This Week in Service Academy Football

Air Force (1-1) – Bye. I think they were supposed to play Nicholls State or something but Troy Calhoun cancelled the game because of “academics.”

Army (0-2) – Lost to Northern Illinois, 41-40. NIU’s option defense was as vanilla as it gets, lining up in a 5-man front and not giving Trent Steelman much to think about as far as reads go. Army’s offense took full advantage, running for 486 yards while Steelman, Larry Dixon, and Raymond Maples all topped the 100-yard mark individually. Even if NIU’s defense was lacking, Army gets credit for doing exactly what good offenses should do to bad defenses, and for once they did it without turning the ball over. They did put the ball on the ground three times, though, which is still troubling.

The real story of the game was the Army defense, which did not look good at all. Whenever NIU found themselves in a pickle, they just lobbed the ball downfield and let their wide receivers run past Army’s DBs to catch up to it. Four of the Huskies’ six touchdown drives consisted of five plays or less, and while one of those drives was capped by an 88-yard run by NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch, they also averaged a whopping 19 yards per completion.  The Army secondary was left in a lot of one-on-one situations and just wasn’t fast enough to keep up. It isn’t unusual for Army’s secondary to be short on speed, but in the past they have been able to make up for it somewhat by putting pressure on the quarterback. They weren’t able to do so on Saturday.

Stat of the game: TOP – Army 42:33, NIU 17:27. That’s not a lot of time to pile up 515 yards. Pretty much tells you how the game went.

This Week in Service Academy Football

Air Force (1-1) — Lost to Michigan, 31-25. Air Force played well in a game that mirrored Navy’s contest with South Carolina last year in many ways. Like Navy, the Air Force offense was able to move the ball pretty well, but just couldn’t put one last drive together to win it in the end. Also like Navy, there was one player on the other team that the defense just couldn’t stop. For the Mids it was running back Marcus Lattimore that ran wild for 246 yards and 3 TDs. Air Force was just as helpless against Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, who had touchdown runs of 79 and 58 yards on the way to 218 rushing yards to go along with 208 passing yards and two more touchdowns. The biggest surprise in this game was how poorly Michigan defended the option. They spent most of the game in a 3-deep 4-4, with the safety assigned to the pitch man. Sound familiar? No wonder Air Force was able to move the ball. After playing both Navy and Air Force several times in his career, you’d think that Brady Hoke would have known better.

(Of note is that after this game, Troy Calhoun not only elected not to address the media, but prevented his players from doing so as well. Shutting out the media is par for the course for Calhoun, who spends as much time imitating the “old Soviet Presidium” as he does criticizing it. But his players have “Service” and “Freedom” on their jerseys so calling him out for acting ridiculous probably makes me unpatriotic.)

Army (0-1) — Hoke’s old defensive coordinator at San Diego State knew better, though, as Rocky Long’s Aztecs trounced Army, 42-7. The Black Knights were able to drive to just inside the SDSU 30 on their opening possession, but were stopped for a loss on 4th & 1 and never really recovered after that. Army would get no closer than the San Diego State 44 until late in the third quarter, when Long took his foot off the gas up 35-0. Army did end up with 282 rushing yards, but a rash of fumbles and interceptions kept them from doing any damage while the game was in doubt. Army also had a couple of statistical standouts in Raymond Maples and Terry Baggett. However, 78 of Maples’ 107 rushing yards came after Army was down 35-0. Baggett was a little more successful, accumulating 40 of his 100 yards from the same point.

Long uses a 3-3-5, but in this game it was more of a 3-3-2-3 the way they lined up. What Long likes to do is to use those “2” to put an extra DB on either side of the formation to be #3 in the count, then have the free safety follow the pitch. This way, the offense has to block #3, but doesn’t have anyone left to get to the safety (indeed, Aztec safety Nat Berhe led all tacklers with 14). You should be able to run inside fairly well against this defense, but Army wasn’t able to do so consistently. Neither did Navy when they played San Diego State in the Poinsettia Bowl, although they did have some success through the air. Trent Steelman has a lot of strengths, but Army can’t rely on his arm to jump-start the offense.

Defense and special teams didn’t look any better for Army, as the Aztecs were able to run for 228 yards and 4 TDs as well as tacking on a 96-yard kickoff return for another TD. It was a disappointing start for an experienced Army team that came into the season with high hopes. Next up for Army is an NIU squad that gave Iowa all they could handle to start the year.

