Opponent Outlook: Army's program on the mend

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

In his third season at the helm, Army head football coach Jeff Monken is in the process of turning a struggling program around.

The Black Knights (5-4) opened their season with three victories, including Temple and Wake Forest. Since then, they've hit a rough patch. Last Saturday, they lost to Air Force, 31-12. 

A win Saturday in San Antonio against Notre Dame (3-6) would make Army bowl eligible.

The only common opponent between Notre Dame and Army is Duke. The Irish fell to the Blue Devils, 38-35, while the Black Knights lost, 13-6.

Sal Interdonato, who covers Army football for the Times Herald Record of Middletown, N.Y., takes a look at what has gone into this season's recovery project.

• What has gone into Army putting together one of the best defenses (in terms of points allowed, ranked No. 13, 18.1-point average) in the country?

Army's defense is a veteran group led by three-year starting linebackers Andrew King and Jeremy Timpf. Junior safety Rhyan England is also a three-year starter. When the Black Knights are playing their best defensively, they are very strong against the run. Junior linebacker Alex Aukerman is one of the team's most improved players and best run defenders. Sophomore Marcus Hyatt and true freshman Elijah Riley have stepped up at cornerback. Army lost senior cornerback Steven Johnson to a preseason knee injury and have had to overcome the passing of a two-year starting cornerback Brandon Jackson, who died in a single-car accident on Sept. 11.

 What allows quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw (147 carries, 600 yards, 5 TDs; 33 of 77 passing, 558 yards, 3 TDs, 8 interceptions) to be effective in Army's triple-option offense (Army ranks No. 2 in the country in rushing offense, 320.6 yards a game)? 

Army coach Jeff Monken has been impressed with Bradshaw's leadership this season. He's been more precise with his decisions running the triple option.

 What's the difference between this Army team and last year's 2-10 team? 

Army has figured out how to win games on the road. The Black Knights have three road wins this season, equaling the program's total in the previous three years. Army has posted impressive road victories against bowl-eligible Temple (to open the season) and Wake Forest.

 In his third year at the Army helm, what has been head coach Jeff Monken's most significant impact on the program? 

Monken has changed the culture of a program, which has experienced one winning season since 1996. He's built a tough, gritty team. The Black Knights take the field expecting to win games.

• What has surprised you about this Army team? 

How bad the special teams play has been. Army has struggled to replace kicker Dan Grochowski and punter Alex Tardieu, who both graduated in the spring. Mitchell Howard and Blake Wilson have combined to make 5-of-10 field goals. Army kickers have just three touchbacks (on kickoffs) in the last five games. The Black Knights are ranked 121st in net punting (33.88 yards).

Army head coach Jeff Monken has started to turn the program around in his third season. (AP File Photo/Hans Pennink)

WHO: Notre Dame (3-6) vs. Army (5-4)

KICKOFF: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. EST

WHERE: The Alamodome; San Antonio, Texas


RADIO: WSBT-AM (960), WSBT-FM (96.1), WNSN-FM (101.5)

LINE: Notre Dame by 13