On a human level, it’s only natural to feel some measure of sympathy for Army after losing to Navy for the last 12 years. Anyone that has ever attempted anything worthwhile has at some point failed to do so and can relate to how that feels. We know the emotion of the game and see images like an inconsolable Trent Steelman last year and can’t helped but be moved. That’s the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, and it’s why people watch sports. However, while I understand Army’s frustration, I’m not sure why I should care about it.
It’s been a busy couple of weeks for Navy fans, what with conference realignment starting again and Arizona State receiving a bid to the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. We’ll get to all that stuff in due time. Right now, only one thing matters. You know what it is.
Army (2-7) defeated Air Force (5-4), 41-21. The Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy is still up for grabs, but we do know one thing: it won’t be in Colorado Springs a month from now. Army made a weird week even weirder by topping Air Force in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score made it look. Maybe weird isn’t the right word, since Air Force people running their mouths is hardly unusual. Stuff like Alex Means channeling Chance Harridge and saying that he can’t imagine losing to Army is pretty standard. The weird part came when Troy Calhoun started talking about all the advantages that Army has over Air Force as a program; stuff like coaches’ housing and Heisman winners from 60 years ago. Whatever you say, Howdy Doody.
Anyway, that’s all just a sideshow. In the main event, Army’s offense did what they’ve been doing all year yardage-wise, rushing for 314. What they didn’t do was turn the ball over. Air Force, on the other hand, has had its own issues taking care of the ball this season, and they went above and beyond in reinforcing their pro-turnover platform by losing two fumbles and throwing three interceptions. It would be easy to just point to the turnovers and say, “see, that’s why they lost,” but that isn’t even close to the whole story. The truth is that Army throttled the Air Force offense. I have been fairly complimentary of the Air Force offensive line this season, but they were absolutely manhandled in this game. Army lived in the Air Force backfield and held the Falcons to only 103 rushing yards.
We might have to take a closer look at this game later down the road.
Army (1-7): Lost to Ball State, 30-22. This game was a bit of role reversal for Army. Usually their offense plays pretty well, but just can’t keep up with the gobs of points that the defense gives up. Against Ball State, though, the Army defense was sort of decent. That’s relatively speaking, obviously. Giving up 413 yards isn’t good, but it was good enough to at least keep the game within reach. Ball State went up 14-0 after their first two drives, but they were never able to pull away. Army didn’t give up another touchdown until the 4th quarter, and by Army standards, that’s a pretty big deal. That was probably as good a performance as Rich Ellerson is going to get out of his young defense this season.
Unfortunately for Army, the offense couldn’t respond. In some ways, this was like the Eastern Michigan game. Ball State even used the same defense: the 4-4 cover 3 with the free safety playing the pitch. While Army was able to run for 341 yards, they weren’t very consistent in moving the ball. Just like against EMU, lousy blocking doomed the offense and led to four 3 & outs. On top of that, Hayden Tippett fumbled away a scoring opportunity at the end of the first half after Army had moved to the Ball State 30. Nevertheless, Army still had a chance to make it a one-score game with a little more than 2 minutes left, but Dan Grochowski’s FG attempt from 43 yards sailed wide left.
Both the offense and defense have had their individual moments this year, but neither have shown that they are good enough to carry the team when the other is struggling. Air Force has shown that it’s capable of losing to one-win teams, though, so maybe there’s a little hope for Army this week. But only a little.
Air Force (5-3): Beat Nevada, 48-31. This was probably Air Force’s best performance of the season, seen by DOZENS of people in Colorado Springs on Friday night. Nevada is a pretty good football team, and Air Force outgained them by 220 yards even without the services of Cody Getz. Filling in for Getz as the Falcon’s go-to back was Wes Cobb, who ran for 152 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries. Nevada’s defense appeared completely lost at times, and Air Force never had to punt. Not that the Wolf Pack didn’t have their opportunities. Nevada pulled to within a field goal after recovering a fumble near midfield in the third quarter, but Air Force responded with a pair of long drives on their next two possessions to regain a two-score advantage that they would hold on to the rest of the way.
