HEAD TO HEAD: ARMY VS. BUFFALO

Army meets Buffalo on Saturday at West Point. ArmySports.com's Jim Lawler compares the two teams in several critical areas. He also makes a prediction on the game's final score.

The Army Black Knights open the Jeff Monken era against the MAC conference Buffalo Bulls this Saturday at Michie Stadium. The Buffalo Bulls opened their 2014 season with a 38-28 win over FCS Duquesne. The Bulls are coming off their best season in their history (8-5). Last season Army finished a disappointing 3-9 which led to the coaching change. Buffalo has won both games in the series.

ARMY PASSING OFFENSE
VS.
BUFFALO PASSING DEFENSE
EDGE: BUFFALO
REMARKS: Army's starting quarterback will be senior Angel Santiago. In 2013 he completed just 49.5 percent of his passes for 559 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He didn't throw the ball with much consistency last fall. His targets should improve this year now that the two sophomore starting wide receivers have a year under their respective belts. Xavier Moss started as a plebe and led the team with 35 receptions for 463 yards and a touchdown. He averaged 13.2 yards per catch. Moss has good speed and can run past an unsuspecting cornerback. He's caught a 75-yard touchdown pass against Boston College and had a 51-yard reception against Morgan State. Edgar Poe, his teammate at USMAPS in 2012, impressed me as a physical blocker and a big target with the ability to get open. Kelvin White has been moved from quarterback to tight end. Army has four new starters on the offensive line so the quality of the pass protection is an unknown at this point.

Buffalo was ranked 22nd in the nation last year in pass defense. Their best player is strong safety Adam Redden (65 tackles, 12.5 for loss, 4.5 sacks) who earned third team All-MAC pick last year. Redden had seven tackles, including a pair of sacks, in the opening day win over Duquesne. Cornerback Courtney Lester led the Bulls with three interceptions last fall. The Bulls have an inexperienced defense after graduating All-American linebacker Khalil Mack and returning only four starters. The good news for the Bulls is that their secondary has two of their best returning players in Redden and Lester. Buffalo allowed three touchdown passes against Duquesne but held them to a 48.6 percent completion percentage and had four sacks.

ARMY RUSHING OFFENSE
VS.
BUFFALO RUSHING DEFENSE
EDGE: ARMY
REMARKS: The Black Knights finished third in the nation rushing for over 313 yards per game in 2013. Angel Santiago limited turnovers until the finale against Navy when he had a very rough game off the bench. Santiago (593 rushing yards, 3.5 avg., 10 TDs in 2013) main issue is that he isn't a playmaker as a runner in the new spread option that asks the quarterback to be one. Co-captain "B" back Larry Dixon demonstrated his toughness when he played against Navy with a cast on his broken wrist. Last fall Dixon ran 111 times for 705 yards, averaged 6.4 yards per carry and scored six times. First team All-Independent running back senior Terry Baggett ran for 1,113 yards, a 7.9 average and eight touchdowns last year. Slotback Tony Giovannelli (223 rushing yards, 7.4 avg.) impressed the new staff with his running, hands, intensity and leadership. Fifth year senior Raymond Maples missed time this summer rehabbing an injury. He hasn't practice much at all since being injured last year against Stanford. Army has four new starters on the offensive line.

The Bulls 3-4 defense is ranked 67th in the nation against the run. They allowed over 168 rushing yards per game last year. Buffalo held Duquesne to 174 rushing yards and 3.6 yards per carry in their opening day victory. Inside linebacker Lee Skinner (79 tackles in 2013), is a active run stuffer. He made seven tackles in the opening day win. The three-man front returns starting nose tackle Kristjan Sokoli . He is had a career game in the opener with seven tackles, 1.5 for a loss and he knocked down two passes at the line of scrimmage.

BUFFALO PASSING OFFENSE
VS.
ARMY PASSING DEFENSE
EDGE: BUFFALO
REMARKS: Buffalo’s junior quarterback Joe Licata had a nice game in the victory over Duquesne. He completed 25 of 36 passes for 298 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. Licata is completely recovered from hip surgery that caused him to miss spring practice. Last year he completed 58 percent of his passes for 2,824 passing yards and 24 touchdowns against only eight interceptions. Licata lost a lot of his weapons from last year but this is a good offensive team. Junior wide receiver Ron Willoughby, who had three career catches entering the 2014 campaign, had a monster opening game with 10 catches for 132 yards and two touchdowns. Licata did a good job of distributing the football as he connected with eight different receivers. The Bulls use a wide open one back and four wide receiver attack.

