8/31: Army news and notes

Quick personal note

Friday was my first Army game watching in person and covering, and boy did I get thrown right into the fire. I’ll be honest, I expected a lopsided result and sometimes the blowouts are harder to write. There was plenty to write about with this one despite there not being much scoring from either side. I had a lot of fun with this one. You can read the game story here.

Now, to the stuff you came here for.

Injuries

Fullback Connor Slomka was active every practice I attended during preseason camp, but he was inactive in the opener against Rice. Head coach Jeff Monken said that Slomka suffered a setback on an injury he’d suffered earlier. The expectation is that he’ll be ready for Michigan next Saturday. Monken’s full quotes on Slomka below:

“Connor got hurt in preseason camp and kind of was coming out of it and then had another injury while he was still in rehabilitation, and it just set him back. We’re hopeful he’s going to be ready to go this week. Our trainers are confident that he’s going to be ready to go to practice early this week. He’s a tough runner and we certainly value him on our team. I think he’ll help our football team and help our run game both with the ball and without the ball, so we bring guys in and we recruit to the system and we develop guys to play in the system, so when a guy goes down, if it’s a starter, it’s probably not going to change very much of what we do.”

During Friday’s game, many more Rice players went down than Army players. Right tackle J.B. Hunter, however, got injured late in the game. Hunter was starting at the position over Luke McCleery, who had been listed as the starter on the depth chart.

The only other notable deviation from the depth chart was freshman kicker Cole Talley, who got the nod over Landon Salyers. Salyers didn’t kick throughout most of preseason camp due to injury, but the indication isn’t that Salyers is still injured, but rather that Talley simply earned the spot. Talley was 2-for-2 on extra points in his college football debut.

Young blood

Monken was effusive of the way his young players stepped up. Defensively, he brought up names he’s been talking about all summer, guys like defensive tackle Nolan Cockrill, outside linebacker Jeremiah Lowery and cornerback Malkelm Morrison. Lowery got the start, Morrison played in nickel situations and Cockrill was one of a host of defensive linemen subbing in and out throughout the contest.

“I was proud of those guys,” Monken said. “A lot of those guys came through both offensively, defensively.”

He added of the importance of having such a close first game for his new role players, “Playing in those kinds of games and coming out victorious in a game like that, I think that helps them and it does two things: 1. It gives us some confidence. When you get your back to the wall, you can find a way to win and 2. It humbles the team if there’s any sense of, this is going to be easy or people are going to run for cover because we went 11-2 last year, it just gives an indication, don’t be scared of us. They’re going to line up and play us so it’s going to have to be our best effort every week.”

Fullback pecking order

Sans Slomka, it was almost purely Sandon McCoy out of the backfield. McCoy and quarterback Kelvin Hopkins toted the ball 20 and 21 times, respectively. No other ball carrier received more than four carries. The only other fullback who received a handoff was Cade Barnard (2 carries, 7 yards). While Barnard may be third in line right now, Rashaad Bolton saw action on a good portion of snaps, though it was only in a blocking role. Expect to see Bolton have some opportunities with the ball throughout the season, even if Slomka does return. However, it’s clear by the way the handoffs were divvied up on Friday that it’s likely going to be mainly a two-headed attack at fullback with Slomka and McCoy, at least for the near future.

Hopkins said of the fullbacks: “They’re all really good at different things and they all do different things well. I think we have a really good stable.”

Hopkins added, ““Just getting those guys as much experience as possible as early as possible, we’re only going to get better.” One of those guys was Jabari Laws, Hopkins’ backup quarterback. Laws, who Hopkins has been speaking very highly of throughout the offseason, grabbed a handoff and ran once for 3 yards against Rice.

‘Credit Rice’

Monken’s first comments at Friday’s postgame press conference, aside from the obligatory “credit Rice,” was a welcome to new athletic director Mike Buddie in his first football game as Army’s AD. “Heck of a first night,” Monken told Buddie.

Monken then shifted his focus to the job head coach Mike Bloomgren is doing at Rice, building the program into a contender in his second year. Referencing a comment Bloomgren made during the week, Monken commented, “He said we’re going to go to Army and go toe-to-toe with them and they did.”

Here’s some other things Monken had to say about the game:

On going for it on fourth-and-1 at his own 15-yard line less three minutes and three seconds into the game: “When we get in short yardage, we find a way to cross the line and it was very disappointing to be in third-and-2 and to run straight ahead twice and not make it. Credit Rice. They did a good job and we didn’t. Those are the things that we need to try to win the game. And fortunately, we forced them into a field goal.”

On why the go-ahead touchdown drive was successful while others weren’t: “Probably at that point, both teams were a little worn down and tired and we just gutted it out. We just gutted it out and that’s not to take anything away from Rice. They do have a physical tough football team and that’s developed over time.

“Our guys were just determined that they were going to find a way to put that thing in the end zone. I wish we done it a lot earlier in the night, but it just was the raw determination and the look in their eye, we just ran Army football. And ran the ball right at them and blocked them and sustained blocks and broke some tackles and it was just a great drive.”

On what Monken told his offense as Rice was driving late to try to tie it up: “Let’s get our one-minute offense ready. Make sure we go back through the Hail Mary passes and all those things because if they score and went for two, we’re going to have to put a drive together pretty quick.”

On how he felt after an emotionally taxing game: “Just really proud of the guys and the way they battled and their belief. They. Never. Flinched. Not one time did they flinch.”

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