The loss to UNLV is killing Air Force in the Mountain West. At 4-1, the Falcons are tied with Fresno State and San Diego State in second place in the league standings, and have yet to play either one. They could have controlled their own destiny for a share of their first MWC title since they don’t play Boise State. Instead, they have to hope that the 4-0 Broncos trip up somewhere along the way. Boise State already beat Fresno State. They get SDSU at home this week and hit the road to play Nevada at the end of the year. Meanwhile, Air Force plays both SDSU and Fresno State on the road. It’s a tall order.
Army (1-6): Lost to Eastern Michigan, 48-38. Every Army game is pretty much the same. The offense piles on the yards and points, but makes too many mistakes to bail out a horrible defense.
This might be the worst one yet for Army, who fell to a previously winless Eastern Michigan team. EMU’s defense used the ol’ 4-4 cover 3 with the safety playing the pitch man, and Army was able to score every single time they were able to make their blocks. That isn’t hyperbole, either; the Black Knights had touchdown runs of 55, 73, and 75 yards. The problem is that they just weren’t able to carry out their blocking assignments consistently enough. This is the second week in a row where that has been the case, and it cost them. Army also fumbled the ball 5 times (losing 2), including a botched snap on a punt that gave EMU the ball on the Army 13. That put Army in a 14-0 hole right off the bat, and they were never able to recover.
Still, when you score 38 points and roll up 413 rushing yards, that should be good enough to win most games. Unfortunately for Army, Eastern Michigan’s offense appears to be hitting its stride. They were able to put up over 600 yards on a very good Toledo team a week ago, and followed that up with 577 yards on Saturday. Army’s defense is just plain slow. They gave up 13(!) plays of 20+ yards, including three touchdowns.
This game was Army’s best shot at a win the rest of the year. Looking at their schedule, things don’t get any easier, starting with a 5-3, pass-happy Ball State team coming to Michie this week.
Air Force (4-3): Beat New Mexico, 28-23. I said last week that this game would be a big test for Air Force, but I didn’t think it would be this interesting. New Mexico RB Kasey Carrier set the Mountain West record by rushing for 338 yards. New Mexico’s pistol-based option offense rolled up 409 rushing yards, and the Lobos outgained Air Force by nearly 80 yards.
So how on earth did Air Force win this game? Three reasons. 1. New Mexico drove all the way to the Air Force 1-yard line on their first possession, but settled for a field goal. 2. Alex Means was able to tip and intercept a swing pass as New Mexico was driving late in the 2nd quarter, returning it 65 yards for a touchdown. 3. New Mexico played the entire second half WITHOUT A QUARTERBACK. Seriously. The Lobos only have two scholarship QBs on their roster, and Bob Davie told the sideline reporter after halftime that neither would be available the rest of the game due to injuries. They basically ran nothing but “wildcat” plays the rest of the way, rotating three different players at the quarterback position.
The craziest part is that it almost worked. After recovering an Air Force fumble on their own 40, New Mexico was able to drive 60 yards to take the lead in the 3rd quarter. Air Force scored on its next two possessions to take a two-score lead, but New Mexico was able to cut it to 28-23 after Kasey Carrier ran for a 37-yard TD. Another Air Force fumble gave the Lobos the ball with a chance to take the lead, but they couldn’t convert on 4th & 4 from the Air Force 12. Air Force ran out the clock after that.
I assume that Nevada (6-2) will have a quarterback when they visit Colorado Springs on Friday night.
Army (1-5): Lost to Kent State, 31-17. Unfortunately for Army, they couldn’t turn an exciting win over Boston College into momentum for the next week. Kent State spent most of the game in the “wishbone defense” (4-4 with a single safety deep to play the pitch). It’s a very beatable scheme, but Kent State defenders were able to make up for it by winning most of the individual 1-on-1 battles. Army’s offense did a little better in the second half and actually ended up gaining more yards than Kent State, but it was too little, too late.
