Army coach Jeff Monken is facing an unexpected crossroads of sorts midway through the season after two straight losses.
In dropping the last two games, Army (3-3) saw its 15-game winning streak at Michie Stadium snapped by Tulane and last week was humbled on the road by Western Kentucky , the Black Knights’ normally imposing triple option not much of a factor.
Those academy-record 11 wins last year seem so long ago as Army gets set to play at Georgia State (4-2) on Saturday night in the first-ever meeting between the teams.
“Well, we find ourselves in a situation that we haven’t been in in a couple of years, losing two games in a row,” Monken said. “It’s certainly disappointing. It would have been nice to get things going and get charged back up. We’ve got to find some answers.”
The Black Knights are averaging 250.7 yards rushing to rank 10th nationally, but that’s more than 60 yards below their average a year ago when they finished second.
Still, that’s enough to catch the attention of Georgia State coach Shawn Elliott. His Panthers are allowing 37.5 points per game (122nd).
“It would be different if we faced this offense consistently, week in and week out, but when it comes in the middle of the season, you don’t really have a whole lot of time,” Elliott said. “You’ve got the preparation of the week, but in the offseason you don’t really focus on it as much. It’s a difficult task.
“They’re going to play well. We’ve just got to make sure our assignments are correct. Fits are key in this offense. You’re playing Army, but we’ve got to be the most disciplined football team defensively.”
Some other things to know when Army plays at Georgia State on Saturday night:
Georgia State enters the game ranked No. 8 nationally in rushing (253.5) and has topped the 200-yard mark in each game this year. The Panthers had three 100-yard rushers, a first for the 10th-year program, in last week’s 31-21 win at Coastal Carolina. Going against the Sun Belt Conference’s top-ranked defense, Panthers quarterback Dan Ellington ran for two touchdowns and gained a career-high 128 yards rushing, while Tra Barnett and Seth Paige combined for 214.
“It’s just come about,” Elliott said. “We’ve done a good job staying on blocks up front and our backs are running hard and Dan’s managing his runs well. We’re pleased at this point where we are rushing the football.”
Ellington and Barnett have each topped 1,000 career yards rushing, and Ellington has completed nearly 65 percent of his passes with 13 TDs and three interceptions. Georgia State ranks second in the Sun Belt, averaging 478.5 yards of total offense.
“The numbers that they put up, the last two weeks in particular, is like a video game,” Monken said.
So far this season Army has allowed 21 tackles for a loss, including five sacks, and that’s not good news for the triple option. Against the Hilltoppers, the ground game ground to a halt as Army managed just 137 yards rushing (3.6 per carry), punted five times (four in the first half), and was dominated on the clock as Western Kentucky gave the Black Knights a dose of their own medicine, holding the ball for 38:07 in a 17-8 win. Last year Army led the nation in possession time, averaging over 38 minutes.
“Clearly, it’s extremely disappointing for us. That’s obvious,” senior fullback Connor Slomka said. “We don’t want to be in this situation, but the fact of the matter is we got ourselves into this situation.
“Really, right now it’s just about getting back together and regrouping, just focusing on each other and our team.”
Army’s defense has 12 takeaways, including eight fumble recoveries, tied for fifth nationally. Senior LB Cole Christiansen is tied for eighth nationally in solo tackles (38) and senior DB Elijah Riley has had a hand in four takeaways — three forced fumbles and an interception. Riley’s three forced fumbles are fourth nationally.
Despite a disappointing record punctuated by the team’s first the loss at home in more than two years, it’s business as usual for Monken and his staff.
“He’s been handling it very well,” Riley said. “He’s very focused on getting everybody on the same page, locking in on the details every day. He’s been very good at getting everybody to buy into what we’re doing.
“We’ve got to get everybody on the same page, whether it’s a scout player or the water boy, we just need everybody to work as a collective.”
Associated Press Writer George Henry in Atlanta contributed to this report.
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