CSJ 2020 AutoZone Liberty Bowl Preview: Army vs. West Virginia

Army vs. West Virginia
When: Thursday, December 31st, 4:00 PM EST
Where: Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, Memphis, Tenn.
TV/Streaming: ESPN, WatchESPN

Army benefited from Tennessee’s COVID-19 breakout as the Volunteers were originally slated to face West Virginia. Army was orignially left out of the bowls altogether after the bid it was given to the Independence Bowl was removed as that bowl could not find a Pac 12 team to take on the Black Knights.

Army has been a very consistent team all season long in winning the Commander-In-Chiefs Trophy with its two wins over rivals Navy and Air Force. The Black Knights finished with nine wins overall and just two losses to two AAC teams that both made the bowl season this year in Cincinnati and Tulane.

West Virginia on the other side was an up-and-down type of team. The Mountaineers started the season 3-1 before dropping three of their last five contests, including a crushing 42-6 loss to Iowa State on the road to close out the regular season.

The two schools have met three prior times with Army leading the series 2-1 but the last meeting was in 1961.

WVU has made a bowl appearance in 17 of the past 19 years. The Mountaineers are 15-22 all time in bowl games and 0-2 in the Liberty Bowl.

Overall, the 2020 AutoZone Liberty Bowl will be the ninth bowl game in program history. The Black Knights are 6-2 in bowl games and are 3-0 under Coach Jeff Monken.

The two teams both bring in strong defenses but Army is the better one. See below for a basic offense and defense summary and a more detailed list below that:

Army Black Knights (9-2 Overall, Independent)

Army’s offense has been pretty much the same for many decades with the triple option attack that eats the clock and uses the . The Black Knights have average 281.3 rushing yards per game, while totaling 33 rushing touchdowns to rank fourth in the FBS in both statistical categories.

Army has utilized four different quarterbacks to orchestrate its triple-option attack, with junior Christian Anderson and sophomore Tyhier Tyler getting the vast majority of snaps throughout the season. Tyler has started the last three games and leads the team with 502 rushing yards and a pair of rushing touchdowns. He should again get the starting nod in the Liberty Bowl as well. However, Anderson, who leads the team in passing yards (158) and ranks fourth in rushing yards (401).

Behind the signal caller, FB Jakobi Buhanan (474 yards, 6 TDs) is one of two Army running backs to eclipse 400 yards rushing this season, as did RB Tyrell Robinson (424, 2). Another FB Sandon McCoy has racked up a team-high 10 rushing touchdowns as the short yardage back (250 yards overall).

The offense has not had to be great this year as the Army defense has performed as one of the best squads in the FBS this year. This squad is the second-best defense in the country, allowing just 271.1 yards per game. It Ranks #1 in passing yards allowed (149.9), #2 in scoring defense (14.0), #2 in red zone defense percentage (0.615), #6 in defensive touchdowns and 9th with 13 interceptions. This group is headed by LB Jon Rhattigan, who leads the defense in tackles (78) and tackles for loss (9), to be named second-team All-American,

Key Player: QB Christian Anderson or Tyhier Tyler

QB Christian Anderson

The offense has not had to be great this year but just may have to step up its gain and it starts with whomever is under center to lead the triple option. In what is expected to be a low scoring game, turnovers will also play a big role in the school that wins this bowl game. The Army signal caller will need to be sure to handle the pitch games and avoid leaving it on the ground.

West Virginia Mountaineers (6th Big 12, 5-4 Overall, 4-4 Big 12)

The Mountaineers finished just 1-3 against Top 25 opponents and had just one loss to an unranked team. WVU’s offense includes QB Jarret Doege, RB Leddie Brown, and WR Winston Wright Jr. as the leaders on this side of the ball.

Doege has 2,428 passing yards and 13 touchdown passes this season. Brown is only 45 rushing yards away from 1,000 on the season. He also has nine rushing touchdowns. Wright has 45 catches for 528 yards and two touchdowns.

But like Army, West Virginia has excelled on defense. The West Virginia run defense allowed just 126.2 rushing yards per game and 3.6 yards per carry. The Mountaineers also have allowed just eight rushing touchdowns in nine games and rank 13th nationally against the run. However, it is worth noting that the Mountaineers weren’t quite as strong down the stretch, giving up 183 rushing yards per game over its final three contests. That includes surrendering 236 yards and three touchdowns on the ground against Iowa State in their regular-season finale.

Big 12 Newcomer of the year in LB Tony Fields II had 88 tackles this season and an interception but he decided to opt out of this game to get ready for the NFL Draft. Without Fields, WVU will look to first-team All-American and Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year Darius Stills and third-team All-American safety Tykee Smith to stop the Army option attack.

Key Player: QB Jarret Doege

Doege led a Mountaineer offense that averaged 422.7 yards and 26.8 points per game. He completed 64.2 percent of his pass attempts during the regular season for a second best Big 12 total of 2,428 yards with 13 touchdowns and just three interceptions. Those types of numbers will likely not be needed greatly in an expected low scoring game but he can not make turnover mistakes for WVU to win this bowl.

Fearless Forecast:

This should be a close game with points put at a premium with any mistake by an offense magnified in how the outcome will be in this game. While West Virginia has had a week to prepare for this game, this team has not yet played a team with the triple option attack. It can make be difficult to try to stop. Army will try to limit the number of overall possessions and will be able to get just enough offense for a very motivated team to get its 10th win this season. I like Army to win a very tight, low scoring contest. Army 20 West Virginia 16