This Saturday, Army looks to cap off their magical 10-2 season with an Armed Forces Bowl victory over the 8-4 Houston Cougars out of the American Athletic Conference.
Saturday will be a very special day for the Black Knights. Although having a bowl reserved specifically for them each year, Army has always struggled to reach the 6-win mark. The program has played in just 7 bowls. The Black Knights have made the most of their opportunities, sporting a 5-2 record in these games despite being favored just twice.
The matchup on the 22nd will be Army’s 8th bowl game. The Knights are riding a 3-game bowl win streak and are favored by 3.5 points over the Cougars.
Houston is no stranger to the postseason, appearing in what will be their 28th bowl game in school history. 2018 marks the 6th straight campaign in which the Cougars have been invited to go bowling.
Ironically, Houston has appeared more frequently in the Armed Forces Bowl than the game’s namesake Army. In the past decade, the Cougars have played in this game 3 times (2008, 2009, 2015), winning it twice. The Black Knights have appeared just twice in the past decade (2010, 2017) but have won both contests.
Bowl season has not been kind to the Cougars lately as they are looking to shake a 2-game bowl losing streak by pulling the upset down in Fort Worth, TX on the 22nd.
Houston and Army Coaching Comparison
Bowl season is the postseason of college football. Unlike the postseason formats of other sports, most teams playing in bowl games are not playing for a shot at the title. Many times this lack of incentive will cause a team to come out flat, leading to an ugly blowout. Coaching matters so much in bowl games. Some coaches treat bowl games as must-win, tone-setting, momentum-building fights while others treat them as an exhibition and a fun experience.
Jeff Monken inherited a 3-9 Black Knights team in 2014 and has successfully turned the program around, now boasting back-to-back double-digit win seasons. His perfect 2-0 bowl record indicates he takes these games seriously, especially considering one of those wins was as the underdog.
Across the field, Major Applewhite has seen decent success throughout his 2 full seasons at the helm of the Cougars but is still chasing that elusive first bowl victory. At 0-2, Applewhite is looking to turn his bowl record around and see that awesome name of his up in lights. The Cougars team he inherited was once ranked as high as #6 in 2016. Applewhite is trying to get back to the top, and it starts with a bowl win on Saturday.
Comparing Play Styles of Houston and Army
If you looked only at Houston’s geographical location and the final scores of their games, you would think they are playing in the Big 12. This Cougars team has won games this year by a final score of 46-34.
Houston’s offense qualifies as prolific, at least it did before sensational junior dual-threat quarterback D’Eriq King went down with a knee injury. King had thrown for 2,982 yards this year (26th in the nation) while also throwing 36 TD passes and completing 63.5% of his 345 attempts.
His replacement, freshman Clayton Tune, has not been in the same key as his receivers. Since taking over, Tune has thrown for 565 yards and 7 touchdowns but with a dismally inefficient 44.7% completion rate.
Fortunately, the Cougars can also run the ball, boasting the nation’s 21st best rushing attack. Junior back Patrick Carr has gained 816 yards on the ground this year while the quarterback, King, had rushed for a whopping 674 yards himself before being injured. Tune is strictly a pocket passer, and Carr will need to do the lion’s share of the work if Houston is to move the ball on the ground.
Army has one thing on their mind … running the triple option. It’s really all they do. Passing is a last resort for the Black Knights and is a sign they are losing late in the game. Sophomore quarterback Kelvin Hopkins Jr. has only thrown the ball 90 times this year. With a 53.3% completion percentage, it is safe to say Army does not rely on the pass game to move the football.
Both Hopkins and Army’s main running back Darnell Woolfolk have rushed for over 850 yards and are the major contributors to the Knight’s 4th ranked rushing attack. Although they can move the ball steadily, Army loves to play methodically and chew clock. This causes each side to have fewer possessions which lowers the average score for each side. Army has won this season by an average final score of 30-18.
You would think that with an offense as predictable as the triple option, Army would struggle in bowl games. With so much time to study and prepare, it would seem that opposing defenses would shut the Knight’s running game right down. This does not happen, though.
Army has proven over the years that they are a very good team in bowl games (5-2 SU record). Their head coach has never lost a bowl game. Army is a military school playing in the Armed Forces Bowl, a bowl in which they have never lost.
Army -3.5 (-110)
Houston +3.5 (-110)
I would have an extremely hard time picking against Army in this one. Go Knights!