This week in service academy football

Army (1-2): lost to Stanford, 34-20. This was supposed to be a disaster. It wasn’t. Army put up a great effort. Until the Cardinal scored a touchdown to make it 34-13 with about ten minutes left in the fourth quarter, it never felt like Army was out of the game. (They took advantage of a short field after Rich Ellerson decided to go for it on 4th down on his own 29. Puzzling call.) Things couldn’t have started out much better for Army, with the defense forcing a fumble and a 3 & out on Stanford’s first two possessions of the game. The Black Knights were able to turn that into two field goals, but field goals weren’t going to win this game. Stanford came alive on their next drive, ripping off some long runs to set up a 26-yard touchdown pass and a 7-6 lead. The Cardinal never trailed the rest of the way, although they couldn’t quite pull away, either.

Defensively, Stanford didn’t do anything fancy to stop the option, preferring to just line up in their base defense and counting on their players making plays. They did when they had to, but Army still ran for a very respectable 284 yards. Army’s defense kept Stanford surprisingly in check for a good portion of the game, but I kept getting the feeling that the Cardinal was holding back a little bit with their play calling. They spent most of the afternoon either throwing horizontally or lining up three tight ends and running the ball, both of which Army kept in check well enough. Stanford’s coaches only opened up when they really needed to, and when they did they got it; the Cardinal had 7 plays of 20+ yards. That doesn’t take away from Army’s performance, though. They forced two turnovers and kept the game within reach.

The question for Army now is where they go from here. Can they build on this performance? Can they do it without Larry Dixon, Raymond Maples, and Momo Kime if they need to? All three were injured on Saturday, and we should learn to what extent later today. Army has a reeling BCS conference opponent coming to town this week in what has to be considered a winnable game. After playing well against Stanford, beating Wake Forest to get to 2-2 would give the season a renewed optimism. Fall to 1-3, and things look pretty rough with 5 of the next 7 games coming away from Michie Stadium before heading to Army-Navy. The Wake Forest game might be the key to Army’s season.

Air Force (1-2): lost to Boise State, 42-20. For a while there it looked like this was going to be a real shootout. Air Force and Boise State were going toe-to-toe in the first half, with neither defense looking like it was going to step up. Then one of them did. Air Force was held to 98 yards in the second half as the Broncos eventually pulled away. Schematically, Boise State didn’t deviate very much from what Utah State did. Depending on situation, they either lined up in the same 3-deep 4-4 the Aggies used, or with 4 deep and having the playside safety roll up to play run support. Both are pretty basic defenses that Air Force sees all the time, and in the first half, they played like it. In the second half, Boise didn’t change the scheme. They simply manhandled the Air Force offensive line.

The two big questions for Air Force right now are about the defense and Jaleel Awini’s ability to run the offense. Regarding the latter, I’d say that we still don’t know. Everything sure seemed to be clicking in the first half, and he finished with 107 rushing yards and two TDs. On the other hand, this is the second straight game that Air Force has failed to rush for at least 200 yards. They’ve been able to do that much against even their toughest opposition in years past. Is it all because of the offensive line? How much of this falls on Awini? As for the defense, they had two really bad games against two really good opponents. We should get a more accurate read on that unit this week when Air Force takes on what should be (in theory) a more evenly-matched Wyoming team.

What to watch, Week 3

Here’s your homework for this weekend:

(All times ET)


Air Force at Boise State – 8:00 – ESPN

Let’s all read what HDMF has to say about the Smurf Turf, then ask ourselves how on earth there are people in this world that actually buy into his shtick.


Stanford at Army – Noon – CBS Sports Network

I’m all about schadenfreude when it comes to Army and Air Force, but watching this one almost seems mean. I don’t know how much of this game I’ll be able to take. I am curious to see how Stanford lines up. I’m also curious to see if it matters. Maybe Army’s offense can hold onto the ball and give the Cardinal a scare. Otherwise it’s going to be one of those “the scoreboard is a lie” games.

New Mexico at Pittsburgh – 12:30 – ACC Network/ESPN3

As an analyst, Bob Davie talked a lot about how much he hated coaching against option offenses. As New Mexico’s coach, he’s putting his money where his mouth is. The Lobos run a shotgun option offense that’s pretty entertaining to watch. More importantly for us, it might give us an idea how Pitt will line up against Navy.

Georgia Tech at Duke – 3:30 – ESPNU

No, I won’t be watching this while the Navy game is on. I will record it to watch later, though. Should be self-explanatory.

Notre Dame at Purdue – 8:00 – ABC

Notre Dame lost to Michigan last week, but I don’t think there’s any shame in that this year. If they struggle against Purdue, though, that might reveal a few weaknesses.


Let’s talk scheduling

There were several reasons for Navy’s planned move to the American Athletic Conference. One of the most significant was scheduling; it’s getting harder and harder to line up teams for the Mids to play. Critics of the move don’t buy it. They point to Army, who apparently has no problem filling schedules as an independent:

Despite the changing landscape of college football at the Division I level, Corrigan said Army isn’t having trouble filling its schedules.

