WEST POINT, N.Y. (AP) — Heading into the home stretch and riding a five-game losing streak, the Army Black Knights remain fixated on one thing — improving.
"We're not really focused on the opponent," fullback Sandon McCoy said. "We're focused on getting better as a team. It's just better for our team."
What began as a promising season after a 3-1 start has turned sour, the latest setback a most difficult one — 17-13 a week ago at service academy rival Air Force. Army was stopped twice at the goal line — on the first drive of the game and the last, its triple option not as potent when it counts as in the recent past.
"It's been a long time since we had a victory, unfortunately," said Army coach Jeff Monken, who guided the Black Knights to an academy-record 11 wins last season. "That's been uncommon around here. Our guys are working, and I am very pleased with the efforts they're putting into it and their attitudes. They are fighters and we're going to continue to do that."
Army (3-6) returns home to Michie Stadium on Saturday to face struggling UMass (1-8), and with four games remaining still has dreams of the postseason. The Minutemen own the worst scoring defense in the nation, allowing 52 points per game, 54.9 in their eight losses. And they're slow starters, having been outscored in the first half 312-127, too much to overcome except against Akron, a 37-29 victory in late September.
"Is it disappointing? Yeah," first-year UMass coach Walt Bell said. "To be frank, our lives are on the line. When everything you love, helping kids be successful, having great success, when you invest your life in something, and it doesn't go your way, yeah it hurts. But it's supposed to."
WHO'S AT QB?
Sophomore QB Jabari Laws made the start for Army against Air Force and was hurt late in the game when Falcons defensive lineman Jordan Jackson was called for targeting. Senior Kelvin Hopkins Jr. didn't get the start because of an injury but did relieve Laws and is listed first on this week's depth chart. Redshirt sophomore Andrew Brito is listed as the starter for UMass. Behind him, in alphabetical order, are seniors Michael Curtis and Randall West.
MR. DO EVERYTHING
UMass senior cornerback Isaiah Rodgers had a career-high four pass breakups last week in a 63-21 home loss to Liberty. That boosted his career total to 34, and his 45 passes defended are the third-most, all-time by a Minuteman. He also leads the team with four interceptions and is the main return guy, averaging nearly 11 yards on punt returns and 27.1 on 36 kickoff returns, the most in the nation. And his 974 yards on kickoff returns are more than any other team in the nation. The Minutemen lead the nation with 52 kickoff returns for 1,131 yards.
Army's option is averaging just 248.6 yards rushing per game, 12th nationally and well behind service academy rivals No. 25 Navy (357.9) and Air Force (323.1), who rank first and second, so the Black Knights have been passing more. Laws was 9-for-11 passing for 214 yards against the Falcons, one of the completions an 87-yarder to Cam Harrison for a touchdown. It was the first career TD pass for the sophomore and the most passing yards by an Army QB since Carson Williams had 328 in 2007 against Tulsa. Harrison has three TD receptions on the season and a pair of 100-yard receiving games.
Army LB Cole Christiansen had a career-high 16 tackles (seven solo) against Air Force. It marked the eighth time in his career he's been in double digits in tackles. The senior captain's 55 solo tackles this season are tied for sixth nationally, while his 89 tackles are tied for ninth.
The teams have played twice before and Army has won both — 34-27 in 2005 and 34-10 in 1977 — at Michie Stadium.