It was a good weekend for Navy. Not so much for the other service academies.
Army (1-1): lost to Ball State, 40-14. The game couldn’t have started out much better for Army. On the third play from scrimmage, fullback Larry Dixon took the ball up the middle for a 71-yard TD run. It was all downhill from there. Army’s next 9 possessions? Punt, punt, fumble, punt, missed FG, end of half, fumble (on a kickoff return), punt, punt. It wasn’t pretty.
Army went 2-10 last year, and Ball State is a pretty good football team. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Army lost this game; more than a few teams will lose to Ball State by the time 2013 is wrapped up. It’s not that Army lost that’s disturbing as much as how they lost: by doing the exact same things as last year. They fumbled three times (losing two of them), threw an interception (to be fair, after the game was out of reach), and tacked on 8 penalties for good measure. Even if you don’t win, you want to have some indication that things are improving. We didn’t see that from Army. Last season, Army’s offense was good enough to hang with pretty much anyone. Against Ball State they gained 439 yards, which looks impressive until you realize that 184 of those yards came after Ball State took a 37-7 lead and started playing more of a prevent scheme.
I thought Army’s defense looked ok in spots, particularly when Ball State tried to focus on the running game. When the Cardinals stuck to the short and intermediate passing games, though, everything opened up for them.
One positive thing from last week’s shaky performance against Morgan State was Angel Santiago’s passing, but even that was questionable at best this week as he went 3-11 for 49 yards and an INT. I still think Santiago can be effective in play action, but it might be asking too much to have him throw if the defense is expecting it.
Next up, Stanford.
Air Force (1-1): lost to Utah State, 52-20. Things didn’t go much better for Air Force, who was thrashed by Utah State in the conference opener for both teams.
Statistically, it was a nightmare game for Team HDMF as the Aggies finished with a 577-270 advantage in total yardage. Utah State is another team that can (and does) score on everyone, so I don’t think it’s a surprise that Air Force couldn’t stop them. Not that the defense gets a free pass here; they were pretty bad. But in a game like this, your offense can be your best defense if it can hold onto the ball for a while. Air Force didn’t. Of their 12 possessions (not counting taking a knee at the end of the first half), they had 8 drives of 4 plays or less. To make matters worse. Utah State’s defensive scheme wasn’t even very good. Air Force has decimated teams that lined up that way in the past, or at least made a game of it. They weren’t able to on Saturday. The question, then, is why.
On one hand, with Kale Pearson out for the year, we know we aren’t seeing Air Force at their best. Jaleel Awini can throw very well (don’t be fooled by his 4-12 performance this week– it includes a lot off dropped balls). Still, Air Force isn’t built to win by passing 30 times a game; they need to be able to run the ball. They couldn’t against Utah State, gaining only 162 yards on the ground. Pearson was the starter for a reason, and it was clear watching the game on Saturday that Awini wasn’t yet comfortable managing this offense. If Troy Calhoun is holding back because he feels that Awini isn’t ready for the full playbook yet, then maybe this is just growing pains as a young quarterback gets up to speed. It’s possible– probable, even– that things will improve for Air Force’s offense over the course of the season.
On the other hand, maybe you can’t hang everything on the quarterback. It’s not like the Utah State performance came out of nowhere. Air Force has lost 5 of its last 6 games against FBS competition. Those games weren’t very close either, with the Falcons’ losses coming by an average score of 40-15. To make matters worse, those losses include three conference games and an Army team that finished 2-10. Air Force was easily the most experienced of the three service academies last year, but they went 0-2 in the race for the CIC Trophy. It’s way too early to write off Air Force, but you can’t ignore the trend. It’s possible that this goes beyond having to start the backup quarterback. Air Force was able to give Boise State a run for its money last year. We’ll see if they can match that performance on Friday.
Even as bad as Army and Air Force looked on Saturday, they’re still both 1-1 with a lot of football left to be played. A lot can happen between now and December. Still, it’s hard not to feel uneasy if you’re a fan of either school.