For the majority of this young millenium, both Army and Duke occupied the cellar of all of college football.
Like Blue Devil head coach David Cutcliffe did in recent years, Jeff Monken helped lead the Black Knights to their most successful two-year stretch in decades, capped off by bowl victories in each season.
Unfortunately for Army, nearly all of the talent that led the team to that 18-8 combined record between 2016 and 2017 is no longer with the team.
Three-year starting quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw, who finished his career as the school’s all-time leading rusher, is gone after graduating last spring. That’s not all—the Black Knights lost seven other offensive starters, including four of five on its offensive line. And despite returning eight defensive starters, Army graduated arguably its two most important defenders in Alex Aukerman and John Voit, the team's two sack leaders with half of the team's 25 total between them .
Although the Black Knights’ outlook for 2018 may seem bleak, they still have talent remaining at skill positions. Army led the nation in rushing last season, and will return three of its four top rushers in Darnell Woolfolk, Kell Walker and Andy Davidson, all of whom put up more than 600 yards apiece. Heading the offense will be junior quarterback Kelvin Hopkins Jr., who, unlike his predecessor, can affect the game with his arm downfield in addition to running the ball.
Even with new pieces in place, the triple-option offense will still cause headaches for Duke’s defense.
“Well I don’t really love opening up with an option team because it creates some issues," Cutcliffe said. "We have less days than we’ve ever had with this new model of preseason, so you’re trying to get your team ready for the season, but we’ve had to interrupt part of that because we’re opening with an option team.
"If I had my preference, I would never open with an option team.”
With such a run-dominant offense, it comes as little surprise that the Black Knights finished 2017 with the fourth-highest time of possession per game, coming in at 34:44.
If Army can jump out to an early lead, it is quite difficult to surpass given its ability to drain the clock. Conversely, though, if the Blue Devils can score early, a hurry-up style is nearly impossible to execute in the Black Knights' triple-option offense.
Defensively, Army had quite the contrast in 2017. Its rush defense was poor, allowing 5.3 yards per carry. On the flip side, its passing defense yielded a meager 176.8 yards per contest, putting them in the upper third of FBS teams.
Due to a lack of size, the Black Knights’ defense is known for often being creative with its schemes and blitzes to disrupt opposing offenses.
“With Army a lot of their pressures aren’t as much of a one-on-one battle, they’re more so going to bring different pressures and looks to confuse you or get you to look the other way,” Duke quarterback Daniel Jones said. “So that’s a lot on my shoulders, to make sure we’re in the right situation and protection to let us be successful.”
The Blue Devils will look to avenge last year’s 21-16 loss in West Point, which marked the nadir of the team’s midseason woes, when the Black Knights make their return to Durham Friday night in the teams' season opener at Wallace Wade Stadium.
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