Army. The Black Knights are one of a handful of Independents in college football along with the other service academies, Notre Dame, and BYU. The Knights have three National Championships to their name – 1944, 1945, and 1946. Last season Army went 8-5 with a win in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, but more importantly they finally bested Navy, snapping a fourteen game Midshipmen winning streak.

The Black Knights have started strong in 2017 with wins over Fordham (FCS) and Buffalo. In the face of a more pass-happy country, all coaches at some point talk about establishing the run game. Army has taken that tact to heart; in the first two games the Black Knight offense has attempted eight passes (two completions for 17 yards) compared with 79 rush attempts. That means 91% of the school’s offensive plays have involved toting the rock. It’s safe to assume they will keep the ball on the ground in Columbus.

Senior quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw leads the team with 34 attempts for 324 yards (9.5 yards per carry) and three touchdowns. Junior running back Darnell Wolfolk is second with 31 attempts, 186 yards, and three scores. Defensively, senior defensive end John Voit and senior linebacker Alex Aukerman attack the quarterback with 1.5 and 2.0 sacks, respectively.

Ohio State’s offense through two games leaves a lot to be desired. The Bucks started slow against Indiana, but found a rhythm in the second half on their way to a 49-21 victory. Against Oklahoma the offense constantly looked lost, and could barely string a drive together finishing with 350 yards in a 31-16 loss. Through two games, freshman tailback J.K. Dobbins has 253 net yards and a touchdown, averaging six yards per touch. Quarterback J.T. Barrett is 39-for-70 passing (55.7 completion percentage) for 487 yards, three touchdowns, and a pick. In the wake of last week’s loss plenty of Ohio State fans were surveying the depth chart to see who is the second string signal caller (It’s redshirt freshman Dwayne Haskins, btw), but Barrett has more than earned his stripes and will remain the starter.

College football’s punishingly short season means the season can hang on every game. For a power program like the Buckeyes who believe every season is “National Title or Bust” then losing in Week 2 can be a bitter pill to swallow. The good news is, all is not lost for the Scarlet and Gray. The Bucks were in a similar situation in 2014, 1-1 with a demoralizing home loss in Week 2. That club won their next ten games, the conference title game, the Sugar Bowl, and inaugural CFP Championship. Each of the first three CFP Champs have had one loss. The stakes are certainly raised for Ohio State moving forward, though. If they want to keep the dream alive then it’s likely OSU will need to run the table. The good news is that the next legitimate test for the Bucks will come October 14 when they visit Lincoln, Nebraska to play the Cornhuskers. They’ll have time to iron out the kinks between now and then.

Army is by no means a pushover. Under head coach Jeff Monken the Black Knights have been steadily growing, going from two wins in 2015 to eight in 2016. The Buckeyes, however should have more talent on both sides of the ball with a strong defensive line which will be able to stand up to the Army rushing attack. All eyes will no doubt be on the Buckeye offense to see how they are developing. Offensive Coordinator Kevin Wilson will get another chance to win over some doubters this Saturday afternoon. If the Bucks win then the McDonald’s is his treat.