Army is coming off a rough game against Tulane and needs to bounce back against Western Kentucky this week. I wanted to something other than a normal game preview. So I decided to go behind enemy lines and do a Q/A with Ross Shircliffe of The Towel Rack, a website focused around WKU athletics.
You can find the questions Ross asked me and my prediction for the game here.
How has first-year head coach Tyson Helton looked so far? Has he lived up to expectations?
Honestly, besides the fourth-quarter meltdown against UCA (more on that in a second) he’s looked really good thus far. I think he’s obviously exceeded expectations from a wins standpoint as most fans thought that 2-3 was probably where WKU would be after 5 games. While the offense hasn’t greatly improved from the Sanford era, Helton is more than willing to lean on a veteran defense to win games as he tries to find the right combinations on offense. The team as a whole has played harder and smarter under Helton and fans have noticed and are pleasantly surprised.
What has changed about WKU since the loss to Central Arkansas?
Long story short they’ve started to lean more on their defense. WKU was cruising along against Central Arkansas heading into the fourth quarter leading 28-14 before utterly imploding in the defensive backfield giving up long passes of 80, 38 & 35 yards in the last 15 minutes to start the Helton era off on the wrong foot. Since then they’ve had three amazing defensive performances in conference (with a bad 2nd qtr against Louisville mixed in) and are gaining more confidence by the week. Offensively, Helton has realized the strength of his team and has done his best to give the defense a rest and put up just enough yards and points to overcome not finishing drives.
When Duncan comes back from his foot injury, will he get the starting job back or is it going to be Ty Storey from here on out?
Duncan is out for the rest of the season with a broken foot. Storey has been steady but not spectacular since taking over the job from Duncan and he’ll keep the job as long as he stays healthy. He’s definitely more of a game manager than a playmaker but with the aforementioned defense, he is what this team needs at this point. Why he’s very average through the air 191 yards per game (3/1 TD/INT ratio) he has generally done a great job of not forcing passes and turning the ball over (a problem of Duncan’s). If he can continue to limit turnovers and become more comfortable with the receiving corps then I could see him elevating his play to an above-average level moving forward.
The WKU defense has been shutting the run down, what/who has been the key to that success?
The main reason WKU has been so dominant is the defensive line. Defensive End DeAngelo Malone has been so disruptive. He leads the team in tackles (45), & tackles for loss (13). That has helped slow down opposing running backs in the backfield. Other key contributors on the line include Juwan Jones and Jeremy Darvin. WKU’s linebacking corps has been generally average this season but Kyle Bailey has been an impact player and is just behind Malone in tackles (42). Bailey and safety Devon Key have done a solid job of cleaning up a lot of the mess that the defensive line causes.
Who is WKU’s best-kept secret?
Since I think the secret is out with Malone, I’ll go with True Freshman tight end Josh Simon. While his numbers aren’t eye-popping when you look at the stat sheet (8 catches for 168 yards) he has consistently put the ball in the endzone all season with four of those catches going for touchdowns. He is a physical specimen at 6’5” 235 lbs and is a go-to target in the red zone. If Helton can figure out ways to get him more than 2-3 touches a game then WKU’s offense might finally break into the 30 point range.
Who are some skill players to look out for?
Jahcour Pearson has emerged as WKU’s go-to slot receiver. He’s very active in the screen game and is shifty enough to break off chunks after the catch. On the season he leads WKU in catches (28) yards (291) & is second to Simon in touchdowns (3). Gaej Walker is WKU’s workhorse back and has topped 100 yards in three of the five games. He was slowed against Louisville and UAB but regained his form against Old Dominion (114 yards rushing). If WKU is going to respond to Army’s ball control gameplan then the three players listed above probably will help them break big plays.
How do you see the game playing out? What is your prediction?
Anytime you play a service academy you definitely have to answer the question of how your team will handle the triple option and keep your defense off of the field. WKU hasn’t played against that style since 2014 so I’m not super confident that the defense can play disciplined assignment football (other than Bailey the linebacker play has been suspect). When you combine that with the fact that WKU’s offense has struggled to finish drives and put up points that’s a classic recipe for a loss. I see this game being low scoring with Army trying to methodically eat clock and limit the possessions. WKU will put up a good fight but ultimately lose a 20-17 heartbreaker. I hope I’m wrong and WKU’s offense finally breaks through against an Army team that was gashed last week against Tulane.