Bonus! Our brothers-in-option at The Citadel upset fellow optioneers Georgia Southern, 23-21. Spike is all over that one over at The Sports Arsenal. Based on the photo gallery, it looks like everyone’s diggin’ the shotgun lately.


For the finale of our look at Navy’s decision to join the Big East, I’m just going to do a Q&A format to expand on some of the things we touched on earlier and to cover any other lose ends. Each of these should probably be its own post, but whatever. This is running a lot longer than I thought it would, so it looks like there will be a Part 5 too.

Continue reading “CHANGING COURSE, PART 4: FAQ”

A one-running back offense

South Carolina’s 24-21 victory over Navy on Saturday reminded me of the line Sports Illustrated used after eventual national champion Nebraska went on the road to face a tough Kansas State while starting a third-string quarterback in 1994. The Huskers won, 17-6, thanks to a no-frills offense completely centered around running back Lawrence Phillips.

“It was like watching a splendid, sleek animal escape the jaws of a trap by gnawing off its own leg,” wrote John Garrity.

Gamecocks Coach Steve Spurrier has the reputation of liking to throw the football a lot. On Saturday, he played it simple and gave the ball to sophomore running back Marcus Lattimore: Lattimore finished with 37 carries for 246 yards.

Overall, South Carolina ran the ball 44 times. In the second half, USC ran the ball 28 times and threw it 10.

Give Spurrier credit for embracing the simple yet effective approach. It’s something that Navy opposing coaches have not always done, from then-Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt and offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh out-thinking themselves in overtime in 2007 to then-Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis eschewing the effective for mythical style points every Saturday.

Spurrier’s evolution as a coach was on full display on Saturday. Based on research that includes Spurrier’s final five seasons at Florida and first six-plus seasons at South Carolina, Saturday’s rushing numbers were historic.

Only once in his final five seasons at Florida did Spurrier’s teams run the ball more than 44 times: in its bowl game against Penn State in 1997, the Gators had 59 rushes, according to Phil Steele’s yearbook.

Meantime, at South Carolina pre-Lattimore, only twice did it run the ball more than 44 times — against Alabama Birmingham in ’08 and Clemson in ’09. (South Carolina ran the ball 44 times against Tennessee in ’08.)

Since Lattimore arrived, however, the Gamecocks have rushed the ball more than 44 times in a game four times, including Saturday.

Incredibly, Spurrier’s record in all the games mentioned above is 8-0.

I couldn’t find game-by-game stats for Florida in 1996 — odd, since it won the national title under Spurrier that year. But in 1995, Florida’s high number of rushes in a game was 40, against Florida State. Also a win.

On Saturday, Georgia Tech’s option offense ran for more than 600 yards against Kansas; Army used the wishbone in its 21-14 victory over Northwestern (yes, I did notice!); and Navy’s option offense kept it in the game until the final minutes against the then-10th ranked Gamecocks.

It was a good day for teams that run the football.

No more than a teaspoon of the wishbone, please

My grandmother died a couple weeks ago. She was one of my best friends; I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone as generous and loving as she, and I don’t think I ever will. In going through some of her papers, I found an old recipe that called for, among other things, a not-insignificant measure of MSG. The siblings and I had a laugh; how times have changed!

Something else has harkened back to bygone times in the past couple weeks: Army’s use of the wishbone formation. Continue reading “No more than a teaspoon of the wishbone, please”


Thanks to my terrible work ethic, the M.O. for this blog over the last year or so has been for me to comment on things about a month after everyone stops caring (Man, the Casey Anthony verdict is making my Twitter timeline unreadable! And can you believe the U.S. women lost to Sweden?). But I can’t move on to other things without mentioning a few items of varying levels of interest, so let’s do that first.

LACROSSE: Obviously, item #1 on the docket is the hiring of Rick Sowell as the new lacrosse coach. Sowell comes to Navy by way of Stony Brook, where he went 47-26 over five seasons. The Seawolves won the America East regular season the last two seasons, and won the conference tournament in 2010. Stony Brook was a respectable America East program when Sowell took over, but the 2010 season was the best in the program’s short history, earning the #8 seed in the tournament and advancing to the quarterfinals before dropping a 10-9 decision to top-seeded Virginia. Stony Brook again advanced to the America East finals in 2011 before losing a heartbreaker to Hartford in the final seconds (or second, actually).

