When Army coach Stan Brock decided to change the Black Knights‘ offense from pro-style to option-based this spring, he did so with the confidence that Collin Mooney would be his leading rusher.
This came as a surprise to Mooney, who spent his first three years at West Point as a blocker and hadn’t run the ball much since his freshman year of high school in Katy, Texas.
“If you told me my freshman year, ‘Your senior year you’re going to run for 1,300 yards,’ I would have been like, ‘Yeah, whatever. Stop messing with me,’” said Mooney, who entered the season with six career carries for 22 yards.
But that is just about what he has done. Thanks largely to Mooney, the Black Knights rank ninth in the nation in rushing. He has 1,285 yards on 214 carries, and his 116.8 rushing yards a game is good for 11th in the country.
His career year couldn’t have come at a better time for Army (3-8), which plays Navy (7-4) for the 109th time on Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. The Black Knights have long looked for a glimmer of hope that they will break out of the drought of 11 straight losing seasons.
Brock said he made the switch because he felt the Black Knights had a better chance to win games running the option. Army has struggled with its new offense this season (it scored just 20 points combined while dropping its first three games) but has grown more comfortable with the system.
Although the Black Knights will finish with a losing record again behind their 5-foot-10, 247-pound bruiser, they have grown more confident that the days of futility are coming to an end.
“In the spring, when they told us we had to change [offenses], we knew we had to get better at getting off the ball,” he said. “The lineman can’t just sit back and try to open gaps. They have to push forward. I think the guys up front and the slots have really done a great job of stepping up in terms of blocking.”
Army defensive coordinator John Mumford has had six years to develop a scheme to counteract the Midshipmen’s triple-option attack. Even though this will be the first year Navy has seen the Black Knights’ option offense, there is little question in Annapolis this week who the Mids’ focus would be.
“We’ve got to find a way to get him on the ground,” coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “He’s rushed for a ton of yards against a lot of people. Everybody knows he’s going to run, but they still have a hard time stopping him. So it shows you what kind of scheme they have and how good the kid is. We’re going to have our hands full trying to stop him.”
Mooney needs 54 yards to set a single-season record for Army. While he would consider it an honor to achieve this milestone, he spoke more passionately about snapping the Black Knights’ six-game losing steak to Navy.
“I think its time for us to change,” said Mooney, who hopes to stay at Army as a graduate assistant next year. “Winning this game would be huge for our program, not just this team. I know how it is the last three years losing the last few games. I know how much that hurts a team and hurts a program. It would be great to go out on a win and go into the offseason on a winning note.”