“As you look who it is and who West Point is, people want to play us,” Corrigan said. “There’s no shortage of those teams that I mentioned or bigger schools that want to play West Point. We help fill stadiums. We have a role in college football and a place in college football.”

So who are these schools?

“Our goal is to play people that we look like, that have a similar-type mission that we do,” Corrigan said. “As you look at that, be it Rice, be it Tulane, be it Duke, be it Wake Forest, playing some of our more traditional rivals with a Colgate or an Ivy or other Patriot League teams mixed in there, it’s going very well. We are excited about that.”

A couple of things about that…

Boo Corrigan wants to play schools with similar academic standards. The reason he wants to play those schools is because in theory they’d be about as close to an even matchup as Army can get outside of the other service academies. In other words, he wants to win. Of course, that’s exactly why those schools want to play Army, too. If you’re Wake Forest and have an ACC schedule in front of you, winning your out-of-conference games is crucial to earning a bowl berth. I’m sure Corrigan’s phone is ringing off the hook with other athletic directors looking for a game. That’s what happens when you have one winning season in the last 15 years. The phone gets a lot quieter when you’ve been to 9 bowl games in 10 seasons. Rice, Tulane, and Wake Forest used to play Navy all the time. It’s no coincidence that they’re turning to Army now. We got a great reminder of that this week as Indiana’s coach and AD are basically carrying out a public argument over why Navy was even on the schedule in the first place. Don’t think that they’re the only ones having this conversation.

On top of that, what Corrigan says isn’t the whole truth. While I don’t doubt it when he says there are plenty of programs willing to play Army, that doesn’t mean that the pool isn’t shrinking. Rutgers has been a staple of Army schedules for decades, with the two having met 33 times in the last 50 years. The series is now in jeopardy, though, thanks to the Scarlet Knights joining the Big Ten. Conferences want more games against each other, and they especially want them in the second half of the season. Army might be able to shift games against Rutgers to earlier in the year in order to save the rivalry, but then they’ll just be left with the same problem for anyone else they want to schedule for the original date. Just look at their future schedules now. September and early October dates are filling up quite nicely. Later dates are already taking a bit more work to fill.

The problem is real, guys.

This week in service academy football

Army (1-0): def. Morgan State, 28-12. This game started out the way you’d figure a game with a struggling MEAC program would, with Army going up 21-0 early in the 2nd quarter. After that, though, Morgan State held their own pretty well, especially running the ball. It was the Bears’ inability to get out of their own way that kept this game from being even closer, with penalties, busted plays, and missed extra points. Statistically, Army was better, but not overwhelmingly so: the Black Knights held a 396-301 advantage in total yards, and a 19-17 edge in first downs. To be fair, you play to win the game, not to pile up statistics. Army took control early, and it never felt like it was getting away from them. There were also some encouraging things from Angel Santiago’s arm. Maybe Army just let off on the gas after getting a big lead. Either way, I don’t know if I’d come away from that game with any warm and fuzzy feelings if I was an Army fan.

Air Force (1-0):  def. Colgate, 38-13. After a surprisingly bad first quarter that saw Colgate outgain Air Force 113-49 on the way to a 7-0 lead, team Howdy Doody eventually wore down our Patriot League friends in predictable fashion. It might have been a Pyrrhic victory, though, as Air Force starting quarterback Kale Pearson went down with a knee injury in the second quarter. Troy Calhoun didn’t want to comment until getting MRI results, but now that those results are in it looks like initial fears of a season-ending injury are confirmed.

The next player to pick up the battle flag is sophomore Jaleel Awini. Pearson and Awini supposedly had an open competition for the starting job this fall, but I don’t know how open the job really was. I suspect that the job was Pearson’s to lose, but the coaches didn’t want him to get too complacent. Pearson was the backup last year for a reason, after all. Regardless, that isn’t an indictment of Awini’s talent. He’s reportedly the better passer of the two and is very highly regarded. It isn’t his talent that’s in question as much as it is his grasp of the offense, which is to be expected from most sophomores. With Utah State’s mile-a-minute offense coming to town next week, you don’t want anything less than your full arsenal if you hope to keep pace.

The Mailbag (8/19)

What is your take on intrasquad scrimmages? I think they are necessary because it allows our best offense to play full speed against our best defense, but it is rarely against an offense or defense that we will really be up against. If the defense does well, does that mean the offense is bad? And visa versa.

I love to read how so-and-so had a great scrimmage, but what about the guys that he made look bad? Are they really bad?

It’s important to understand what it is you’re looking at when you watch a scrimmage. The coaches aren’t calling plays to win the game as much as they’re calling plays to evaluate both the players and themselves (experimenting with new schemes and plays, for example). That’s why you can’t get too wrapped up in the results. A guy might do his job on a given play, but if the play called isn’t the right one to counter whatever was called on the other side of the ball, it still might flop. What matters is how well each individual player did his job, and that’s something you don’t usually get a feel for from the bleachers. The scrimmage might be fun to watch, but only the coaches know whether it was good or bad. They only really know after watching film and grading each player.

Continue reading “The Mailbag (8/19)”