Army football to face stiff challenge from fifth-ranked Oklahoma
By SAL INTERDONATO | The Times Herald-Record, Middletown, N.Y. | Published: September 19, 2018
WEST POINT, N.Y. (Tribune News Service) — Jeff Monken opted to take a comedic route when asked if Army's opponent this week, Oklahoma, had any weaknesses.
Army's head football coach had already mentioned Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray being on par with last year's Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield and the Sooners' potential NFL talent across the board, down to their elite special teams.
"I don't know where I would spot a weakness that I thought, 'Gosh, we have a great advantage over them,'" said Monken, whose team is coming off a 28-21 win over previously-unbeaten Hawaii. "I really like our uniforms. I think we have as good of uniforms as anyone in the country. Theirs are pretty good, too, very traditional."
Army and Monken have the Herculean task of playing the nation's No. 5 team in Norman, Okla., where the Sooners have lost fewer games (10) than they have won Big 12 titles (11) over the last 19 seasons. The Black Knights (2-1), winners of two consecutive games, are a 33-point underdog.
"That's what the Army is all about," Monken said. "That's what we teach these guys at West Point, that no matter who the foe is, no matter what the challenge looks like, we are going to step up and face the challenge and put our best up there."
More questions about Oklahoma's offense followed. Will Army focus on slowing down Murray and wide receivers Marquise Brown and CeeDee Lamb or try to contain Oklahoma's running game behind an offensive line that averages 313 pounds?
"You just mentioned enough things for me to stay awake all week," Monken said. "I don't know what you say to that. ... There's enough concerns to last a whole month and we have one week to do it."
The Oklahoma game continues Army's recent schedule model of playing one nationally-recognized program per season. Last September, Army trailed Ohio State by 10 points at halftime on the road before falling 38-7. The Black Knights paid the price when they returned to West Point with injuries to key starters – fullback Darnell Woolfolk and safety Rhyan England. Monken was asked if he would consider sitting out starters Saturday to avoid injury.
"I'm no quitter," Monken said. "You might consider that. I would never consider that."
Monken's approach and preparation for Oklahoma is the same as every other game, he says. Army isn't changing its offensive or defensive principles for Oklahoma. The Black Knights want to run the football, control the clock and hopefully sustain scoring drives to keep their defense fresh against an Oklahoma offense that averages 49.7 points per game. Execution will have to be near-perfect on both sides of the ball.
"What we have to try and accomplish is playing as close to what we are capable of, and if we do that, that will give us a great chance to be in the game and a chance to win," Monken said.
Monken said many players on Army's roster came to West Point to play college football games like this and to test their skills and abilities at the highest level. The coach's motivation speech will be short on Saturday.
"Ever since you grew up and put the pads on for the first time, this is where you dreamed of playing," Monken expects to tell his team. "Go have fun."