WEST POINT, N.Y. — Army coach Jeff Monken knows his Black Knights are a work in progress. At least, they’re headed in the right direction.
Darnell Woolfolk ran for 98 yards and two touchdowns as Army's triple option began to return to form with 449 yards rushing, and the Black Knights beat Bowl Subdivision newcomer Liberty 38-14 on Saturday.
It was the eighth-straight win at Michie Stadium for the Black Knights ( 1-1) and a welcome rebound after a tough season-opening loss at Duke.
"It's good to get a win. It sure feels better than last week," Monken said. "They played hard, physical. We just didn't execute the fundamentals as well as I'd like."
Calen Holt scored on a 25-yard run and Woolfolk followed with a 26-yard scamper, both coming in the waning moments of the first quarter, and the defense stymied the Flames the entire first half as Army (1-1) built a commanding 17-point lead.
Army's offensive line is a work in progress — the Black Knights lost four starters from last year's 10-win team, with only center Bryce Holland returning. In last week's season-opening loss at Duke, Army rushed for only 168 yards — less than half its average last year when it led the nation in rushing with 362.2 yards a game.
That changed against Liberty.
Army averaged 6.1 yards per carry for the game and ran 22 more plays than the Flames, holding the ball for an impressive 41:30 — keepaway at its best and just what Liberty coach Turner Gill feared.
"It was more disappointing from an offensive perspective," Gill said. "We did not do what we needed to do execution-wise, so it's a little bit disappointing that we didn't play to the level we needed to. I knew it was going to take a whole lot to beat them. They didn't play as well last game, and I knew they were going to have a heck of a game."
After Kelvin Hopkins Jr. hit Christian Hayes for a 44-yard touchdown early in the third to give Army a 24-0 lead, the Flames finally awoke. Kentory Matthews broke a 50-yard run and Stephen Calvert hit Damian King for a 28-yard TD in a span of just 28 seconds.
Liberty scored again late in the period on Calvert's 28-yard scoring pass to B.J. Farrow, who outdueled a defender in the back left corner of the end zone, but the Flames couldn't keep it going.
"They played good defense," Calvert said. "Whenever we found a weakness to attack, we attacked it and we were moving the ball pretty good. They just played better than us."
The Black Knights put the game out of reach on Woolfolk's second touchdown early in the fourth. Connor Slomka added a 2-yard score midway through the period.
Army had eight players gain at least 10 yards rushing. Fred Cooper had 81 and Holt finished with 72.
"You face adversity, but you have to just keep pushing through, put our foot on the gas and keep grinding," Woolfolk said. "The offensive line started it. We trust our o-line a lot, which makes it easy. The o-line did a phenomenal job."
Liberty: The Flames have proven they can beat top-tier teams with their win at Baylor last year. Calvert was stellar in last week's 52-10 win over Old Dominion and has an elite receiver in 6-foot-4 Antonio Gandy-Golden, who led the Big South last year with 1,066 yards. Calvert showed signs of the offense's capability but needs to be able to sustain it. Calvert finished 19 of 37 for 307 yards and two TDs with one interception and Matthews finished with 81 yards rushing on nine carries. With Army's Elijah Riley in his face all afternoon, Gandy-Golden was held to just three catches for 33 yards.
"The first half we struggled," said Liberty wideout DJ Stubbs, who had one reception for 19 yards after nabbing seven catches for 155 last week against Old Dominion. "They were very physical."
Army: The Black Knights showed some muscle on the ground and with an array of backs should be able to keep the ground game churning.
Last year the Black Knights fumbled only seven times in 13 games, losing five. In last week's loss at Duke, they fumbled five times and lost two of them. That prompted Monken to focus hard on ball security during practice leading up to Saturday's game. Players were given bats with boxing gloves taped to the ends, and they swatted teammates carrying balls during agility drills. Army had zero turnovers Saturday and recovered a fumble in the first quarter.
Monken lamented the new NCAA rules regarding blocking during his weekly press conference and was concerned about their potential effect on his option attack. It didn't take long to prove the fifth-year coach right. Army had a 41-yard touchdown run in the first quarter by Hopkins nullified by an illegal block, one of three chop blocks assessed against the Black Knights in the first half. Hopkins also had a 27-yard run deep into Liberty territory nullified late in the second quarter.
Liberty redshirt freshman punter Aidan Alves was ejected for targeting on a helmet-to-helmet hit after a 22-yard punt return by Army's Mike Reynolds. Liberty's Austin Lewis also was ejected for targeting in the fourth quarter.
Liberty hosts Norfolk State next Saturday night.
Army hosts Hawaii next Saturday.