The Liberty Bowl was supposed to be a matchup between West Virginia and Tennessee, but as we know with 2020, nothing is set until the game officially kicks off. Tennessee had to back out of the bowl game due to COVID-19 issues and Army, looking for an extra game, was happy to fill in for the Vols.
The Black Knights now have an opportunity to win their 10th game for the third time in the past four seasons and for the fourth time overall in program history. Coach Jeff Monken continues to do a great job in West Point and should be on the short list for more Power Five coaching gigs.
The Mountaineers are in more of a rebuild mode. In Year 2 — or, in practice, Year 0.5 — coach Neal Brown has done a good job in his own right of getting this program to at least the middle tier of the Big 12 standings. West Virginia is led by a strong defense that for most of the year has been the Big 12’s best unit. But the offense has been hit or miss, plagued mostly by sketchy offensive line play and wide receiver drops.
If you like defense and brisk, three-hour football games, the Liberty Bowl will be for you. Here’s how you can watch the game and the storylines you should follow.
West Virginia: As with any team facing Army, stopping the triple option is paramount. You can usually tell quickly whether a defense is up to the challenge or not. Triple-option teams are going to do one thing, and there’s not much in the way of in-game adjustments that can be made. While the Mountaineers’ run defense has been good — they’ve allowed just eight rushing scores all year — defending the option takes eye discipline and good angles. Dante and Darius Stills are forces along the D-line and the linebacker unit is solid, too. If West Virginia can win on early downs, it should be able to win the game.
Army: Holding on to the ball has been a key factor for Army’s success this year. The Black Knights are +8 in turnover margin in nine wins and -3 in two losses. It’s not always fumbles, either, that prove to be costly, which is what you would think with a team that runs the ball as much as Army does. Two interceptions played a part in Army’s worst performance of the year: a 38-12 loss to Tulane. Three fumbles nearly proved too costly in a one-point win over Georgia Southern. If Army is going to get its 10th win of the year, it needs to be good with ball security.
Game: Liberty Bowl
Date: Thursday, Dec. 31 | Time: 4 p.m. ET
Location: Liberty Bowl Stadium — Memphis, Tennessee
TV: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Liberty Bowl prediction, picks
West Virginia Mountaineers
The line for this game started at West Virginia -7.5 and is now down to -7. A hook would give the Army backers a little bit of breathing room if you want to go with the spread. The point total may be the better play, though. At 41.5, the total is low, but Army has been solid on the under and West Virginia’s offense is unreliable. You may sweat it a bit, but going with the under here feels like a solid play. Pick: Under 41.5 | West Virginia 24, Army 16
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