The Army Black Knights rolled to a 70-14 win over the Houston Cougars in the 2018 Armed Forces Bowl at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas.
The victory is Army's 11th of the season, the most in school history.
Black Knights quarterback Kelvin Hopkins Jr. went 3-of-3 for 70 yards through the air and ran for 170 yards and five touchdowns on 11 carries. Army as a team ran for 507 yards and eight scores, the former of which is the most allowed by Houston in a single game, per Joseph Duarte of the Houston Chronicle.
This game presented a matchup nightmare for Houston.
The Cougars entered Saturday sitting 98th in rushing defense, allowing 197.1 yards per game on the ground. Army, meanwhile, was averaging 296.3 rushing yards per game, second-best in FBS. Compounding matters, star defensive tackle Ed Oliver skipped the Armed Forces Bowl to prepare for the 2019 NFL draft.
Army set the tone on its first possession. The Black Knights went 80 yards over 14 plays and ate seven minutes, 47 seconds off the clock. Hopkins capped off the drive with a one-yard touchdown run.
Things didn't get any better for Houston from there. The first quarter ended with a 77-yard touchdown run by Hopkins in which he reversed course and eluded multiple would-be tacklers.
Army scored touchdowns on all five of its first-half drives and also returned a Clayton Tune fumble 23 yards for a score to take a 42-7 lead into halftime. The Black Knights averaged 9.4 yards per carry through the first two quarters as they moved the ball at will against the Cougars.
It became abundantly clear Houston's short-handed defense had no answer for Army's offense, and some wondered if the Cougars had started their Christmas holiday early.
Falling behind big early in the game was the worst-case scenario for Houston.
Army's methodical style lent itself to protecting a lead, while the Cougars were relying on a freshman quarterback making his second start. D'Eriq King suffered a season-ending knee injury in November, forcing Tune to take over in the team's season finale, a 52-31 defeat to Memphis on Nov. 23.
Little changed in the second half, as Army continued to give Houston a steady dose of the running game and the Cougars offense struggled to move the ball. Army held Houston to 288 total yards, well below the 528.6 yards the Cougars averaged entering Saturday's game.
When the preseason polls are released ahead of the 2019 campaign, Army will deserve some level of recognition. The Black Knights are coming off back-to-back seasons with double-digit wins, and almost all of their starters are returning. Leading rusher Darnell Woolfolk is the most notable senior.
Army plays Michigan on Sept. 7, 2019, in Ann Arbor. After watching Saturday's game, the Wolverines might come to regret agreeing to put the Black Knights on their schedule.
On the other side, a heavy defeat to Army caps off a disappointing 2018 season for Houston, and Major Applewhite's seat may be warming as a result.
Applewhite took over full time in 2017 after the Cougars won 13 games and then nine games in Tom Herman's two years as head coach. Houston his now 15-11 under Applewhite, with the team's 2016 Las Vegas Bowl listed to his record.
Oliver is forgoing his senior season, and the trio of Austin Robinson, Roman Brown and Isaiah Johnson, three of Houston's top five tacklers, are graduating. Even though most of the Cougars best offensive players will return for 2019, the team's personnel turnover on defense could make life difficult for Applewhite in his third year.