WEST POINT, N.Y. (AP) — Army's three-season run of respectability is being challenged. Returning home to play at Michie Stadium might just be what the Black Knights need as they seek to break a three-game skid.
"It's nice to come back home," Army coach Jeff Monken said. "Michie Stadium has been really good to our program recently. It's just a great source of pride to play in front of the Corps (of Cadets) and to be here in this historic stadium."
Since losing five straight to complete a 2-10 season four years ago, Army (3-4) has gone 15-2 at home and hosts San Jose State of the Mountain West Conference on Saturday. The Spartans (3-4) are coming off a 27-17 homecoming loss to San Diego State , their second straight setback.
"I think they're a really good football team and I think they play their best football at home," San Jose State coach Brent Brennan said. "The cadets in the stands and the environment there that they've created by rebuilding a winning football program makes it incredibly challenging."
The Black Knights won 29 games under Monken from 2016-18, the most wins in a three-year span in academy history and the best performance since the heyday of Earl Blaik, who won two national championships in the mid-1940s, stringing together three straight unbeaten seasons with one tie.
Last year's squad finished 11-2, an academy record for wins in a season. That all seems like the distant past now. Tulane snapped Army's 15-game winning streak at Michie Stadium three weeks ago to start the slide, and road losses to Western Kentucky and Georgia State followed.
For senior Elijah Riley, besides all the injuries, missed blocks, and turnovers, there's another reason, and it's tied to the team's recent success.
"I think, as opposed to years in the past, teams are really preparing to play us," said Riley, named this week as a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, given annually to the top defensive back in the country. "We're not going to surprise anybody this year. If Army is on the schedule, in the past it would have been, Army, no big deal. Now, it's like, OK, we're playing Army. They're a legit team. We've got to give them everything we've got."
All of the losses this season have come against teams that now stand at 5-2 and have placed Army in a tough spot if it hopes to play in a bowl game for a fourth straight year.
"The most important thing is to play our brand of fundamental football," Monken said. "Football is blocking and tackling. We have to do that as well as we are capable of doing it. If we do it as well as we are capable of doing it, it will be good enough."
Army's triple option tends to create close games because it usually dominates the clock, making each possession critical for opponents, and the Black Knights have excelled in close encounters. In the previous three seasons they were involved in 16 games decided by seven points or fewer and won 11 of them, going 3-1 in overtime. This year, they're 1-2, including a double-overtime loss at then-No. 7 Michigan.
Just how close has it been this year? Army has outscored its seven opponents by just 28 points (180-152). Throw out its Championship Subdivision win over Morgan State (52-21) and it's pretty much a dead heat — 128-131 — the difference Michigan's game-winning field goal in extra time.
San Jose State defeated Arkansas 31-24 last month for its first road victory of the season. The Spartans haven't won two road games in the same season since 2015 when they defeated UNLV in overtime and Hawaii.
San Jose State has scored 51 points off turnovers, tied for second with San Diego State at 1.57 per game or plus-11. The Spartans have 13 interceptions, which leads the country, and five fumble recoveries. In last week's loss at Georgia State, Army lost the ball twice — one fumble and one interception — and has 11 turnovers on the season.
"We have to take care of the ball," Monken said. "It is a huge statistic in football, unless a team is physically superior who can afford to give up a few turnovers and survive it. We're not."
San Jose State is the only Bowl Subdivision team with games in five different time zones this season and will exceed 16,000 travel miles. The season also includes trips to Nevada and UNLV (Pacific), Air Force (Mountain), Arkansas (Central) and Hawaii (Hawaiian time zone).