This college football season is unlike any other in the history of the sport. Why would bowl season be any different?
West Virginia football was initially slated to face the Tennessee Volunteers in this year’s Liberty Bowl; however, the SEC school had to cancel their plans because of multiple positive COVID-19 cases.
The Mountaineers will now face Army, which had its bowl game canceled due to several teams opting out.
So unless more things change, WVU and Army will meet in the Liberty Bowl on Thursday, Dec. 31, at 4 p.m. on ESPN. The game will take place at the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tennessee.
WVU vs. Army preview
The Mountaineers face off with a unique opponent on New Year’s Eve to close out their season. Instead of facing just a three-win Tennessee team that was first announced, they’ll battle a difficult side in Army.
The Black Knights went 9-2 in 2020, although their schedule didn’t consist of the best teams. As an independent, Army isn’t attached to any conference.
That being said, its only two losses came against two successful teams that also qualified for bowl season.
Cincinnati is ranked 8th in the nation with a perfect 9-0 record. The Bearcats were in the College Football Playoff conversation and will play Georgia in the Peach Bowl.
They defeated Army by just 14 points at home.
The Black Knights’ second loss was more sizable and came at the hands of Tulane. It went 6-6 overall this year, including an 11-point letdown in its bowl game against Nevada.
Army won its nine other regular-season games, featuring victories over Navy and Air Force, as well as bowl-bound Georgia Southern and UTSA.
Not only has it proven that it’s a winning program, Army plays much differently than most college football teams these days. Its offense utilizes the triple option and runs on the majority of plays.
In their last game against Air Force, the Knights only attempted a total of two passes. Even if they decide to open things up in the bowl, it won’t be like anything WVU’s defense has seen in the Big 12.
As a whole, Army attempted only 70 passes for 480 yards on the season. In comparison, it ran the ball over 650 times this year for more than 3,000 yards.
It’s safe to say the WVU secondary won’t be seeing much action in this one.
College football betting odds at WV sportsbooks
The way Army’s offense plays can sometimes alter the betting odds around the country, and West Virginia sportsbooks are no exception. Games are typically “shorter” when Army is playing because its lack of passing keeps the clock running constantly.
This potentially translates to smaller point spreads and lower totals.
WVU is favored by about a touchdown in next week’s Liberty Bowl. While it varies based on the online sports betting app, the game’s total is set around 44 points.
ESPN’s Football Power Index likes the Mountaineers’ chances of coming away with a victory. It gives them about a 73% probability of winning this game.
Players to watch in the Liberty Bowl
Despite its old-school offensive attack, Army includes plenty of notable players on both sides of the ball.
Sophomore quarterback Tyhier Tyler is the team’s leading rusher with more than 500 yards on the year. He averaged 4.4 yards per carry and scored twice on the ground.
Overall, Army features seven different players who rushed for over 200 yards.
Freshman running back Tyrell Robinson led this group averaging 7.1 yards per carry. He rushed just 60 times this season for 424 yards.
As far as touchdowns go, senior running back Sandon McCoy led the Knights with 10, while sophomore Jakobi Buchanan added six.
Army’s leading passer, Christian Anderson, finished third in rushing. He accounted for 158 passing yards and 401 on the ground.
As mentioned, the lack of a passing game will leave little excitement on the outside for WVU. Expect there to be additional linebackers on the field, and for the safeties to pinch toward the line of scrimmage before the snap.
If Army is able to successfully run, then the Mountaineers will be in for a long game.
When the Knights do pass, it’s usually to one of two players. Junior receiver Michael Roberts and Tyrell Robinson combined for 13 of their team’s 31 total receptions. They are also the only two with over 100 yards receiving on the year.
Senior linebacker Jon Rhattigan leads the Army defense along with junior Arik Smith. Rhattigan is the top tackler with 78 on the season, while Smith added 71 and paced the Knights in sacks with 3.5.
They also contributed three combined interceptions, but they weren’t the only ones. Five different defensive backs have at least one this season, led by Jabari Moore’s three.
On offense, WVU will rely heavily on junior running back Leddie Brown. He would have notched his first 1,000-yard campaign had the Oklahoma matchup not been canceled.
If he’s close to his 5.3 yards-per-carry average for the year, then the Mountaineers are in good shape.
Quarterback Jarret Doege has been efficient and has lots of weapons on the outside to help him out.
Defensively, WVU features several standouts. Senior linebacker Tony Fields II led the way with tackles and was named Defensive Newcomer of the Year in the Big 12.
He wasn’t the only Mountaineer to bring home some hardware. Senior defensive tackle Darius Stills was also named Defensive Lineman of the Year in the conference.
They both qualified for the All-Big 12 First Team, as did Brown at running back.
Four others were named to the second team, including receiver Winston Wright Jr., offensive lineman Michael Brown, defensive lineman Akheem Mesidor, and corner Alonzo Addae.