KENT: When Kent State football coach Darrel Hazell suggested that Army has run the triple-option offense “forever,” he wasn’t that far off.
At least that’s how it feels to Hazell, who was in charge of receivers and tight ends for the Black Knights in 1997 and 1998.
“We ran it while I was there,” Hazell said. “It’s the same scheme. We’d throw the ball maybe seven, eight times a game. You have to be a psychologist on days after the game to try to get your guys going for the next week.”
After losing its first four games, Army (1-4) topped Boston College 34-31 last week, a game in which the Black Knights rushed for a whopping 516 yards. Despite their early-season struggles, that kind of ground game will provide a big test for an inconsistent Kent State (4-1) defense that has struggled to put together back-to-back, solid outings.
“We had a bad game against Ball State and even with Towson,” Flashes fifth-year senior cornerback Sidney Saulter said. “We haven’t been playing at the level we’re capable of as a defense. We have good players on the first team and the second team, so it all comes down to execution and being consistent during game day.”
That’s especially true against a team that features the triple-option offensive attack and leads the nation in rushing with 397.2 yards per game. For Army, it’s not so much the individual talent the team has to offer, but like Hazell said, the scheme it runs year after year.
In addition to gouging opponents’ defenses on the ground, the Black Knights’ offense keeps opposing defenses on the field for long periods of time. Army averages more than 33 minutes of possession per game.
“When you only see the triple option once a year, you better be good for that one day,” Hazell said. “The big theme for this week has been team discipline. If you don’t tackle the fullback, he’ll run for a lot of yards. If you don’t tackle the quarterback, he’ll run for a lot of yards. And if you don’t tackle the pitch-back guy, he’ll run for a lot of yards. So, it’s going to be very important for us defensively to be disciplined and stay with our assignments.”
That’s a lot easier said than done, especially for the secondary.
“For us corners, it’s going to be a real boring game,” Saulter said. “But for, like, five really important plays, that’s when they’re gonna come at you and try to get you. They’ll play-action, then go over the top. So out of the 90 plays of the game, you’ve got to be disciplined and ready for those key five plays.”
Army’s ball-control offense not only keeps opposing defenses on the field, but it also keeps the ball out of the hands of the opponent’s offensive playmakers such as the Flashes’ dynamic duo of Dri Archer and Trayion Durham.
“The offense sometimes feels like they have to score with Army doing such a great job of time of possession,” Hazell said. “It makes offenses feel like they’re under pressure and have to score every single time they’re out there. We can’t stress out or pressure ourselves when we do get the ball.”
The noon game at Michie Stadium, which can be seen on CBS Sports Network, will have all of Army’s usual touches.
“It’s a spectacular place to watch a football game,” Hazell said. “I used to be up in the press box and you’re looking out over the campus and it’s absolutely beautiful. Then you have the cadets matching in, the parachuters bring the game ball in, then the flag’s run out. It just gives you chills watching it.”
Kent State will have to be careful not to get caught up in the pageantry.
“It is enjoyable to watch, but you just really have to keep your mind focused on the game,” said Flashes senior quarterback Spencer Keith, who played at Army for a quarter as a freshman before injuring his thumb. “You can enjoy it for a moment, but you can’t get caught up in it.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Kent State blog at http://www.ohio.com/flashes. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.