I like the hire. If Richie Meade had retired on his own terms instead of being forced to resign, I think most people would share my optimism. Unfortunately, the nature of Meade’s dismissal means that some people aren’t going to give any new coach a chance.  That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some legitimate questions to be asked, though. Is Sowell the kind of coach that the old-timers had in mind as they spent the last 5 years calling for Meade’s dismissal? He certainly isn’t as accomplished as Meade. He could be when all is said and done, but were the ’60s laxers expecting more of a sure thing? We’ll find out the answer when we see how long it takes for them to start complaining again. And make no mistake, they will; the kind of success that they want isn’t sustainable at many schools, let alone a service academy. Keep in mind that these guys were complaining before the struggles of the last two seasons. I’ll be happy if Sowell matches Meade’s record at Navy.

Some might question whether or not he can, but the basis for some of the criticism of the hire is unfair, in my opinion. While his record at Stony Brook was better, Sowell’s overall record is just a hair over .500 at 86-81. Not all .500 records are the same, though. Sowell took on some thankless jobs. Before taking the helm at Stony Brook, Sowell started the St. John’s program from scratch. Before that, he took over a Dartmouth program that had two winning seasons in the 16 years that preceded him. By the time he left the Big Green, he had won the Ivy League and had notched the program’s first win at Princeton since 1956. Seriously, he won the Ivy League at Dartmouth. I don’t think that can be said enough. They’ve had a steady downhill trend ever since he left. So yes, he’s about .500, but with some of the challenges he took on, that’s an accomplishment.

Everyone knows what I thought about Coach Meade’s dismissal, but none of that matters anymore. The program marches on– the Mids themselves will march on– and I’m excited to see where Coach Sowell can take them. Welcome aboard.

#@$%ING CBS: John Feinstein’s 14 years in the Navy football radio booth have come to an end. After having pitched the idea of an Army-Navy documentary for a while now, he was understandably upset when CBS decided to move forward with a documentary of their own. He says that he isn’t throwing a fit, but to watch CBS working on this documentary in front of him all year would be too much to take.

It’s a little bit like dating a girl for 10 years, getting dumped and then being invited to her wedding. I just don’t want to watch it.

It certainly does sound like a hissy fit, but I’m more than willing to give Feinstein the benefit of the doubt. One, because everyone I’ve ever talked to that knows Feinstein has nothing but nice things to say about him; and two, because I have no idea how much of a slap in the face this is professionally and can’t possibly relate to any of it. I might be a little disappointed in his decision since NAAA stood by John after he dropped an F-bomb on the air, but only a little; it wasn’t that big of a deal.

In fact, I’m actually sort of glad to see him go. I’ve never liked him on the radio. His ability to tell a story makes him a great writer (and probably would have made him a good documentarian for that matter), but that doesn’t translate much to an in-the-booth game broadcast. Yes, he’s a national media voice in a time when there aren’t many others who give a rat’s ass about the Naval Academy. On the other hand, I disagree with just about everything that comes out of his mouth on the air. I don’t know if losing Feinstein will lead to decreased interest in Navy radio broadcasts, but I do know that I’ll do less in-game yelling at people who can’t hear me, so my blood pressure likes the news.

I’m sure Feinstein will be back when he realizes how much he misses the postgame Juicy Juice benders with Socci.

THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THAT STORY: Showtime is going to air a two-hour documentary on Army-Navy!

SPEAKING OF CBS: They’ll be showing the Air Force game. That’s CBS as in CBS, not the CBS Sports Network as usual. That’s a big deal, but the cherry on top is that the game is now going to be played at noon. TAILGATERS REJOICE. Seriously though, noon game on CBS? The decision to partner with CSTV instead of ESPN looks better every year. Unless the game is preempted by some garbage ACC game locally, in which case I will embark on a murderous rampage (just kidding) (or am I) (I am) (maybe).

OTHER PEOPLE’S PROBLEMS: Georgia Tech has become the latest program to be flattened by the NCAA regulatory bulldozer. OK, “flattened” might not be the best way to describe it, but the punishment includes probation, a $100K fine, and forfeiture of all 2009 wins after November 24 (including the ACC championship). The From The Rumble Seat reaction ranges from acceptance to WTF as details of the story became public. Those details can be found here.

