Army delivered a drubbing of biblical proportions to Houston in the Armed Forces Bowl on Saturday, 70-14. The Black Knights led 42-7 at halftime, roughly 45 minutes after Houston appeared to lose interest, and rode to one of bowl history’s most thorough blowouts.
Army’s 70 points tied West Virginia’s output against Clemson in the 2011 season’s Orange Bowl for the most ever in a bowl game. The 56-point margin of victory tied Tulsa’s 63-7 romp over Bowling Green at the 2008 GMAC Bowl for the biggest ever in a bowl. Additionally, the Black Knights set the record for “number of times someone looked at the score and muttered, ‘Shit, there is how much time left in this game?’”
The win was Army’s 11th of the year, the most in the program’s illustrious history. The Cougars finished the year 8-5, marking the second year in a row they’ve done worse than 8-4 after Major Applewhite’s boss said the school would fire coaches who finished 8-4. Applewhite’s job is in danger, sources told SB Nation’s Steven Godfrey.
It would be almost impossible to overstate how dominant Army was.
These were the results of Army’s first-half drives:
- 14 plays, 80 yards, 7:47, touchdown
- 2 plays, 80 yards, 0:51, touchdown
- 3 plays, 62 yards, 1:18, touchdown
- 3 plays, 8 yards, 1:22, touchdown
- 8 plays, 69 yards, 4:33, touchdown
That doesn’t include Cameron Jones’ 23-yard fumble-return TD.
The 8-yard drive came after a long punt return. Other than that, Army had two methodical drives of the type it usually puts on people, with triple-option ball control ruling the day as the Knights plod their way downfield. But Houston also gave up two quick strikes for TDs — one on a 77-yard Kelvin Hopkins Jr. TD run, one following a 54-yard Army pass play. Army threw all of three times in the half and completed each for a total of 70 yards.
Army also reached the end zone on the first drive of the second half. Houston’s defense didn’t get a stop until UH’s Emeke Egbule batted and recovered a Cam Thomas pitch on the Knights’ seventh series. That was with 5:32 left in the third quarter. Houston turned the ball over on downs and then fumbled on its next two series, though. Army hit the game’s over/under of 57 points by itself with 10 and a half minutes to play.
When it was done, Army had more points than it had ever scored in a bowl game. (Actually, that part was true by the end of the third quarter.) The Knights finished with 592 yards to Houston’s 317, a per-play difference of 9.5 to 4.3. They had 35 minutes of possession time and notched 10 sacks of poor Houston quarterback Clayton Tune. Houston did not sack an Army quarterback even once.
Houston was an underdog for reasons not entirely in its control, but the Cougars played worse than almost anyone would’ve expected.
The Cougars didn’t have elite defensive lineman Ed Oliver, who joined a bunch of his peers in skipping his bowl to get ready for the NFL Draft and not risk injury. They also didn’t have the injured D’Eriq King, who quietly was one of the country’s best dual-threat QBs. That’s Houston’s most important defensive and offensive players not participating.
The Cougars were in general flux on defense, playing without their defensive coordinator after their No. 100 regular-season ranking in Defensive S&P+ got Mark D’Onofrio fired. Not that they were any good during the year, but without Oliver, this was an unlikely spot for UH to suddenly figure out how to stop a really good triple-option team.
Still, though: holy hell! That was horrible! Army was playing with an interim defensive coordinator after Jay Bateman’s departure for North Carolina, and Houston’s offense couldn’t make a dent. The Cougars’ defense was even worse than the low standard it had set for itself all season. They gave up big plays on special teams for good measure.
A lot can change quickly, but for now, Army and Houston are traveling in opposite directions.
I don’t mean that literally, though UH is heading south to Houston and Army will head north to West Point (or wherever players might be going for the holidays).
What I do mean: Houston’s cratered since the middle of the 2016 season, when Tom Herman appeared to have a Playoff contender and no Group of 5 team was better:
As I mentioned in today's bowl advance, there is ABSOLUTELY no buzz around the Houston football program. Since climbing to No. 6 early in 2016 season, Cougars are 19-13 with two lower-tier bowl losses.— Joseph Duarte (@Joseph_Duarte) December 22, 2018
Make that 19-14 with three lower-tier bowl losses.
Meanwhile, Army just wrapped its winningest season in modern history. Actually, it just wrapped its winningest two seasons in modern history. Monken has built a great program. Not great by Army standards, either. Just great.