EL PASO, Texas (CBSNewYork/AP) — Heavy hearts because of the death of a teammate haunt the Army Black Knights as they begin a three-game road trip trying to keep their season-opening win streak going.
“These are great kids, and they are remarkably resilient,” coach Jeff Monken said. “West Point does have a way of preparing all of its people to be able to persevere through tough times. I have no doubt that this team will persevere and prevail through this adversity.”
Army (2-0) meets UTEP (1-1) on Saturday night in the Sun Bowl with the sudden death of defensive back Brandon Jackson still fresh on the mind. The 20-year-old sophomore defensive back from Queens was killed in a single-car crash early last Sunday, hours after Army had defeated Rice in its home opener at Michie Stadium.
“When you lose somebody you love, it is tough. This is no exception,” Monken said. “Our guys are having a tough time and are reeling right now.”
This will be the first meeting between Army and UTEP, and Miners coach Sean Kugler knows it will be charged with emotion.
“I haven’t dealt with losing a player. I have dealt with a personal loss,” Kugler said. “You’ve got to deal with it in your own way. I can’t even come close to speak to how Army is going to deal with that.
“I know they’ll rally around that guy and play their hearts out. In a situation like that, that’s all you can do.”
Army is off to its first 2-0 start since 1996, when the Black Knights began 9-0.
The Miners, who are coming off a 41-7 loss at No. 11 Texas , will have quarterback Zack Greenlee back in the lineup. He missed the game against the Longhorns and was doubtful earlier in the week with a slight ligament tear in his left knee, a separated shoulder, and a broken finger on his throwing (right) hand. But Kugler said Thursday on his radio show that he expected Greenlee to start.
A graduate transfer from Fresno State, Greenlee passed for 229 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions in the Miners’ season-opening win over New Mexico State.
Other things of note when Army travels to UTEP on Saturday night:
RUN RUN RUN: Army’s triple option ranks fourth in the nation in rushing with an average of 338.5 yards. Andy Davidson leads the team with two straight 100-yard games.
KEEPING UP WITH JONES: UTEP tailback Aaron Jones rushed for 249 yards on 31 carries against New Mexico State to open the season and had 123 yards on the ground and scored in last week’s loss at Texas.
WHAT TURNOVERS? Plagued more often than not by turnovers, the Black Knights are in unfamiliar territory to start the season. They’re fifth in the nation in turnover margin at a plus-2.5. Army already has four interceptions, just two less than it nabbed the entire 2015 season. The Black Knights finished 113th (-0.92) in turnover margin last year.
ARMY ADVANTAGE? Army has been stationed in El Paso since the border with Mexico was established more than 160 years ago. According to the Texas State Historical Association, after the end of the Mexican War the U.S. needed to defend the new border and maintain law and order, so a military post was re-established on the Rio Grande in January 1854 when the Army rented quarters at a hacienda in El Paso. On March 8, 1854, the official name of the post became Fort Bliss, in memory of Lt. Col. William Wallace Smith Bliss, Gen. Zachary Taylor’s chief of staff during the Mexican War and later his son-in-law.
CONFIDENT CADETS: Despite the tragic death of Jackson, if Army enters the Sun Bowl displaying a good dose of swagger, it’ll be understandable. Before last week’s win over Rice, the Black Knights hadn’t won two straight in a 70-game span and hadn’t started a season 2-0 in two decades.
“We’re going to face a 2-0 team that is very confident right now,” Kugler said. “They are playing energized football. I’m sure that they’re thinking they can come down here and be 3-0.”
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