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Wake vs. Army: Initial Thoughts

Bowl eligibility is within reach as the Deacs host the Black Knights.

NCAA Football: Wake Forest at Army Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

Familiar Foes

Wake has a bit of history with Army. The teams have met 15 times, with Army picking up some lopsided wins early in the series (including 54-0 in 1945 and 47-0 in 1963). However, Wake is on a 9 game winning streak that dates back to 1990 and includes wins each of the past four years. That’s not to say the wins have been easy: in both of the last two matchups, Wake needed fourth quarter scores to escape with three point wins. Last year, Mike Weaver kicked a season-long 47 yard field goal, into the wind, with time expiring, off a bad snap (with a great recovery by the holder, Alex Kinal), to win it for Wake (#DreamWeaver).

This will be the fifth straight year these two teams meet. I think it’s safe to say that when it comes to playing Army, familiarity does not breed contempt. What it does do is give the staff and upperclassmen (particularly on defense) a chance to be a bit more comfortable with the concepts behind Army’s famous triple option offense. Thankfully, it also means we can rely on some of our past work to describe the scheme. Here is a great article Riley wrote a few years back that has been updated and gives an introduction to the triple option and how to defend it.

Rush Yds 329 348 426 396 165 533 302
TOP 35:48 40:12 41:40 36:24 26:58 32:39 37:26

The triple option is very hard to execute, but if it’s done correctly it can be a powerful tool to control the flow of games. The chart above shows Army’s rush yards and time of possession per game. Army has exceeded 300 yards on the ground in 6 out of 7 games, and has averaged around 36 minutes of possession (60% of the game).

The 2016 Black Knights

Result W 28-13 W 31-14 W 66-14 L 23-20 L 13-6 W 62-7 L 35-18
Opp. Rank 51 145 172 183 61 224 120

As you can see, Army’s season has been all over the place so far. They opened the season with a 15-point win on the road at Temple, a solid team that is currently ranked 51st by Sagarin (for reference, Wake is 63rd). The next two wins were not against tough opponents, but nonetheless powered Army to its first 3-0 start in 20 years.

However, in the four games since that hot start, Army has gone 1-3. The closest matchup to a game at Wake was the game Army played at Duke in the outer bands of Hurricane Matthew. Unlike Syracuse, who Wake faced in similar conditions that weekend, Army is not known for throwing the ball and you might think the weather would play into their strengths. Nonetheless, the Black Knights barely managed to crack 200 yards of offense and only put up one score. The other two losses in Army’s past four games have come at Buffalo and home against UNT. Army’s only win was against Lafayette, an FCS team that doesn’t crack the top 200 in Sagarin’s rankings.

So, it’s hard to tell much about this week’s game from Army’s season so far. Against teams that are ranked similarly to Wake, Army is 1-1. Against teams that are ranked far worse than Wake, Army is 3-2 and on a 2 game losing streak.

[Insert Sponsor]’s Keys to the Game

Ultimately, it looks like there are three ways to put pressure on Army. One is to disrupt the triple option and limit yards on the ground, which so far only Duke has been able to do.

TO (forced) 0 (3) 0 (2) 0 (2) 2 (1) 3 (1) 1 (2) 7 (1)

Another is to win the turnover battle. In four wins, Army committed just one turnover and enjoyed a +8 TO margin. In three losses, the Black Knights have turned the ball over 12 times for a TO margin of -9. Granted, a huge chunk of that came last week against UNT in what Army fans have to hope was a fluke. The team coughed up three fumbles (after recovering four of its seven total fumbles), and threw four interceptions including one in each of the last three Army drives of the game. Still, Army’s fortunes this year have moved with the TO margin: it has won every game in which it won the turnover battle, and vice versa. For what it’s worth, Wake has a TO margin of +6 through 7 games this year (which, if it holds, will be its first positive TO margin since 2012).

The last is simply to take the lead. That’s really cutting-edge advice, I know. But, Army’s possession-focused offense is very good at maintaining and building on leads as time ticks away. It’s less effective when Army needs to make up ground, particularly in a hurry. Forcing Army to pass the ball, either by shutting down the run or by building a solid lead, could be a boon for Wake. Army’s leading quarterback, junior Ahmad Bradshaw, has completed just 40.7% of his passes this year for under 50 yards a game to go with 1 touchdown and 5 interceptions (heavily influenced by four picks in the UNT game where the Black Knights were fighting from behind).

Ahmad Bradshaw 22 54 329 40.7 1 5
Chris Carter 9 17 176 52.9 2 1
Malik McGue 2 2 63 100.0 1 0
Joe Walker 1 1 12 100.0 0 0

As has sometimes been the case in past years, Army does have a “passing quarterback” in sophomore Chris Carter. He’s only thrown 17 passes, but is completing at a higher clip (52.9%) and has 2 touchdowns to just one interception. However, he injured his hand against Lafayette and was held out during last week’s game. From what I can tell, he is questionable to play against Wake. A final note on Army’s passing scheme: look out for passes from the running back position, as the RBs have completed 3 of 3 for 75 yards and a touchdown this year.

This game kicks off Wake’s home-heavy slate of games to end the season. A win, of course, would make the Deacs bowl eligible for the first time since 2011. It would also be a good sign for the upcoming games against UVA and Boston College, as both are currently ranked lower than Army. The past two years have shown that this game can be a nail-biter, but I’m optimistic that Clawson will have the team prepared after a well-timed bye week. Go Deacs!