Khalil Hodge has seen Army’s triple-option offense three years in a row. Each time, he finds a new challenge in facing it.
In the University at Buffalo's 42-13 loss to the Black Knights on Saturday at UB Stadium, Hodge’s challenge — and the Bulls’ challenge — was simply to keep pace.
Army’s offense, the UB linebacker said, is unlike any other offense the Bulls have or will face this season. In the Bulls’ first five games, it’s also the most productive offense the Bulls have faced. The Black Knights accrued 372 yards, the second-highest total the Bulls defense has given up to an opponent this season.
UB allowed 490 yards in a 35-28 win Sept. 15 against Eastern Michigan — but the Eagles’ offense was a little more straightforward. Better yet, it wasn’t as confounding as Army’s triple option, which is predicated on reading defenses and misdirection.
“Schematically, the way they do things,” Hodge said, when asked what the most frustrating thing about Army’s defense is. “It’s different, like I said before. Every offense, even our offense, there’s similarities. It's football. There’s a lot of similarities that might not be the same each week, but you can see different things that you might have played against last week, or the week prior to that. Army is completely different. That’s definitely frustrating.”
Even more frustrating to the Bulls? Of Army’s 69 plays, only five were pass plays, including Kelvin Hopkins Jr.’s 25-yard pass to Jordan Asberry with 2:49 left in the third quarter.
The Knights are EVERYWHERE.
— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) September 29, 2018
“It’s just part of the game plan, and we play within our strengths,” Hopkins said of his team’s selectivity with its passing. “We’re going to run the ball, and we know that and that’s what’s going to happen, and teams know that but once we see something in a team or something that they’re doing on defense where we can exploit in the passing game, that’s going to happen.”
Asberry’s touchdown gave the Black Knights a 28-13 lead, the first of three unanswered Army touchdowns.
“One of our main goals today was just to do our assignment, regardless of how many times they run the ball,” Hodge said. “That one pass, it will still ruin your assignment. You have to capitalize on that then. It has a lot to do with the guys up front, also. If we weren’t giving up so many yards from the start, maybe our safety didn’t feel like he had to come down on that (play).
"We needed to get off the field and make stops, and we didn’t do that today.”
In a limited role: UB wide receiver Anthony Johnson sustained a leg injury Sept. 22 at Rutgers, and UB limited Johnson to a handful of plays against Army. Johnson was on the field early in the second half when the Bulls trailed 21-7 and cut the lead to 21-13 on Kevin Marks’ 1-yard touchdown run at 7:55 of the third. Johnson did not make any catches against Army.
“AJ’s a great player but he way this team is, we’re not going to make excuses,” quarterback Tyree Jackson said. “Cam (Lewis) not playing, AJ not playing, that’s not a reason to lose. We definitely have a lot of things we need to work on.”
Not much into milestones: With 20 tackles Saturday against Army, Hodge is now tied for sixth in school history in tackles with 344. Hodge passed Khalil Mack (327) and Mike Newton (342) and joins Lee Skinner (344).
Yet in the wake of the loss, Hodge didn’t put much stock in the benchmark.
“It’s a huge credit to players and all the guys I played with, in the last two or three years prior, but the main thing is to get a win today,” said Hodge, who has 67 tackles in five games this season. “And we didn’t do that.”
Trailing in the first half: UB trailed Army 21-7 at halftime, and it was only the second time this season the Bulls trailed an opponent in the first half. Rutgers took a 3-0 lead on Justin Davidovicz’s field goal in a 42-13 loss to the Bulls on Sept. 22 in Piscataway, N.J.
Next up: The Bulls resume their MAC schedule when they face Central Michigan at noon Saturday in Mount Pleasant, Mich. The Chippewas (1-4, 0-1 MAC) lost 31-20 on Saturday at Michigan State.