If the punishment seems excessive, it is. Remember, though, that Georgia Tech was already on probation when all this was happening, so any violations that happen during the probationary period are going to deliver an extra dose of boomshakalaka. Still, I don’t know if forfeiting Tech’s ACC championship makes sense. The school plans to appeal, and while it will probably be denied like most appeals are in the new NCAA process, that doesn’t mean that they don’t have a point. The NCAA forces a forfeiture of wins when it finds that ineligible players were used in these contests. While they did find that one of the two investigated players received “preferential treatment” by being given $312 worth of clothes from his cousin’s roommate, the NCAA did not say that either player was ineligible in its report. If either player was in fact ineligible, the NCAA should have made that clear. If they did not determine that the players were ineligible, then Tech shouldn’t have to forfeit any wins. As for the rest of the penalties, meh.

I bring it up because Paul Johnson’s connection might be of some interest to Navy fans. His involvement in all of this is apparently that 1) he was told of the investigation when he shouldn’t have been, and 2) he then told the players in question. I know, rules are rules, but if I was in Johnson’s position I don’t think I would have done anything differently; coaches make their living in part by earning the trust of teenagers. Keeping something like this from them might feel like a betrayal of that trust, and I suspect that part of the reason why the NCAA doesn’t want coaches to know about investigations like this is for the coach’s sake. Still, if it is normal practice for schools to suspend players pending the result of inquiries into their eligibility, how can anyone not know what is happening? That sort of lets the cat out of the bag, doesn’t it? Someone explain it to me.

Anyway, for his part Coach Johnson has been pretty quiet on the subject LOL NO HE’S NOT.

WHAT REALLY SHOULD BE AN NCAA VIOLATION: Army’s duck-hunter uniforms from 2008 were certainly a violation of something. The all-camo getup against VMI had a little more to offer in gimmicky appeal, but didn’t exactly raise the bar aesthetically. Hopefully Nike takes a different direction with the Pro Combat unis they’ll be giving Army and Navy this year.


IN OTHER SERVICE ACADEMY NEWS: Troy Calhoun’s solution for graduation rates? Bribery!

NIUMAT’S CONTRACT EXTENSION: It was really just a down payment for a plane ticket to Guam.

FEINSTEIN’S DREAM DEFERRED: John will have to wait another 15 years for the Navy-Notre Dame series to end. I don’t think he’ll mind playing Marshall, though.

DAS HOOPS: The basketball schedule hasn’t been released yet, but we do know two games: Siena and Quinnipiac. Remember Quinnipiac?

My blog is sort of like the chicken pox virus: causes itchy bumps, then lays dormant for years before stress causes another painful breakout that can only be treated with herpes medication. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. If you’re institutionalized and miss the pain, though, don’t forget that you can find me on Twitter even when this place is gathering dust.


We all have our problems, I guess. For Mr. Campbell’s sake, I hope his West Point degree is worth more in his employment search than an Air Force Academy degree is. It’ll take a while to pay back the government if your only prospects are plumbing and chicken wings.

In other news, there was a time when a headline like this would seem a little ridiculous when talking about a soon-to-be service academy graduate. I guess not anymore.


In his first season as head coach at the Naval Academy, a frustrated Paul Johnson once said of his offense’s speed, “We lead the country in players who can turn a 50-yard gain into a 12-yard gain.” Years of recruiting under Charlie Weatherbie had taken its toll. Weatherbie, as a service academy coach, was convinced that he couldn’t go head-to-head with other schools for Division I-caliber players. Instead, he cast as wide a net as possible, making offers to dozens of kids that weren’t that highly recruited. His hope was that there would be strength in numbers; the more players he brought in, the greater chance of finding a few diamonds in the rough that could turn into stars. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened. He’d get a few. He didn’t get nearly enough to fill out 22 positions on a football team. The 3-30 record from 2000-2002 reflected that. The first task for Johnson and the rest of the new Navy staff was to overhaul recruiting.

That’s sort of where the Army program is now. Bobby Ross didn’t have the energy to recruit effectively, and Stan Brock leaned more towards quantity rather than quality. One of the effects of Army’s switch to a spread option offense last year was that it shattered the long-held belief of many Army fans that there was no difference in the talent between Army and Navy. In their eyes, they were both getting the same caliber of player; all Army needed was a better coach to take advantage of them. Once Army’s offense more closely resembled Navy’s in scheme, though, it became easier to make an apples-to-apples comparison of the talent between them. Anyone who still felt that Army and Navy were equal in talent before the season didn’t take long to change their mind. Army has a ways to go.

Continue reading “ARMY WEEK, CONTINUED”