Army Football Insider Sal Interdonato Talks About What To Expect From Here
by Erin Summers
Erin Summers: Welcome back to Behind the Lines. I'm joined by Sal Interdonato of Black Knight Nation.com. You can find him at BlackKnightNation.com or @Salinterdonato on Twitter. He is a friend of the program and one of our insiders.
Sal, let's talk about Army a little bit here: 4-0, for the first time since 1996. What has impressed you with the Black Knights and their start to the season?
Sal Interdonato: I just think the way that they've battled injuries. I just wrote about this on the website a little bit. Coach Monken said today about their toughness, how tough this team has been. When you lose your starting quarterback, when you lose your starting center, when you lose one of your corners, starting fullback Tyson Riley, it just happens to be where they've lost some key people, they're really deep. They're really deep at quarterback.
And Christian Anderson has been . . . what a season that he's had. Last week, 236 yards against Miami of Ohio. That's a big game for him. It's a shame he didn't get to finish that game, but he's really been impressive.
I think the defense has played well, minus the second half vs. Western Kentucky, they've been pretty much on point. The secondary is really good: Marquell Broughton and Cedrick Cunningham in the back, along with Jabari Moore. And, you know, Julian McDuffie gets banged up a little bit and Cam Jones comes in, Cam Jones gets a pick against Miami of Ohio. They're pretty solid defensively. So I think those are really the things that are going well for them.
Are they perfect? No. Has this 4-0 start been the absolutely perfect start for them? No . . . but now they get a chance to show what kind of team they really are with some of the games that they'll be playing coming up. Some games, a team like Wake Forest coming up in a few weeks, is a team that's now into the top 25 and is looking like one of the best teams in the ACC. And they're going to be at Michie Stadium in a few weeks. So, we'll see what this team is really made of soon.
Erin: Speaking to quarterback Christian Anderson and his performance just last week, now that was the most yards by a quarterback in the FBS in this season . . . and as you mentioned, he didn't finish the game. What have you been hearing about his status, his injury and the possibility of somebody else having to step in?
Sal: If you look at it the way he he got hit and the way he fell, he looked like he was holding his right shoulder. And then, when they were walking them off the field, it looked like he wasn't really able to put much on that shoulder, move that shoulder too much. But it was encouraging about what he tweeted over the weekend with everything being OK.
And now Coach Monken, during his press conference, said that there's nothing broken, there's some swelling and it's going to take time to heal. Do I expect Christian on the field for the Ball State game? I would say probably not. But they do have a bye week after Ball State and then a key game at Wisconsin, a Big 10 opponent. And could he be ready for the, for the Wisconsin game? We'll see.
Coach Monken says it's day-by-day and, Erin, we're all day by day, right? I mean, that's everybody pretty much. So we'll see.
I doubt that he (Anderson) would practice early in the week, and if you're practicing late in the week, like on a Friday, are you kind of ready to play the full game? I think it's best that Tyhier Tyler would start against Ball State. Tyhier, he filled in well for Christian at the end of that game against Miami of Ohio, picked up a key fourth down conversion to run out the clock. And he started the season off as the Army's number one quarterback.
We know about the quarterback depth with Jabari Laws, Cade Ballard, Jamal Jones, Maurice Bellan. You know, there's no need to rush Christian Anderson back if if he's not one hundred percent or close to one hundred percent. So I think they're going to be good there.
Erin: The way that this Army offense is stacked up there's a lot of options at quarterback and the run game has been so good -- second right now in the country, 345 yards per game -- that kind of efficiency in your run game is going to lead to success. And it has with the time of possession, over 40 minutes per game. What have you seen from the offense and their ability to really establish that ground attack?
Sal: Well, it's kind of what we've grown to expect from Army, they're usually right up there in the top three in the country in rushing. But this year they're getting the slot backs involved more. Tyrell Robinson's has had a good start to the season. Braheam Murphy has caught a couple of touchdown passes, and, man, he laid out for one against Miami that he almost had. That would have been an incredible catch. AJ Howard. They're getting contributions from Brandon Walters, who has had a big run against UConn. So the slot backs are more involved.
The production from the quarterback and the fullbacks are always going to be there. I think the offensive line, you have to give a lot of credit to [them]. These are guys who really haven't played together as one until the start of the season. And you have Connor Bishop go down against Western Kentucky, and then you have Noah Knapp slide over from guard to center. He was basically recruited as a center early in his career and started games at center, so it's nothing new to Noah. But then you have to kind of re-figure the offensive line. Against Miami, Ohio they moved Connor Finucane from right tackle to right guard. That might not seem that much of an adjustment -- it's a place he played last year -- and then they get Kam Holloway into the starting line up, a senior. He started a game or two last year, but hadn't started a game this year and they get what happened.
