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2018 MAC Football Game Preview: Miami RedHawks at Army Black Knights

The ‘Hawks will have their hands full against Army’s vaunted rushing attack on Saturday.

Army v Oklahoma Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images

The Miami RedHawks (3-4, 3-1 MAC) have an interesting challenge ahead of them on Saturday: hit the road to face the Army Black Knights (4-2), who have already eviscerated Buffalo 42-13 and nearly upset Oklahoma in a 28-21 loss. While the game doesn’t mean much as far as the MAC goes, it does make Miami’s quest for a bowl game easier with a win and it is a great opportunity to showcase Miami football on a fairly big stage against a very good opponent.

Since its loss to Duke in the season opener, Army has rolled as it has won four of its last five games (even though those wins came against Liberty, Hawaii, and San Jose State). The triple option attack for the Knights has been hard to stop in 2018 as they have averaged 313.5 yards per carry and have complemented that with 10.4 yards per pass attempt. Quarterback Kelvin Hopkins Jr. has ran the offense well with nearly 500 yards rushing and seven scores to go with 605 passing yards and four touchdowns. They have four other primary ball carriers that they have used this season that have accounted for 11 touchdowns.

Defensively, Army is very disruptive with 29 TFLs, 12 sacks, and nine takeaways on the year. James Nachtigal is the leader of this unit with 36 tackles, five sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. The Knights can be dangerous on special teams as well with 18.9 yards per punt return, but they only net 38 yards per punt and are 2-5 on field goals this season.

Meanwhile, Miami is capable of standing toe-to-toe with Army from an athletic standpoint and will make for an interesting match-up. In three of their last four games, the RedHawks have rushed for at least 200 yards and nearly eclipsed the 300-yard mark twice. The return of Kenny Young into the lineup alongside the power of Alonzo Smith and the breakaway ability of Maurice Thomas makes Miami a very explosive offense on the ground.

Additionally, Gus Ragland has been efficient in the past four games with seven touchdowns to one interception and the threat of him as a runner creates a lot of opportunities for other players on the offense. Jack Sorenson and Luke Mayock have emerged as chain-moving targets while Dominique Robinson and Andrew Homer have been effective in the red zone with five scores between them.

The rush defense for Miami has been outstanding all year as it has allowed only 3.3 yards per rush and has registered 49 TFLs. Brad Koenig has been an impact player on defense with 48 tackles, 5.5 TFLs, three sacks, three interceptions, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery while fellow linebacker Junior McMullen is just as effective with 42 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, two fumble recoveries and a sack. Defensive back DeAndre Montgomery with his team-high 53 tackles needs to be a playmaker in run support this week against Army’s rushing attack while the defensive continues to play at a high level.

Special teams has been a strength for the Red and White for the most part this season, and the unit needs to come up big this week so that the team has a chance. Kyle Kramer has been a bright spot in 2018 with 42.6 yards per punt and 16 punts downed inside the 20-yard line in 2018. Thomas has been electric as the kickoff return man with 28.4 yards per return and a score, but similar success hasn’t been found on punt return as the longest return hasn’t gone longer than nine yards.

For Miami to beat Army, it has to win the critical downs. Against Buffalo, the Knights stayed on the field on offense (9-14 on third down, 3-3 on fourth down) and got off the field on defense (2-11 on third down, 0-2 on fourth down). Miami has been pretty average on third down since getting into MAC play but have gone 5-8 on fourth down, which can make a dramatic difference in field position and time of possession in this game. Defensively, the ‘Hawks are holding teams to 21-57 on third down during the stretch but have allowed five fourth down conversions on six attempts.

This game could very well come down to who finishes drives better in the red zone. Miami has scored at least three touchdowns in this area in each of the last four games as the defense has only allowed three red zone trips in the last two games. Meanwhile, Army has scored 15 touchdowns on 20 attempts while forcing six stops on 14 attempts in the red zone. The RedHawks have the ability to go in and beat Army, but they have come up big on the money downs to do it. 28-21 Knights in a hard-fought game.