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2021 football opponent preview: Army Black Knights

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Could a team of Badgers beat the troops?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 16 VMI at Army
Jabari Laws doing what an Army quarterback does best...run the ball.
Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It is August now, which means that it is time to seriously turn our attention to college football. The Wisconsin Badgers opened up fall practice last Friday and the rest of the country will be joining them shortly. For the rest of the month, we will be posting two articles about each opponent on Wisconsin’s schedule.

The first post will be written by one of our staffers and will give you a basic overview of each team the Badgers are playing. The second post will be written by a variety of fans and writers of each team, giving us a more in-depth look at the team from those who follow it closely. We’ve got other SB Nation site contributors, newsletter writers, podcast hosts, and other Twitter sports shouters on deck. It should be a lot of fun.

Up next in our preview series we take a look at Army.

Navy v Army
Go Army, Beat Navy. ::ducks before navybadger throws an anchor at my head::
Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

Team name: Army Black Knights
2020 record: 9-3, independent
Date/location of 2021 game: Saturday, October 16, Madison
Last time vs. Wisconsin: these two teams have never played each other!

Returning leaders:

Passing: SR QB Christian Anderson, 20-of-47 (42.6%), 215 yards, one touchdown, four interceptions
Rushing: JR QB Tyhier Taylor, 139 attempts for 578 yards (4.2 ypc), five touchdowns
Receiving: SO RB Tyrell Robinson, six catches for 117 yards (19.5 ypc), two touchdowns, long of 53 yards
Tackles: SR ILB Arik Smith (pictured below), 78 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss
Sacks: Smith, 3.5 sacks
Interceptions: SO CB Jabari Moore, three interceptions

NCAA Football: Abilene Christian at Army Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

Key offensive player:

I think we all know what kind of offense that Army runs, but if you’re new to college football you should know that they run a triple option attack and rarely throw the ball. “When it works well it looks trendy, revolutionary but when it stalls it becomes a slog to watch and looks antiquated,” Army head coach Jeff Monken is fond of saying.

Senior QB Jabari Laws missed all of last season with an injury, but is back and expected to start in 2021. Despite not throwing all that much, the quarterback in the triple option needs to be an excellent decision maker, a capable runner and a guy who can still complete a pass or two every game. In 2019, his first year as a starter, Laws was all of those things.

In nine games, he completed 16-of-20 passes for 311 yards, one TD and zero INTs. He also rushed for 484 yards on 76 carries (6.4 ypc) and scored four times on the ground. His longest rush was 83 yards (the longest for an Army QB since 1923 btw) and his longest pass was 87 yards soooooo this is a dude you need to keep an eye on.

It is certainly worth noting that Laws is, uh, not big. He stands at 5-foot-9 and weighs 185 pounds so it’ll be interesting to see what happens the first time Leo Chenal or Keeanu Benton finds him in the backfield.

Key defensive player:

The Black Knights don’t have many prototypically sized players on their roster. None of their defensive linemen weigh more than 280 pounds, none of their offensive linemen weigh over 290 pounds and we’ve already gone over the size of their quarterback. However, sophomore OLB Andre Carter is the exception to the rule.

Carter stands at 6-foot-7 and weighs 265 pounds according to his official Army football bio and I think he could be a difference maker for the Black Knights defense. Last year, in limited action, he had 14 tackles, one interception, one sack, one forced fumble and a blocked kick.

NCAA Football: Georgia Southern at Army
Here is Carter absolutely ruining Shai Werts’ day.
Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

While all of those big plays did come in one game (sorry about your luck, Georgia Southern) if Carter gets more playing time this year he could start making big plays all season.

2021 season preview:

Army has had a pretty nice four year run going since 2017. They’ve won the Commander in Chief Trophy (best team between Army, Navy and Air Force) three out of the last four years, they’ve beaten their arch rival Navy three of the last four years and their overall record is 35-16 (including going 2-1 in bowl games).

They have 14 returning starters this year (eight on defense, six on offense) and Monken told Phil Steele that he thinks this is the deepest team he has had in his eight year tenure at West Point. With the offense that they run, Army is going to give a team like Wisconsin (who doesn’t regularly play against triple option teams and only has one week to prepare) fits.

The Black Knights had seven players rush for over 200 yards last season, and six of them are back for 2021, so there is going to be a whole stable of backs that the Wisconsin defense will have to contend with. Army will also be coming off a bye week, so they’ll have an extra week to prepare for whatever the Badgers might throw at them.

NCAA Football: Mercer at Army Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

Army only plays two Power 5 schools in 2021 (Wisconsin and Wake Forest in back to back weeks) but also has Liberty and the two other service academies on their schedule. They should be going bowling for sure, but winning nine games, like they did in 2020, could be a stretch despite having a veteran squad.