If there’s a silver lining for Army, it’s that their defense really didn’t play that badly. They had no answer for Dri Archer, who ran for 222 yards on only 12 carries (including an 87-yard TD run to put the game away in the 4th quarter), but Kent State only managed 84 passing yards. The defense kept Army in the game while the offense was held scoreless in the first half. Army even had a chance to make it a one-score game in the 4th quarter, but couldn’t convert on a 4th down from the Kent State 11 yard line. The game might have been even closer if Rich Ellerson didn’t make a somewhat desperate decision to go for it on 4th & 1 from his own 38 in the 3rd quarter. They failed to convert, and it led to a Kent State field goal.
My impression while watching this game was that the Army offense just had a bad day. They’ll get back on track soon enough. If their defense really is improving, then the second half of their season could get a lot more interesting.
Air Force (3-3): Beat Wyoming, 28-27. Wyoming blew a 27-14 lead and fell to 1-5. The turning point in the game came in the 3rd quarter, when Connor Dietz ran for 48 yards on a draw play on 3rd & 8 that kept alive what would become a 95-yard touchdown drive. Air Force’s defense held Wyoming to their only 3 & out after that, and the Falcons took the lead with a 16-play, 67-yard drive on the ensuing possession. Air Force’s defense continued to struggle, as the Cowboys actually out-rushed Air Force, 252-230. Wyoming was also starting a freshman backup quarterback, with starter Brett Smith out with an injury. Jason Thompson went 23-for-36 for 195 yards and a TD.
It might be a Pyrrhic victory for Air Force, depending on how badly Cody Getz is hurt. Getz left the game on the go-ahead TD drive with an ankle injury and did not return. His status for this weekend’s game against is unclear. Once upon a time that wouldn’t have been too big of a concern against New Mexico, but Bob Davie’s Lobos are born again hard and will be a big test for Air Force.
Getting more attention than the game itself is the postgame non-handshake between coaches. Dave Christensen chose instead to hurl a few choice words at Troy Calhoun. When asked about the confrontation after the game, Christensen said that he felt that the Air Force coaches told Connor Dietz to fake an injury in order to avoid having to call timeout. On what would turn out to be the game-winning drive, Dietz lost his helmet on 2nd & goal. By rule, that meant that he had to leave the game, and he started walking toward the sideline. Then, for some reason, he decided to sit down and have the trainers come look at him. Christensen claims that Air Force coaches told Dietz to sit in order to have extra time to set up the next play with his backup, Kale Pearson.
It certainly looked shady the way Dietz left the field, and there’s no doubt that the extra time was a big advantage for Air Force. If you’re on defense, you want nothing more than a backup quarterback rushed onto the field to call & run a play in that situation. I couldn’t see on television whether or not the Air Force coaches told Dietz to go down, so the coaches themselves are probably the only ones who know the truth. What we do know is that now Troy Calhoun is using the incident to reflect on the First Amendment, which makes him the biggest tool on earth regardless of whether or not he actually cheated.
Army (1-4): Beat Boston College, 34-31. Army had 595 yards of total offense– 516 on the ground– in winning their first game of the season. BC’s defense has been terrible all year, so despite the attention-grabbing numbers, Army’s offensive output shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. The real story from this game was the play of Army’s defense, which had been every bit as bad as BC’s. They weren’t exactly good in this game either, giving up 420 yards of offense (including a 99-yard TD run). But they were good enough. Army’s defense forced 6 punts, which is a huge win for them; as well as the Army offense is playing, they only need so many stops to be able to keep the team in the game. After Army was stopped on 4th & goal from the BC 1-yard line, the Army defense forced a 3 & out that got the ball back to the offense in great field position with 1:03 left to play. Three plays later, Trent Steelman ran 29 yards for the game winner.
Boston College is a bad football team, but the rest of Army’s schedule leading up to the Navy game isn’t exactly filled with the Monsters of the Midway. Kent State is surprising, Ball State’s offense is pretty good, and Rutgers is undefeated; still, Army should be able to move the ball on all of them. If they can get even mediocre effort out of their defense, they can head into the Navy game with a few more wins. If nothing else, the Boston College game showed that at least the winning template is there.
Air Force (2-3): Anyone catch the Air Force game this week? Did I miss anything?