Every team has the dreaded “trap game” on their schedule. Wisconsin is no exception to this theory. In the Paul Chryst era, the Badgers have lost their trap games in 2018 and 2019. This has often knocked Wisconsin out of the playoff conversation. This season, I see the Badgers October 16th match up against the Army Black Knights being that game.
Fortunately for the Badgers, they’ll face the Black Knights at Camp Randall Stadium giving them home field advantage. Army also has some question marks at the quarterback position. Despite these advantages, this game certainly will be a challenge for the Badgers. Wisconsin faces the military academy in the middle of their Big Ten slate. The Badgers have also never faced Army before in their history making them unable to go off history. Typically, most teams get their non-conference opponents out of the way to focus primarily on their conference title race. Although they’ll be coming off a winnable game against Illinois, it won’t be an easy adjustment to flip the focus.
West Point is no longer a pushover team. Since Jeff Monken became head coach, the Black Knights have a record of 49-39, three bowl wins and one AP Poll finish. While it’s not what they were under Red Blaik, this is the best Army has been in a long time, prior to Monken taking over, the Black Knights only had had one winning season in over ten years.
Last season, West Point had their best defensive season in the Jeff Monken era. They finished first in all of the FBS in total defense and allowed only 275.3 yards per game. The Black Knights also finished in the top half of all FBS football in nine other defensive categories. This season, they’ll be returning a majority of those players as well. This will create challenge for the offense.
In the Big Ten, offenses such as the Pro-Style and the Spread are what the Badgers face. While Ohio State has triple option plays in their offense; the Badgers haven’t seen a true triple option offensive team since 2009 when they faced FCS Wofford. During that time, Paul Chryst was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Bret Bielema was the Badgers head coach, Jim Leonhard was playing for the New York Jets and all the current players were either in elementary or middle school.
The offense is the most unique scheme there is in college football because only all the military academies run it. The last team in a major conference to run a true triple option attack was Georgia Tech under Paul Johnson. The version of the offense that Army runs is primarily a running offense with limited passing plays. How the offense works is the quarterbacks makes his reads while he has the ball instead of before the snap. As the play unfolds the quarterback can either hand it to the fullback, pitch it to a running back or keep it himself. Even if he decides to keep it, he can still pitch it to the tailback like a regular option play.
I also doubt that Wisconsin’s scout team will be able to simulate the offense due to it’s complexity. This will put them at a competitive disadvantage going into the game.
While Jim Leonhard loves to blitz, this strategy works against him and the Badgers defense. The triple option is a downhill offense that forces defenders to make decisions in real time. The quarterback isn’t running around in the pocket. The offense is designed to go right at the defense the moment the ball is snapped. In a blitz heavy game plan, a defender will inevitably run past their assignment. When it becomes a one on one situation that generally signals a touchdown will happen.
This offense will gain yards despite the Badgers having a stout run defense. The key for Jim Leonhard’s bunch is to limit the big chunk plays that Army gets on the ground. The old “control the line of scrimmage” quote applies even more greatly to this situation. If the Badgers can put the Black Knights in at least third and medium situations, then that will help them get off the field faster.
Although the Badgers are better on paper, they shouldn’t look ahead to Purdue the following week. Army is a pretty good team and under Jeff Monken, West Point has only had three losing seasons and are coming off a nine-win campaign. With a most of their starters on defense coming back and an offense that’s hard to stop; the Badgers must take Army seriously in order to keep themselves in the New Year’s bowl game conversation.