Army hosts Morgan State going for 15th straight home win
WEST POINT, N.Y. (AP) — Army coach Jeff Monken was unsure before the season who might be able to step in at quarterback if starter Kelvin Hopkins Jr. got injured because there was no experience behind the senior.
None of the four upperclassmen listed at quarterback — a junior and three sophomores — had any game experience, and giving one of the seven incoming freshmen QBs a shot was a longshot at best. Before last week’s game at Texas-San Antonio, only sophomore Jabari Laws had seen action, and his Army resume was one rush for three yards — in the season-opening victory over Rice.
What a difference a game has made as the Black Knights (2-1) prepare to host Morgan State (0-2) on Saturday at Michie Stadium, where Army has won 14 straight.
When Hopkins had to sit last Saturday with an undisclosed injury, Laws stepped in and led Army to a 31-13 road victory over Texas-San Antonio . His first play was a 35-yard run as the Black Knights scored in 53 seconds. Laws finished with 137 yards rushing and a touchdown on 23 carries, the first Army player to eclipse 100 yards rushing this season.
Now, future opponents have another set of legs to worry about in that tricky triple option, a welcome development after a tough double-overtime loss to then-No. 7 Michigan.
“Jabari was phenomenal,” Army defensive back Elijah Riley said. “He stepped into big shoes and definitely did his best to fill them. He had that breakout run on the very first play of the game. I thought that was a confidence-booster for him. I knew he was capable of doing that.”
“We just prepared the whole week as if we were going to play,” said Laws, who scored on a 41-yard run in the third quarter. “I was really anxious, but my teammates did a great job of calming me down and telling me they had my back. Kelvin Hopkins did a great job of leading me and getting my head back into the game, just giving me small pep talks.”
Hopkins, who had a hip injury last season and missed one game, has been practicing just as he was last week, but with a bye week coming after Saturday’s game Laws is ready for more time.
“I think I did OK for the first time,” Laws said. “I definitely could have done better with my footwork and fundamentals. I felt like if I had done better in that aspect the game would have been different.”
Other things to know when Army hosts Morgan State on Saturday:
Morgan State has a new head coach in former Michigan star Tyrone Wheatley, but it’s an uphill struggle. The Bears, who compete in the Championship Subdivision, haven’t won a nonconference road game since a 28-3 win over Bowie State five years ago, and started the season with two road losses, 46-3 to Bowling Green and 63-12 to James Madison. The Bears are 0-2 against Army, both at Michie Stadium — 28-12 in 2013 and 60-3 three years ago.
Redshirt senior LB Rico Kennedy returns to a familiar place — he was a member of Army Prep in 2014. Kennedy has 19 tackles, two of them for lost yardage, and LB Ian McBorrough, on the watch list for the Campbell Trophy, is tied for ninth in the FCS in total tackles with 22, 1.5 for loss.
“You never sleep on anybody you play,” Riley said. “It’s college football. Anything can happen any day.”
GROUNDED NO MORE
Army finished second nationally last year in rushing, averaging 312.5 yards, but got off to a slow start in the first two games. The Black Knights gained 431 yards on 91 carries, an average of 4.7 per carry, then gained a season-high 340 on 55 attempts at UTSA, an average of 6.2 with Laws at the helm. That boosted the season average to 257, 18th in the nation but well behind service academy rivals Navy and Air Force, who rank 1-2 — 371.5 and 353.5.
TOO MANY TURNOVERS
Army has lost five of seven fumbles and has one interception. The Black Knights had eight giveaways in 13 games last season — five lost fumbles and three interceptions.
“We just have to focus on our fundamentals,” Laws said. “We’ve been working on it every day. It’s just us. We’re making mental errors. We’re just not being smart with the football.”
At least the turnover margin is a wash. The Army defense has five fumble recoveries and one interception.
ALL IN THE FAMILY
Morgan State sophomore TE Idahota Akojie will face his younger brother Izzy, a freshman DB for Army. Izzy has a twin brother who also attends Morgan State and there’s a fourth brother, Osaghale, who attends Wise High School in Maryland. Idahota also was a teammate of Laws at Wise High.