Army vs. Middle Tennessee score, takeaways: Black Knights post historic shutout in rout of Blue Raiders

Army vs. Middle Tennessee score, takeaways: Black Knights post historic shutout in rout of Blue Raiders

The 2020 college football season season has been a largely uncertain topic this year, but Army showed absolute certainty in how good it looked while beating Middle Tennessee 42-0 in Week 1. The victory is historic for the Black Knights program, as it marked their biggest shutout victory against an FBS opponent since 1963 (47-0 vs. Wake Forest, according to The Athletic). 

It also showed Middle Tennessee might have a long season ahead. Bookmakers at William Hill Sportsbook had Middle Tennessee at +3.5 at one point. Obviously, it’s tough to forecast Week 1 games given everything that has transpired this offseason, but this was a thorough win for Army and the separation between these two teams was clear. 

What did we learn from Army’s beatdown of Middle Tennessee in Week 1? Here are three takeeaways.

Army might be a problem

We’ll dive deeper into Middle Tennessee’s problems below, because they are abundant. But let’s also acknowledge that Army might be a real problem. It’s no secret that coach Jeff Monken has done an excellent job at West Point, but this was absolutely peak Army. The Black Knights offense ran 66 plays, 62 of them runs at an effective 5.5 yards per attempt. Every drive was purposeful: five drives ended in scores and the sixth one ran out the clock. They were 13-of-15 on third-down attempts and converted their only fourth-down attempt. The trio of quarterback Christian Anderson and backs Sandon McCoy and Tyrell Robinson accounted for more than half the carries and 195 total yards with four of the five touchdowns. 

But Army’s defense doesn’t deserved to be overlooked, either: 184 total yards allowed, 3.8 yards per play, and four takeaways, three of which turned into 21 points for Army. That includes a 43-yard pick-six from linebacker Jon Rhattigan in the third quarter. Whenever Middle Tennessee’s offense was on the field, Army’s defense got the best of it. 

Looking ahead, Army has plenty of winnable games on its schedule. How it does against Air Force, BYU, Cincinnati and Navy will show if it is as good as it looked on Saturday. 

That was Middle Tennessee’s worst nightmare

There are a lot of bad ways to lose a football game, but rest assured, dear reader, the meanest is getting your butt kicked by a triple-option offense. A lot of times you can tell how these games are going to go within the first three or four drives. If a defense is super lost or ineffective, then I don’t know if that’s going to change over the next 35 game minutes. That whipping is coming, relentlessly, and it will not stop no matter how unprepared you are.

Middle Tennessee found out what that felt like. Here are facts: all of Army’s five touchdown drives were nine plays or more, including not one but two 19-play drives, the latter of which — all of them runs — spanned 99 yards. 

Have mercy. 

In fairness to the Blue Raiders, this game was not previously scheduled. It was added, not even a month ago, after nonconference games everywhere pretty much evaporated. To have that little time to prepare for a new opponent is an added stress to a team that was coming off a 4-8 season with a sub-par defense. But the result is the same, and it’s the type where one team isn’t ready. Army did whatever it wanted on offense and there was nothing Middle Tennessee could do about it. Conversely, Middle Tennessee had little going for it on offense — or at least enough to give its defense a break. 

What was with Rick Stockstill before halftime?

Saturday’s loss was rough for Middle Tennessee in a lot of ways, but the worst blunder was the clock management before halftime. What was Middle Tennessee’s only real sustained drive of the game ended in zero points on a goal-to-go situation with not one but two timeouts. On a first-and-goal with 45 seconds remaining with the ball on Army’s 2-yard line, Middle Tennessee quarterback Asher O’Hara bumbled a bad snap and had to fall on the ball, taking a 12-yard loss. It was a negative play, but with about 40 seconds left and two timeouts, it wasn’t a killer. Then Middle Tennessee let a good 35 seconds roll off the clock before snapping the ball with about three second left. The pass completion from O’Hara to CJ Windham was good for 7 yards. It was not, however, good for getting into the end zone (or out of bounds) before time expired. 

Again, I wonder how much of this is just Middle Tennessee doing its best in a pandemic and trying to have fun while doing so. Still, what an absolutely inexcusable blunder from Stockstill. This is his 15th season with the program, and he’s done a good job there. This was an uncharacteristic moment from him. Still, that series of events just about summed the afternoon. A 14-play, 72-yard drive would have ended in points for Army, yet it ended in nothing but a head scratch for Middle Tennessee. 

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