NCAA Football Liberty Bowl: West Virginia/Army Preview

by Big Al Staff

The final college football game of 2020 takes place at 4 PM ET on ESPN. West Virginia initially thought they were playing Tennessee in the 62nd Liberty Bowl. But the Volunteers were hit with a COVID outbreak and pulled out of this event. Army qualified for the Independence Bowl midseason but lacked an opponent amidst many programs declining to participate in bowl games. The Black Knights became a logical fit to replace Tennessee in this bowl game, with the decision becoming official on December 21st. This game is at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tennessee.

Army closed out their season with three straight wins after they upset Air Force by a 10-7 score as a 1-point underdog. That victory gave the Black Knights their third Commander-in-Chief trophy in four years. Army’s only two losses were against Tulane and Cincinnati by 38-12 and 24-10 scores. While those are both teams that qualified for bowl games, the strength of schedule for the Black Knights remains a question mark, with two of their victories coming against FCS opponents in Abilene Christian and Mercer.

Army has some of the best defensive numbers in the nation. The Black Knights rank second in the nation by allowing 14.0 points-per-game, and they rank second in the country by only giving up 271.2 yards-per-game. Army led the nation by allowing only 149.9 passing yards-per-game. Critics will be quick to point out that the Black Knights played four opponents that featured run-first triple-option attacks. Yet Army picked off 13 passes this season. They also ranked 20th in the country by allowing 121.2 rushing yards-per-game despite facing four run-heavy opponents.

Army is a run-first triple-option team themselves that was fourth in the nation by averaging 281.3 rushing yards-per-game. With 22 different ball-carriers this season, the Black Knights registered 33 rushing touchdowns. Army did not play in a bowl game last year, but this will be their fourth bowl game appearance in five seasons under head coach Jeff Monken.

West Virginia opened their season by winning three of their first four games, but they lost three of their last five games to close their regular season. They last played on December 5th when they lost at Iowa State by a 42-6 score.

Junior quarterback Jarret Doege completed 21 of 41 passes for 209 yards in the loss to the Cyclones. The former Bowling Green transfer completed 64.2% of his passes for 2428 yards, which were second best in the Big 12. Doege passed for 13 touchdown passes with only three interceptions. He is supported by running back Leddie Brown, who rushed for 945 yards with a 5.3 yards-per-carry average and nine touchdowns to earn All-Big 12 honors. He added 31 receptions for 202 yards and another two touchdowns in the passing game. The Mountaineers are 43rd in the nation by averaging 422.7 yards-per-game to accompany their 26.8 points-per-game average.

Second-year head coach Neal Brown has brought a defensive mindset to the program. West Virginia ranked fifth in the nation by allowing only 297.2 yards-per-game while also ranking 21st in the country by giving up 20.4 points-per-game. The Mountaineers held opposing rushers to 3.6 yards-per-carry and 126.2 rushing yards-per-game, which was the 13th best mark in the FBS. But West Virginia has not faced a triple-option offense since 2015, and Brown has had only ten days to prepare for the Army offense.

BookMaker lists West Virginia as a 6.5-point favorite with the total set at 41.

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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