The Black Knights pass defense was ranked 19th in the nation last year when Army allowed over 205 passing yards a game. Army's pass defense numbers are skewed because it was so easy to run the ball on the Black Knights that teams didn't accumulate a lot of passing yards. The opposition did complete 61.8 percent of their passes and threw 19 touchdowns against Army. Still the secondary is probably the strength of the 2014 Army defense. Sophomore cornerback Josh Jenkins has fine man coverage skills, is a playmaker and matches up well athletically. Junior cornerback Chris Carnegie had a few rough moments last fall but generally his coverage is steady and fairly consistent even if he doesn't make many plays on the ball. At free safety senior co-captain Geoffrey Bacon is Army’s most athletic defender. He earned All-East honors. He has made 259 tackles during his West Point career. Strong safety Hayden Pierce is a very alert player and a sure open field tackler who has trouble staying healthy. Army fans hope the new 3-4 defense can generate more pressure than the Black Knights did last year when they recorded only 16 sacks.

BUFFALO RUSHING OFFENSE
VS.
ARMY RUSHING DEFENSE
EDGE: BUFFALO
REMARKS: Buffalo employs mostly a one back attack and spreads the field. Last year they averaged over 170 rushing yards per game. Junior running back Anthone Taylor is the new starter. He posted his third career 100-yard game with 115 yards on a career-high 30 carries and two touchdowns against Duquesne. He paced a running attack that rushed for 174 yards as a team. Sophomore Jordan Johnson rushed for 38 yards on nine carries. He converted key third-down-and-short conversions late in the game. Licata is a pure pocket passer without much mobility. Buffalo returns four starters on a good veteran offensive line.

Army was only 103rdth in the country against the run last year. The Black Knights allowed 216 rushing yards per game. Army's senior front line of Mike Ugenyi, nose guard Richard Glover and Joe Drummond are undersized but Black Knight fans hope the new 3-4 scheme and the growing pains this group has experienced will finally pay some dividends on the field. Glover impressed the new staff this spring. The linebackers will be comprised of almost all new starters with former USMAPS teammates, sophomores Andrew King and Jeremy Timpf handling the inside spots. New Rush linebacker James Kelly has played in 23 games the last two years and has started six games but at a different position.

SPECIAL TEAMS
EDGE: BUFFALO
REMARKS: Devin Campbell is a dangerous kick returner. Last year he averaged 23.9 yards on 28 kickoffs and returned one for a touchdown. Marcus McGill is the new punt returner. Buffalo kicker Patrick Clarke hit 13 of 20 field goal attempts in 2013. He recorded five field goals of 40 yards or more including going 2-for-2 from beyond 50 yards. Clarke hit one of two attempts and had three touchbacks in seven attempts during the opener. Punter Tyler Grassman averaged 40 yards per punt last season and placed 26 punts inside the 20-yard line. He recorded seven punts of 50 or more yards.

Junior Daniel Grochowski will be the Army kicker for the third straight year. In 2013 he made eight of eleven field goal attempts and all his extra points. He had 14 touchbacks on 48 kickoffs. Junior Punter Alex Tardieu returns. He averaged 37.3 yards on 51 punts in his first season as Army's punter. Tardieu does a nice job directionally punting. Only 16 of his 51 punts were returned. Jeff Monken spent a lot of time focusing on special teams. It was for a good reason. Army had the worse return game in the FBS last year. Josh Jenkins has excellent speed and hands and should help on returns. He looked good in practice.

COACHING
EDGE: EVEN
REMARKS: Fifth year head coach Jeff Quinn has done a nice job at Buffalo. Quinn has improved the teams record each year since he was hired. Quinn led the Bulls to an 8-5 record in 2013 and their second ever bowl appearance. The eight wins were the most in the regular season since the Bulls made the move to the FBS in 1999. The Bulls also won a school-record six Mid-American Conference games. Quinn had great success as an offensive coordinator at Cincinnati and Central Michigan before he became a head coach. As offensive coordinator and offensive line coach at Cincinnati he helped the Bearcats compile a 33-6 record. He has an excellent defensive coordinator in former Illinois head coach Lou Tepper.

Jeff Monken was named the 37th head coach in Army football history this off season. Monken takes over the struggling Black Knights after a successful four year tenure as a head coach at Georgia Southern where he posted a 38-16 record (70.4%). His GSU teams made three straight appearances in FCS Semifinals before slumping to 7-4 in 2013. Monken engineered the upset of the year when George Southern went to Florida and beat the Gators 26-20 in the Swamp without completing a pass.

INTANGIBLES
EDGE: ARMY
REMARKS: Buffalo does not have far to travel and will be ready to play. They have won both of the previous games in the series. Buffalo won its opener and having a game under their belt is usually an advantage. Army fans and players will be pumped up for the new Jeff Monken era to begin. Army usually plays much better at home.

PREDICTION: BUFFALO 31, ARMY 24. This is a very winnable game but I don't like the match-ups for the Black Knights. Passing teams like Buffalo that can spread Army out the defense and put players in space have given them fits for years. The Bulls have already played a game and even if they weren't all that great it is an advantage. Army went through a challenging and hard summer camp that was necessary to change the culture but it left the offensive line and some key players hurt. With the new offensive line and defensive scheme I believe there will be some growing pains especially early in the year. I hope I'm wrong.

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