WEST POINT, N.Y. (AP) The sudden death of a budding star and two straight losses temporarily halted Army's fast start to the season. Count coach Jeff Monken among those who have marveled at the resolve of the Black Knights.
''I've really been impressed with this team and their ability to continue to focus through everything that we have been through this year,'' Monken said as he prepared for Saturday's home game against North Texas. ''I think they've handled the wave of emotions that comes with winning and losing, and I sense in our team that there's not a satisfaction like they accomplished what they wanted to this year.''
With a little luck, Army (4-2) could be unbeaten and already qualified to play in a bowl game. The Black Knights started the season with three straight wins, then blew a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter and dropped an overtime game at Buffalo that was there for the taking in regulation. That setback came two weeks after defensive back Brandon Jackson was killed in a one-car accident in the hours after a victory over Rice at Michie Stadium. Then came a 13-6 loss at Duke played in a driving rain as Hurricane Matthew buffeted the East Coast.
Last week, Army rebounded with an emphatic 62-7 victory over FCS foe Lafayette, a nice reset with the imposing second half of the season looming. Air Force, Wake Forest, Notre Dame and Navy still remain after Saturday's game against North Texas (3-3) of Conference USA.
Army's triple option chews up yards and time. For teams that rarely play against that type of offense, it's normally a real test. At least North Texas head coach Seth Littrell has had some extra time to prepare for the nation's top running team. The Mean Green is coming off a bye week.
''The challenges are you don't see them much,'' said Littrell, in his first season at North Texas. ''Seeing all the different reads, you have to be extremely disciplined. You have to have your eyes in the right spot. If you're not careful, people will be running wide open.''
This will be the fifth all-time meeting between Army and North Texas, and the Mean Green has yet to win one. Mapping out a plan on paper to succeed is easy. Executing it is another matter.
''You're going to have to be physical, no doubt, and you're going to have to stay patient ... and not get frustrated,'' Littrell said. ''It's crucial that you stay on the field when you've got the opportunity to score.''
Other things to know when Army hosts North Texas on Saturday at Michie Stadium:
NO. 1 AGAIN IN THE RUN: Army has regained its spot as the top rushing team in the nation. The Black Knights had 537 yards rushing against Lafayette and now are averaging 366.5 yards per game and 5.9 per carry. The North Texas defense is allowing 4.7 yards per carry.
RUN TO VICTORY: Tailback Jeffrey Wilson has been a key cog for North Texas. In the team's three wins, Wilson has averaged 142.7 rushing yards and the team has rushed for an average of 265.3. In the Mean Green's three losses, Wilson has averaged 44.3 and the team 31.3.
SACK CREW: Army has 15 sacks this season, and they've been nicely spread around. Alex Aukerman, Andrew King and Kenneth Brinson share the team lead with four apiece. Aukerman, a hybrid defender who can line up at either linebacker or end, has 8.5 tackles for loss and his 1.4 per game ranks 22nd in the country.
DEFENSE RULES: The Army defense is allowing only 14 points per game to rank fourth in the nation. The Black Knights also rank second in total defense, allowing an average of 245.2 yards per game, and second against the run, allowing just 99 yards per game on the ground.
''We've got to do a good job of making competitive plays in the run game,'' Littrell said. ''We've got to get off the ball. Our running backs are going to have to break tackles.''
FAMILIAR FOE: Both teams beat Rice. Army posted a 31-14 triumph over the Owls in September. Two weeks later, North Texas beat them 42-35 in double overtime.
AP college football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org
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