PROVO — Having celebrated their near-flawless Labor Day performance in all three phases of football for the coaching staff-allowed 24 hours on Tuesday, the BYU Cougars turned their attention Wednesday to another service academy team that relies on a ground-and-pound rushing attack.
But if the Cougars are thinking their game at Army on Sept. 19 in West Point, New York, is going to be a repeat of their 55-3 demolition of Navy, they are sorely mistaken, head coach Kalani Sitake said moments after Monday’s resounding victory in Annapolis, Maryland.
“We will have to devise a different plan for the team to execute against Army,” Sitake said.
After the Cougars agreed on Aug. 19 to travel to Army for their second game of the condensed 2020 season (Army will return the game in 2032), Sitake and defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki fielded questions about the serendipity of facing triple-option offenses back-to-back, and both coaches said they had already been told by colleagues in the coaching world that they weren’t really that similar.
In other words, Army is a different animal.
The Black Knights are sure to be more physically ready for the Cougars’ superiority in size and strength on the offensive and defensive lines than Navy was. The Midshipmen didn’t tackle or block live bodies or scrimmage in preseason training camp, coach Ken Niumatalolo said after the game, and it showed.
From what seventh-year Army coach Jeff Monken said Tuesday in his weekly press conference, it doesn’t sound like Army did much live work in August, either. But Army will have played two games when it hosts BYU for the first-ever matchup between the programs a week from Saturday at historic Michie Stadium.
The Black Knights, 1-0 after blasting Middle Tennessee State 42-0 on Sept. 5, host Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday.
“I thought for a team that hadn’t had a chance to be together for spring practice and particularly for our defense who really only had the benefit of walkthroughs and a few weeks of practice leading up to the game, I thought we played really well,” Monken said. “I am happy with the opening game, but there is a tremendous amount that we need to improve on.”
Still, Army’s offense was in midseason form. With junior Christian Anderson making the start at quarterback, the Black Knights committed no turnovers, converted on 13 of their 15 third-down opportunities, and engineered two 19-play drives, one for 99 yards.
They made ball control an art form, keeping the rock for 35 minutes, 29 seconds. In 2018, when it was having its best season in the Monken era, it averaged 38:33 per game.
Navy didn’t have any playmakers, but Army appears to have several. Freshman slotback Tyrell Robinson, just 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds, ran for 94 yards on nine carries. Fourteen freshman saw action.
Army has won three bowls games in Monken’s tenure (2016, 2017, 2018) and has claimed the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy twice. The showdown on the banks of the Hudson River could be the most difficult game remaining on BYU’s eight-game schedule, second only to Houston on Oct. 16 in Texas.
While Navy had no fans in the stands, Army allowed its Corps of Cadets, 4,300-strong, into Michie Stadium vs. MTSU. Wearing masks and social distancing, they spread out on Army’s side of the bleachers, and in both end zones and made their presence felt.
“It was fantastic,” Monken said. “It is obviously different not having an entire crowd in there, but I thought our corps of cadets was fantastic and we were excited to play in front of them.”
While the Cougars described the atmosphere at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium as “surreal” and “pretty quiet” and “scrimmage-like,” they know they will face a different environment in eastern New York.
“It was one game, and we have to build on it and get better from it, but I am glad we have a lot of guys, even young guys and newcomers who can come in and get some valuable reps,” Sitake said.
As for defensive alignment changes, Sitake said there’s a reason BYU has 15 different positions listed on its defensive depth chart. The Cougars mainly lined up in a three-man front against Navy, but are likely transitioning to a four-man front when they play more traditional offenses later in the season.
“I think (reporters) kinda scoffed at it a little bit because there were 15 guys on (the depth chart),” Sitake said. “But we are going to utilize a bunch of personnel sets, and we will have to come with some new things against Army as well because they’ve got film now. So we are going to have find some new ways and find different ways and research it a little bit the best ways to defend them. They are a little bit different than Navy, and they have some similarities as well.”
Wednesday, national honors continued to pour in for the Cougars. Senior linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi is the Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder from Brighton High had two sacks, five tackles and forced a fumble while helping BYU’s defense hold Navy to 149 yards of total offense.
Also, BYU was named the College Football Team of the Week, offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes was named the OC of the Week and Kaufusi the National Defensive Player of the Week by Athlon Sports.