September 23, 2012

Ellerson sees progress with struggling defense

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- The growing pains are costly, but Army head coach Rich Ellerson isn't giving up on his young defense despite a 49-37 loss Saturday to Wake Forest.

He believes Army (0-3) won't look as bad in the film room as it did from the sideline watching Wake Forest (3-1) roll up 517 total yards. Three of the Demon Deacons touchdowns were runs of 63 and 37 yards and a touchdown pass of 41.

"What I'm hoping is when we turn that on and we look at ourselves late in the game, we'll see some of those things that we were struggling with earlier in the game we are playing them better," Ellerson said. "If that's the case then we have something to build on. We got the right guys out there. We got that experience and they can pick up where they left off. We won't know until we have a chance to slow it down. Obviously, it ends on a huge negative."
Similar to a week ago in a 41-40 loss to Northern Illinois, the Black Knights couldn't stop their opponent when they needed to in the fourth quarter.
"We played well enough to have a chance late in a couple of games," he said. "But we haven't been able to close the deal. That's emotionally difficult. We have to stay together. The good news is it's a great bunch of guys."
DISAPPOINTING DAY -- The day couldn't have been more disappointing for Army senior cornerback Josh Jackson. Not only did the Black Knights lose, the third-year starter had to watch a game that was a bit of the homecoming for him from the sidelines. Jackson, who had started 22 straight games, suffered a groin injury Tuesday in practice.
Jackson and teammate Jarrett Mackey had Sept. 22 circled on their calendars ever since they learned Army's game at Wake Forest was a chance to face their former high school teammate, Terence Davis of Wake Forest. It was also an opportunity for family and friends to make the five-hour drive from suburban Atlanta. Jackson, Mackey and Davis were teammates at Snellville Brookwood.
Jackson dressed for the game and served as one of four team captains for the pre-game coin flip, but he had been ruled out before kickoff. In addition, Davis, a wide receiver, saw only limited playing time. He aggravated a shoulder injury against Florida State last week that was originally hurt in training camp.
"We thought a lot about what it would be like to play against each other in this game, but the one thing we never considered is we would be injured," Davis said. "I told him after the game how excited I was to see him and his family up in the stands. I just wish he could have been a part of it."
Wake Forest was hoping to hold Davis out of the game to help him heal for upcoming Atlantic Coast Conference games, but he was needed enough to catch one ball for 8 yards that was good for a first down on a second-and-6 in the third quarter. Two plays later tailback Josh Harris broke off a 63-yard run for a 42-30 lead with 3:12 left in the third quarter.
BOWL HOPES IN JEOPARDY -- Army's 0-3 start means the Black Knights must win six of their final nine games for bowl eligibility after missing last year with a 3-9 record.
Army returns home for three straight games against Stony Brook, Boston College and Kent State. Stony Brook (3-1) is a Football Championship Subdivision member, but the Seawolves are ranked No. 20 among FCS schools. The only loss was 28-17 at Syracuse.
Stony Brook defeated Colgate 32-31 Saturday night after opening the season with wins of 49-17 over Central Connecticut and 77-7 over Pace.
TURNOVER WOES -- Army lost only its second fumble of the year after being plagued by fumbles last year, but that lone fumble was a costly one.
After Wake Forest opened the third quarter with a touchdown for a 28-23 lead, two plays later Army's Raymond Maples fumbled a pitch from quarterback Trent Steelman at the Black Knights'25-yard line.
Wake Forest, breaking serve, scored four players later on a 10-yard run by Deandre Martin for a sudden 35-23 lead the Demon Deacons never relinquished.
GETTING A KICK -- Improved defense wasn't the only area of emphasis for Army this year. The Black Knights also needed a better kicking game.
Army got off to a rocky start when the Black Knights scored first only to settle for a 6-0 lead when the extra-point kick was blocked. After a bad snap, freshman holder AJ Shurr was able to get the ball down, but freshman Daniel Grochowski didn't get any elevation on his kick.
But Grochowski was consistent the rest of the night. He was 4-of-4 on is remaining extra-points and he hit a 21-yard field goal as time expired in the first half for a 23-21 lead.
Senior Eric Osteen handled the kickoffs and all six were into the end zone with five touchbacks. The only one returned was from 2 yards deep and Army's Kyler Martin tackled Orville Reynolds at the 18-yard line.
ARMY'S SLOW START -- The Black Knights' 0-3 start isn't their only losing skid. Army has lost seven games in a row dating back to the 2011 season and 10 straight on the road or at a neutral site.
It's Army's first 0-3 start under fourth-year head coach Rich Ellerson. Army was 0-3 in 2008 and 0-4 before recording its first victory.
MORE NOTES -- Steelman's 45-yard pass to wide receiver Chevaughn Lawrence is Army's longest play of the year and matches last season's longest play of 45 yards on a pass from Steelman to Malcolm Brown. The Black Knights scored three plays later on Steelman's 2-yard run.
-- Steelman, who was knocked out of the game late in the fourth quarter with a rib injury, scored three touchdowns and is tied for fourth in career touchdowns with 33 with Carlton Jones (2002-05). Steelman carried 22 times for 84 yards and completed 3 of 4 passes for 77 yards and one touchdown on a 13-yards pass to Raymond Maples.
-- Maples has rushed for 100 yards in all three games this season and now has eight career 100-yard contests. He is the first Army player with a streak of three 100-yarders since Akili King in 1993. Maples carried 15 times for 140 yards and caught one pass for 13.

-- Larry Dixon (21 carries, 112 yards) joined Maples over the century mark for the second straight game. Army has had at least two 100-yard rushers in all three games.
-- Army entered the game second in the nation with 384.0 yards a game and topped that figure with 429.
-- Freshman free safety Brandon Fusilier-Jeffires made 15 tackles in his first career start. Fusilier-Jeffires, a 6-1, 185-pounder from Houston who played at the USMA Prep School last year, had nine tackles in the first two games in a backup role.

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