One week after facing Navy, the 2016 Notre Dame football schedule points to the Army Black Knights under neutral circumstances at the Alamodome. This Shamrock Series return to San Antonio marks a flashback to where the series was inaugurated in 2009.
The struggles facing Army head coach Jeff Monken this season are many, coming off a miserable 2-10 campaign. Given those troubles and a game against Virginia Tech on the docket one week later, the Irish have to avoid the inevitable tendency to look past this contest and put the Black Knights away early.
Army Offense: Run and Run Some More
As always, the Army offense is fueled by the running game, with either Ahmad Bradshaw or Chris Carter handling things at quarterback. Bradshaw struggled with injuries in 2015 and has more experience, but Carter almost pulled off an upset of bitter rival Navy.
Running back by committee might best describe the Black Knight ground game, with Aaron Kemper battling either Christian Drake or Jordan Asberry for time on the field. One interesting facet to this area is the shift of both Cole Macek and Andy Davidson to fullback after playing last season on defense.
While the concept of a receiver at Army is something of a misnomer, Edgar Poe’s ability to find the end zone six times among his 16 receptions was an impressive feat. Meanwhile, Quenten Parker’s blocking ability will likely determine if he starts at tight end.
Guard Mike Houghton is back on the Black Knight offensive line, with Victor Nieves III his likely partner at that slot. Elsewhere, tackle Rick Kurz is expected to earn a starting role but the other two spots are anyone’s guess by the time this matchup on the Notre Dame football schedule arrives.
Army: Slow and Painful Growth
Since taking over in 2014, Monken has sought to bring in his own players to fully implement his triple option attack. He has six returning starters back on offense to take another crack at the Irish and other teams. On defense, there’s nine starters coming back, though their poor performance last year will likely change that number.
Army Defense: The Need to Step Up
Regardless of who takes the field for Army, this 10th game on the Notre Dame football schedule will likely be a long one for this Black Knight defenders. The lack of a pass rush for Army allowed opposing signal callers to connect on nearly 61 percent of their throws in 2015. That should allow either Malik Zaire, DeShone Kizer or Brandon Wimbush plenty of options, unless Black Knight defensive ends like John Voit and Jordan Smith can get to them quickly.
Two players Notre Dame will definitely try to limit are linebackers Andrew King and Jeremy Timpf. Each has shown a propensity for finding their way into opponents’ backfields that will have to be negated.
A weak secondary sustained an additional blow when the expected return of injured cornerback Josh Jenkins evaporated after he transferred. That will mean more pressure is placed on the shoulders of Brandon Jackson at one corner, while Xavier Moss will have to handle things at safety.
Army Special Teams: Gauging the Unknown
While Poe and Marcus Hyatt give Army effective return men, the question of who will take over both the kicking and punting roles still needs to be answered. Among the kicking candidates, either Avery Walas or Mitchell Howard is the likely choice, though J.D. Mote has the inside track at punter.
The Last Time Notre Dame Played Army
Six years ago Notre Dame and Navy squared off in Yankee Stadium the second Shamrock Series game. The Irish were coming off what was then the most impressive win of the fledgling Brian Kelly era – a 28-3 upset of #15 Utah. At 5-5 the Irish were in need of a victory to become bowl eligible after the tumultuous start to Kelly’s tenure that included losses to Tulsa and an embarassing 35-17 defeat at the hands of Navy weeks earlier.
Led by Tommy Rees who was making just his second career start, Notre Dame took care of the Black Knights 27-3. Army got on the board first with a first quarter field goal, but wouldn’t score again the rest of the game. Notre Dame used a 17 point second quarter to take Army out of their comfort zone forcing them to throw the ball more than they would have liked to in the second half. That resulted in a 42 yard interception return for a touchdown by Darrin Walls in the third quarter. After tacking on two David Ruffer field goals the Irish were bowl eligible.
Tyler Eifert continued to assert himself in the absence of Kyle Rudolph who Notre Dame had lost for the season with a four catch, 78 yard performance that included his second career touchdown. Cierre Wood led the Irish on the ground with 88 yards.