WEST POINT, N.Y. (AP) — Nine games into the season, Army coach Rich Ellerson is certain about two things.
"We're hurting, and we don't have a lot of time," Ellerson said.
The Black Knights (3-6), coming off a 42-28 loss at Air Force that put a serious damper on the season, host Western Kentucky (5-4) on Saturday at Michie Stadium.
Bowl eligibility isn't yet off the table with three games to go, but the Commander in Chief's Trophy is. Emblematic of supremacy among the three service academies, Army is out of the running again after the loss to the Falcons, its second straight setback after an impressive 50-25 win over Eastern Michigan.
"We play in two games where we had really high expectations for ourselves as well as high expectations that were placed on us, and we didn't handle those expectations very well," Ellerson said. "We didn't play as well as we wanted to, or coach as well as we wanted to coach. Maybe getting ourselves back into the underdog mentality is where we need to be in order to let it go and have some fun."
Five things to know ahead of the first-ever meeting between Army and Western Kentucky:
ANTONIO THE WORKHORSE: The Army defense will have its hands full with Mr. Everything: Antonio Andrews, the nation's leading rusher with 1,290 yards. He's also caught 29 passes for 368 yards, and his 227.22 all-purpose yards per game leads the nation. Andrews and Heisman Trophy winner Barry Sanders are the only players in NCAA history to crack the 3,000-yard mark in all-purpose running, with Anderson posting 3,161 in 2012. Head coach Bobby Petrino, in his first year with the Hilltoppers, has a plan for Army. "We're trying to keep him fresher," Petrino said. "We just feel like if we can give him a series off in the first quarter, a series off in the second quarter, when we get to the second half he's going to be fresher. When the defense is tired, he'll be able to make big plays."
RUN IT UP: Against Air Force, tailback Terry Baggett rushed for more than 100 yards for the fourth time this season in Army's triple option and went over the 1,000 yard mark for his career. Baggett gained 121 yards on 20 carries against the Falcons to up his season total to 889 yards and is averaging an eye-opening 8.5 yards per carry to pace the nation's top rushing team (339.3 yards per game). That's a lot to ponder, but the Hilltoppers beat Navy 19-7 and are confident because they've been game-planning for Army since spring. "We're definitely ready for the offense," defensive back Cam Thomas said. "We played Navy. We just plan on doing the same against Army. It's been perfect leading up to it, putting it in early so we can get used to it."
MICHIE FAREWELL: This is Ellerson's fifth year at West Point, and the 44 seniors on the team are only the second class he's had for their entire time at the academy. Among the injured have been seniors Hayden Tippett, Thomas Holloway and Raymond Maples, three key players. "I love our team. I don't always love all the things our team does," Ellerson said. "Our seniors have done a great job in trying to manage the team. I give the seniors credit."
RARE VISIT: Army doesn't have much history against teams from the Sun Belt. The Black Knights have only played two games against teams from the conference, splitting a series with Arkansas State in 2005 and 2006.The Hilltoppers have never played a game in New York state.
COMMON GROUNDS: The Black Knights and Hilltoppers share two common opponents — Morgan State and Navy. Both teams defeated the Bears, Army winning 28-12 win in its season opener while Western Kentucky defeated Morgan State 58-17 on Sept. 21 and beat Navy the next week. Army plays Navy in the season finale Dec. 14.