I noticed in the game against Miami, Ohio . . . you look at Christian Andersen's runs there, they developed a lot from mostly a couple of runs from the inside. And you got Dean Powell, senior, you got Noah Knapp, senior and you got Connor Finucane, arguably the best offensive lineman for Army as a true sophomore. And so that offensive line's really gelled together.
And when Bishop went down, Zach Ward, a senior, came in for his first start last week against UConn and played one of the most snaps on the team and had a pretty good effort there. They're getting contributions all over the offensive line.
They need a little bit more. The depth going to be tested a little bit because those guys are going to get banged up throughout the season. They got to have a couple more . . . I know there's a couple more guys that haven't gotten a chance to play yet: Mason Kolinchak and Shayne Buckingham, that were going to be in the mix before the season started. So maybe they'll work those guys into the lineup.
And that's a place they really need to have guys ready to go because that offensive line's physical. And you look at the games coming up where you're playing Ball State, who has a physical line, where you're playing Wisconsin and Wake Forest in back-to-back weeks. You better have guys ready on that offensive line to rotate in.
Erin: The Army defense was the top in the country last year. How does the defense this year stack up so far?
Sal: Like I said, minus that second half against Western Kentucky -- who can light it up, I mean, their quarterback is legit and might play on Sundays -- other than that, they've been pretty sharp. Against UConn, the first half they pitched a shut out, played their second- and third-stringers in the second half. And those guys got some valuable experience.
You know who is just showing up on film is Nolan Cockrill, the nose tackle. He's just having a great year. Don't look at Nolan Cockrill's, stats, watch him play and watch the attention he gets up in the middle and watch how many plays Spencer Jones and Arik Smith make because of that.
And also watch his pass rush. When they go to a third down set where they bring in a nickel or they bring in a new package, he's the only defensive lineman staying out there as a nose tackle. And he's getting getting a rush on and he's knocking down balls. He's applying pressure on the quarterback. Jeff Monken said today that defense is built around a nose tackle. Now, how many defenses that you know are built around a nose tackle? He's their best overall player.
And then we have to talk about Andre Carter. If I don't talk about Andre Carter . . . among the league leaders in sacks. He's really been -- I wouldn't say one of their surprise players, but -- one of their emerging players this season. You look at the big game he had against Georgia State to start the season: 6'7, 260, coming off the edge, pretty much, at times un-blockable. There are times where offensive tackles just can't move their feet fast enough to get to get around to block him. And he's been definitely a factor. Just like Cockrill, getting involved in some passing, passing lanes, disrupting the quarterback's rhythm . . .that's been big.
Spencer Jones has come. He didn't start the first game of the season, but he's really come on. And it's been one of their top tacklers in each of the last couple games. And it's been a pretty solid effort.
You know who's a steady guy out there that doesn't get a lot of publicity is Malkelm Morrison. He's a senior, he plays that Apache position where you have to play the run and pass just as well. And he's been involved in some huge hits. He's been involved in some knock-down plays.
This has been a good defense that's going to get better, I think. And are they going to be as good as last year? I think it's still to be determined. But if you look at the efforts against Georgia State, UConn and even against Miami of Ohio, giving up ten points, I think they're on their way.
Erin: We spoke to you before the season started, and you said the nine and three record that Army had last year winning the Commander In Chief's Trophy was definitely attainable for this team. You still stand by that?
Sal: Oh yeah, I think so. Air Force is off to a good start. That game, in November where you're playing at Globe Life field in Arlington, it's going to be a different venue for this game. But I think Army getting on the road for Ball State this weekend, then in Wisconsin the next game, is going to prepare Army for the road game.
When you play three of the four at home and you've had the success that Army has had at Michie Stadium now -- 13 games in a row -- yeah, you really feel like you can go 4-0 in those first four games. When you look at the schedule now, Ball State is off to a slow start, but they are the defending MAC champions. And Wisconsin, even though they're they're 1-2, or have struggled, they're playing some really tough teams.
That's a game that it's going to just be a battle in the trenches. So I think that those two games will really give them a leg up on that neutral site game against Air Force.
And Navy's struggling right now, and that's always going to be a tooth and nail game. It's always going to go down to the end. It seems like the Army can go into that game undefeated and Navy can go into that game winless and it still would be a game that would be close, just because the teams know each other so well.
But as we speak right now, you look at what's happening in service academy football, Army is still the top dog. And until Air Force can can knock Army off in November, the Commander In Chief's trophy should be theirs. I think they're definitely the favorite still.
Erin: Thank you so much for joining us, Sal. I really appreciate the insight. And remember, everybody can follow him @SalInterdoanto on Twitter and check out his work at BlackKnightNation.com.
edited for web by Joe Harman