WEST POINT, N.Y. (AP) — It didn't take long for Army coach Jeff Monken to realize this year won't be quite the same as last year. Two lost fumbles in a season-opening loss on the road by a team that thrives on ball possession quickly made that clear.
Time to rediscover the tenacity that produced 10 wins last season.
"We have to be tough," said Monken, in his fifth year at West Point. "We have to be fundamentally sound, we have to play really hard, play together. We can't make mistakes. When we do that, we are a tough team to beat.
"We can be a good football team. We have good football players in our room."
Last season, the Black Knights fumbled just seven times in 13 games and lost only five of them as their triple-option attack operated at a high level behind senior quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw, matching the academy record for wins in a season.
That seems long ago as the Black Knights get ready to face Bowl Subdivision newcomer Liberty (1-0) at Michie Stadium on Saturday.
In its 34-14 loss last week at Duke , Army fumbled five times with new quarterback Kelvin Hopkins Jr. under center in his first college start. The tone was set early when wideout Glen Coates fumbled on Army's first play from scrimmage. Playing in just his second college game, Coates lost the ball after a 12-yard reception but Army retained possession when the ball sailed out of bounds. The reprieve was short-lived — fullback Darnell Woolfolk lost a fumble on the next play and Duke capitalized.
"We can't fumble the ball. That has to be a big change," Monken said.
The Army schedule includes consecutive matchups at home in November against Championship Subdivision teams Lafayette and Colgate. That's a scheduling strategy that worked well for the academy under Jim Young in the 1980s — his teams went 22-3 against FCS foes from 1984-90 and won the first two bowl games in school history.
This year's slate also includes a team in its first full season at college football's top level, but the Liberty Flames and coach Turner Gill have already proved they are more than ready for the transition. Last year, their final one as an FCS team in the Big South Conference, Liberty upset Baylor on the road in Matt Rhule's coaching debut with the Bears and began this season with a 52-10 victory over Old Dominion , their first win as an FBS school.
"It was a great game for us to evaluate where we are right now," Gill said. "You never know until you really play a game."
Like Army, Liberty is playing as an independent.
Other things to know about Saturday's matchup:
Army has won seven straight games at Michie Stadium, including all six last season. Their last home loss was to Air Force nearly two years ago.
"Having your home crowd, not having to travel, sleeping in a familiar place and just the pride of winning at home are big factors," Monken said. "Taking that seriously and having it mean something is key."
Army, which led the nation in rushing last year (362.3 yards per game and 6 yards a carry), was thwarted by Duke, outgained on the ground 184-168 by the Blue Devils. That's only the second time an opponent has outrushed Army in the last 11 games.
The Army secondary likely will have its hands full with WRs DJ Stubbs and Anton Gandy-Golden. Against ODU, Stubbs had seven catches for 155 yards and one TD and Gandy-Golden had six receptions for 53 yards and three TDs. The 6-foot-4 Gandy-Golden had 13 receptions for 192 yards, both career highs, and scored twice in the win at Baylor and went on to lead the Big South in receiving yards (1,066) and receptions (69).
"We'll take AGG against anybody," Gill said.
Liberty QB Stephen Calvert finished 25 of 36 for 345 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions against Old Dominion and RB Kentory Matthews had 101 yards rushing on 17 attempts, including a 57-yard run. Liberty outgained ODU 591-301.
Army has faltered in the kicking game for the past two years, since the graduation of Daniel Grochowski. Blake Wilson made just three of eight attempts last year as Monken concentrated on pounding the ball into the end zone, and Landon Salyers struggled against Duke. In only his second career game and first as the primary place-kicker, Salyers was wide right on a 33-yard field goal try in the first quarter and had a 45-yard attempt blocked in the fourth.
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