Three Keys: Buffalo

Saturday, the Army football team plays a game that it might not win, but Jeff Monken makes his West Point debut against an opponent the Black Knights can certainly defeat. In a bit of fortunate timing, Buffalo does not figure to be the team it was a year ago. Can Army take advantage of that one prominent fact this weekend?


THREE KEYS TO BEATING BUFFALO

1 – Make the Bulls earn every yard and point.
This feels like a cliché, but it encompasses so many basic points of need for Army. Not giving Buffalo cheap yards is a goal which builds off the Navy disaster and all the crucial penalties the Black Knights committed against the Midshipmen last December. Not giving Buffalo cheap points is rooted in the need to display ball security, but it’s also a way of saying that Army’s punting, kick coverage, and kick return games all need to add hidden yards to the Black Knights’ total instead of giving Buffalo those hidden yards and the shorter fields which accompany them. All avenues that head in the direction of simplifying the game for your own side while making the game more difficult and complicated for the opponent are the avenues Army must pursue. This is a generalized game key, sure. It’s also very inclusive, making it a good summary of what the Black Knights need to achieve on Saturday.

2 – Get outside the hashes and, on many occasions, the numbers. This is a reference to the flow of Army’s triple-option plays. Naturally, it’s up to the quarterback to make the right read at the line and as the play begins. If the fullback or power option is there, the ball should be placed in the fullback’s belly, and that’s that. However, if there’s any uncertainty about the flow of a play and where it should go, Army should think about taking plays outside the tackles, either with the quarterback or the pitch man.

Why is this the case? Army needs to consider the need to test Buffalo’s linebackers. Why does Army need to test Buffalo’s linebackers? Because Khalil Mack is no longer on the team, now residing in the NFL. Mack was Buffalo football last season. That might be a slight exaggeration, but not much of one. Mack contributed to the Bulls in so many ways, the fundamental contribution being that he came up with both interceptions and fumble recoveries in addition to making stacks of sacks and tackles. The turnovers Mack had a role in either creating or securing helped Buffalo to make only its second bowl appearance in program history. With Mack out, Buffalo is likely to be a much weaker team this year. Army has to test that pressure point, and in all likelihood, it will need to continue to do so as the game wears on.

3 – Third and eight or more. With four or five yards to go on third down, Army can still run the triple option and expect to either get a first down or create a fourth and short that it can go for and convert. On third and eight, you’ll see the triple option over the course of the season, but that’s a down-and-distance situation in which a pass is to be expected. Army would love home-run pass plays as the season develops, but if it is forced into third and eight or longer, one or two conversions in timely moments could give this team just enough of a nudge to win a game it might otherwise lose.

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