Three Keys: Wake Forest

The Army Black Knights go from Stanford to Wake Forest this week. That’s quite a change. Wake Forest, no longer coached by Jim Grobe, is now led by Dave Clawson, who guided Bowling Green to the Mid-American Conference title last year. The new coach at Wake has a major rebuild on his hands, and Army doesn’t seem like the more feeble team in this game. It’s up to the Black Knights to take advantage.


THREE KEYS TO BEATING WAKE FOREST

1 – Ball security.
Wake Forest has scored non-offensive touchdowns in each of its two FBS games this season, against Louisiana-Monroe and Utah State. The Demon Deacons managed just 23 points in a game against FCS member Gardner-Webb, so they don’t generate many points on offense. This game comes down to the basics. If Army doesn’t give away anything cheap, it should be able to win because it has what appears to be the better, stronger team. If the Black Knights hand Wake some freebies, though, the calculus will likely change. There’s just no need to make matters more complicated than they already are.

2 – Energy – mental as well as physical. The Black Knights’ defense played as well as it reasonably could have been expected to against Stanford. Limiting a powerful, physical offense with a pair of quality playmakers (Devon Cajuste and Ty Montgomery) to only 14 points in the first 42 minutes of competition represents an outstanding feat. Army really has contained Stanford’s offense in each of the past two seasons, something this program should rightly be proud of. However, now comes the test of an athlete, or to be more precise, an enduring athlete: Following up one good performance with another.

Army had to fly across the country. Now, it has to make another road trip, and even though it’s not nearly as long, it still represents a certain degree of accumulated travel. The Black Knights would love to have a bye week this week, or to at least be at home if they were playing, but that’s not how the schedule has worked out. Playing Wake a week after facing Stanford should feel liberating for Army. The Black Knights will be punished far less at the line of scrimmage. They’ll be facing a much lesser caliber of athlete. It will feel different in the first quarter. Yet, that very difference opens the door to the feeling that… oh, we’ve been through this rigorous travel schedule, we have a more beatable opponent, let’s relax and just try to get through this game without a maximum of effort and concentration. None of the Army players are consciously thinking that, but subconsciously, all those thoughts can creep in. Energy, accompanied by a razor-sharp focus from the get-go, will make sure that Army takes advantage of this opportunity for another FBS win before the Yale game next week.

3 – One big pass play. So much of the task of rebuilding a program, especially if it is dedicated to reinforcing all the strengths of the triple-option offense while stripping away its shortcomings, lies in an emphasis on fundamentals. If the Army coaching staff wants to preach about the need to make the running game as effective as possible, it should… and it is more than entitled to do so. If the Black Knights want to use each Saturday to polish the running game and to make that a tunnel-vision point of focus this season, that’s quite all right. Army doesn’t have to attempt 10 passes a game or complete five of them – point conceded.

Instead of thinking that Army has to sustain a passing game, a better and more realistic approach is to try to uncork one big pass play in a moment when it can do a lot of good. Sustained production with the pass feels a little too ambitious right now. However, after throwing for only nine yards against Stanford, Army should try to see if it can hit one pass play of significance and, perhaps, length. Maybe this will be a 30-yard pass in the middle of the field. Maybe it will be a 19-yard pass in the red zone for a touchdown on third and eight. Whatever the matter, let’s see if Army can take one memorable passing-game thunderbolt from this contest, ideally one that will give the Black Knights some leverage. Just that – one valuable pass play – would feel like an achievement, and set the table for more accomplishments in subsequent weeks.

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