Unbeaten Buffalo braces to host ‘ticked off’ Army
AMHERST, N.Y. (AP) — Buffalo coach Lance Leipold didn’t get much time to enjoy his school’s first win over a Big Ten opponent or relish the Bulls getting off to their first 4-0 start in nearly four decades.
A few hours after returning home following a 42-13 rout at Rutgers on Saturday, Leipold’s mood turned upon seeing how Army nearly toppled then-fifth-ranked Oklahoma, and on the road.
“Yeah, the night deflated pretty quickly,” Leipold said with a shake of his head, realizing the Bulls won’t have it easy hosting the Black Knights (2-2) on Saturday. “Not that we didn’t know it was going to be a challenge anyway.”
Army and its clock-consuming triple option offense can serve as a buzzkill for any opponent. Just ask the Sooners, who eked out a 28-21 overtime win in a game their 50-point-an-outing offense possessed the ball for just over 15 minutes.
The Black Knights still earned a rousing ovation upon leaving the field after their monumental upset hopes ended with Kevin Hopkins Jr. being intercepted on fourth down.
Moral victories don’t go far, however, with coach Jeff Monken.
“A lot of people say, ‘Congratulations. What a great game.’ Frankly, I think that’s a loser’s mentality,” Monken said.
“We don’t get excited and happy and wear our arms out patting ourselves on the back because we went into overtime with the No. 5 team in the country,” he said.
Expectations remain high in Monken’s fifth season at West Point. The Black Knights are coming off two straight bowl appearances and their first 10-win season since 1996.
Army hasn’t had an easy opening schedule. Its first five opponents currently have a combined record of 17-3 in a season that began with a 34-14 loss to now 22nd-ranked Duke.
The Mid-American Conference Bulls are in uncharted territory in their fourth season under Leipold.
Buffalo’s 4-0 start is its best since 1980, when the Bulls were a Division III program. Buffalo has also won seven straight dating to last season, and hasn’t had a longer streak since winning nine straight spanning 1946-47.
Senior center James O’Hagan has little time to reflect on the past.
“I mean, history’s great, but I just want to keep on winning,” O’Hagan said.
Buffalo is the only school in the nation that hasn’t allowed a sack.
Junior quarterback Tyree Jackson has gone 78 for 126 for 1,052 yards passing and 15 touchdowns with just three interceptions. He already ranks 10th on Buffalo’s single-season touchdowns passing list and is tied for third in the nation. Leipold credits numerous factors in keeping Jackson upright, including O’Hagan overseeing an offensive line featuring two first-time starters in right tackle Kayode Awosika and left guard Paul Nosworthy.
Army led the nation in rushing last year (362.3 yards per game) with senior quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw. With Hopkins now in charge, the Black Knights’ rushing attack is purring once again after a slow start.
They’ve averaged 363.7 yards rushing and scored 11 of 12 touchdowns on the ground since losing to Duke, and averaging 314.8 per game, fourth nationally. Hopkins, one of six players with over 100 yards rushing, leads the team with 308, including back-to-back 100-yard performances against Hawaii and Oklahoma.
Army lost key defensive performers from last year’s 10-3 team, but the Black Knights haven’t skipped a beat. In a home win two weeks ago over Hawaii, they held the Rainbow Warriors to 21 points, 27 below their average entering the game. Overall, Army is allowing 24.3 points per game, the best mark among the three service academies.
NOTHING TO CHANCE
The Bulls are still stung after being overlooked in the bowl-selection process following a 6-6 finish last year, and despite closing with three straight wins.
“We definitely take it as a chip on our shoulder,” O’Hagan said. “That’s something we talk about, leave no doubt. So getting six wins isn’t enough.”
Buffalo has made just two bowl appearances — in 2008 and ’13 — since making the jump to the Division I level in 1999.
BY THE NUMBERS
The series is tied 3-3, with Buffalo having won two of the past three meetings since 2014. ... The Bulls have scored 31 or more points in each of their past seven games, the third-longest streak in the nation. Buffalo has also scored 27 or more in each of its last 11 wins dating to a 23-20 overtime victory over Army on Sept. 24, 2016. ... A victory against Buffalo would mark the first time Army has had a winning record through five games in three straight seasons since 1984-86.
AP Sports Writer John Kekis contributed to this report.