WVU/Army kicks off at 4 p.m. Thursday in AutoZone Liberty Bowl
By Chapin Jewell
MORGANTOWN - It wasn’t the matchup originally scripted, that was West Virginia versus Tennessee. Plans changed, and quite honestly, so too has the level of excitement for what has become the new matchup, West Virginia versus Army.
One day after Tennessee accepted a bid to the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, the Volunteers backed out, the result of COVID issues within the program. Within the day, it was announced that the Liberty Bowl had found a more than suitable new opponent for the Mountaineers, the Army Black Knights.
With that news came the satisfaction for Mountaineer fans that the show would still go on, allowing WVU to compete in a post-season bowl game. With that news also, came the satisfaction for Army and their nation of fans that the very deserving Black Knights, at 9-2, would finally be given the opportunity to go bowling, something uncertain after the cancellation of the Independence Bowl.
On New Year’s Eve at 4 p.m., the teams will collide and do battle in the 62nd Liberty Bowl, held on the grass at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tennessee. The matchup pits a 5-4 West Virginia squad against Army’s 9-2 Black Knights. It marks the fourth matchup between the schools, with Army holding a close 2-1 advantage in the series. The two teams, however, have not done battle since 1961.
The series started in 1941 with a 7-6 Army win. The Black Knights followed that up with a 19-0 Army victory in 1946. West Virginia claimed the 1961 matchup with a close, 7-6 victory.
This marks West Virginia’s 38th bowl appearance, and the Mountaineers hold a 15-22 bowl record all-time. This bowl game marks head coach Neal Brown’s first bowl appearance with the Mountaineers, though he is 3-0 all-time as a head coach in bowl games, all at Troy.
This marks Army’s 9th bowl appearance, and the Black Knights hold a 6-2 bowl record all-time. Army head coach Jeff Monken is 3-0 all-time as the head coach in bowl games, with all three wins coming at Army.
The game will be televised nationally on ESPN, with play-by-play provided by Wes Durham, color analysis provided by Roddy Jones, and sideline coverage by Eric Wood. The game will also be played on ESPN Radio nationally with play-by-play by Jeff Atler, and color analysis by Brad Edwards.
The following includes notes pertaining to WVU and Army football:
Army comes into the AutoZone Liberty Bowl riding a four-game bowl win streak, including head coach Jeff Monken’s 3-0 bowl game record at Army. The Black Knight’s are coming off their ninth Commander-in-Chief’s trophy after defeating Air Force, 10-7, on Dec. 19, and Navy, 15-0, on Dec. 12.
Army has won the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy three times in the last four years under Monken. Overall, the Black Knights have won the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy nine times (1972, 1977, 1984, 1986, 1988, 1996, 2017, 2018, 2020).
The Black Knights’ defense is their strength. Under first-year Defensive Coordinator Nate Woody, Army’s defensive unit is ranked second in the country, allowing just 271.1 yards per game. The unit ranks first in passing yards allowed (149.9), number two in scoring defense (14.0), and number two in red zone defensive percentage (0.615). They have held their opponents to 10 or less points six times this season.
Under the direction of Special Teams Coordinator Sean Saturnio, Army football has blocked seven kicks this season, setting a new program record. This includes three blocked punts, two blocked field goals, and two blocked extra point kicks. The Black Knights lead the nation in this category, and individually, Ryan Duran is tied for tops in the nation with three blocks.
Overall, four quarterbacks have started for Army this year under center (Christian Anderson, Jemel Jones, Tyheir Tyler, and Cade Ballard). In total, the Black Knights have employed a total of six quarterbacks. This isn’t out of the norm for the Black Knights as 11 times in program history they have started four or more quarterabacks.
For the first time in program history, the Black Knights have multiple players on active NFL rosters.
The 2020 season marks the 128th season in WVU football program history. The Mountaineers are the 15th winningest program in college football. WVU is 16-19 all-time in games played in the month of December. The Mountaineers have made a bowl appearance in 17 of the last 19 years.
Senior defensive lineman Darius Stills was named first-team Associated Press All-American, while sophomore spear Tykee Smith was named third-team Associated Press All-American. The Mountaineers had three players named to All Big-12 first-team honors, Leddie Brown, Tony Fields II, and Stills.
Like Army, West Virginia’s strength is their defense. The Mountaineers are ranked number nine in the nation in total defense (297.2), number nine in passing defense (171.0), number 24 in scoring defense (20.4), number 24 in rushing defense (126.2) and interceptions (10) and number 26 in passing defensive efficiency (121.72).
Offensively, West Virginia is ranked 13th nationally in fewest interceptions thrown (3), number 22 in red-zone offense (.889), number 26 in passing offense (277.2) and 31st in completion percentage (.641).
Quarterback Jarret Doege is ranked number eighth nationally in completions per game (24.89), number 17 in passing yards (2,428), number 21 in passing yards per game (269.8), and 32nd in completion percentage (.642).
Running back Leddie Brown is ranked number 14 nationally in rushing yards (941), and 21st in rushing yards per game (105.0) and touchdowns (11), number 22 in rushing touchdowns (9), and number 35 in all-purpose yards (127.44).
WVU’s football roster is currently comprised of 100 athletes from 21 different states, Washington D.C., and two foreign countries. The state providing the most Mountaineers is none other than West Virginia itself with 23 players, followed by Pennsylvania (11), Florida (9), and Ohio (8).