October 5, 2009

Staying focused & positive is crucial for Army

Is this a rebuilding year for Army? One could argue yes, but even so, there is enough talent on this team, especially defensively to not reward this team or settle for any so-called morale victories.

From the beginning, we've heard Coach Ellerson talk about the importance of Army "learning how to win." Well, they're writing their thesis on it and earning their Master's degree in the process, but they are taking the more difficult path to get there.

Simply put, the Black Knights have made a habit of playing inconsistent through each game this season. Or better described, they have from game one to present, performed their Jekyll and Hyde impersonation.

With the exception of the Iowa State game, Army has gone into the locker room with the first half lead, whereby the Black Knights have outscored the opposition by an impressive 60-41 margin in the first half of this season's contest.

Halftime scores
1. Army 10 Eastern Michigan 0
2. Army 10 Duke 7
3. Army 17 Ball State 10
4. Iowa State 17 Army 10
5. Army 10 Tulane 7

Final Scores
1. Army 27 Eastern Michigan 14
2. Duke 35 Army 19
3. Army 24 Ball State 17
4. Iowa State 31 Army 10
5. Tulane 17 Army 16

Then the Hyde persona takes over in the second half and the intensity, focus and even the sense of swagger remains in the locker room. It is very similar to the young boy who for first time is riding his bike without training wheels and all is well until he is reminded that the training wheels no longer exist. What started out as bike ride of confidence, becomes one of uncertainty.

It is that uncertainty that has resulted in miscues, mental errors, missed tackles, etc. This was apparent throughout the game against Tulane, and magnified in the 2nd half.

Along with seeing the opposition has outscored us 73-36 in the second half this year.

How much of this can be attributed the Black Knights' opponents, how much of it is a matter of the team finding its own rhythm or how much of can be part of the maturation process?

COMING UP EMPTY

With so many missed opportunities. the Black Knights left hundreds of yards offense and touchdowns out there on the field against Tulane. From not being able to block on the perimeter, slotback Jameson Carter not being able to catch a pitch with clear sailing up the sideline for a possible touchdown, Ian Smith up the side on a pitch and simply just trips & falls down and like Carter, he had a clear path to the end zone, Malcolm Brown on a toss play where Patrick Mealy doesn't cut the front side defender when all the would-be Tulane defenders were blocked, and red zone interception pass from Trent Steelman that was underthrown and intended for Ali, albeit the first half.

Even in the noteworthy victories over Eastern Michigan and the end of game heroic by free safety Donovan Travis (interception for touchdown) in Army's win over Ball State, there has been the unidentifiable trends unfolding with each and every game.

Even before the answers can be provided, the obvious question is, what is the actual problem? "Part of it is ... speaking for the offense collectively." Shares offensive coordinator Ian Shields, who finds himself looking for the right cure to the offensive ills. "A lot of them are new and they don't have a experience… positive experience and not use to winning. So what you are seeing is not knowing how to close things out, although they are trying so hard. We just aren't mature enough to finish people off.

I thought we would be a little further ahead at this point, but we aren't yet."

However, to the offense's credit there they are showing areas of significant improvement, but as has been pointed out, they just aren't able to finish off long drives or put opponents away. When you consider that against Tulane, the offense ran 62 snaps, ran the triple option 19 times and ran the midline 13 times, that saw Steelman's reads at 32 for 32; that is exactly what the staff wants from their triple option quarterback, but with that comes closing the door on opponents when you have the opportunity to do so.

Vanderbilt will be coming into Michie Stadium on Saturday and Army must play their "A" game from beginning to the end, will be enough to match middle of the road programs point for point before executing some stand-on-your-head stunt to claim victory. The Irish don't need the ranking now, and maybe they don't even deserve it. It doesn't matter now anyway.

As of now, the Black Knights have not made the most of what they have and should offer a better, more consistent brand of football. Perhaps with the exception of the Ball State game, they have yet to play a full game of Army football.

What is Army football? It is a defense that will swarm on every play, with that control chaos brand of football. It's is the special teams play that was evident when the game was on the line against Tulane and return man Damion Hunter took the kickoff back in manner that many have been waiting for. It is the type of offense that moves the ball with confidence as was the case with Steelman and his crew on Army's last series against Tulane … One that operates with the highest level of confidence, execution and precision.

Contrary to the last few seasons, at least we can see a steady diet of evidence that indicates the Black Knights are getting better. The play in 2008 and over the past decade seldom left an observer feeling like Army was progressing to a better tomorrow.

However, this Army team makes you feel each week as if it is close to decisively turning the corner. But right now they must avoid and overcome their 2nd half lulls and remain consistent from beginning to the end.

There's an expression used by a little northern Indiana high school baseball team, and it's called throwing a pebble on the pile

Every time you do something positive to the cause, you contribute to the foundation of the program. Each pebble on the pile gradually builds a mountain, and before you know it, if enough people do enough positive things, you're sitting on top of that mountain.

The Army football team is building a mountain of its own. Okay, maybe not a mountain, but a few foothills. Like most teams, they occasionally grab a handful of those pebbles in the pile and toss them asunder, making the climb that much more difficult.

But an Army victory over Vanderbilt, along with the contribution of a few more players and tossed a few more pebbles on the pile… the corner can and will be turned.


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