After over a decade of lousy football, Army's fan base is eager to see their team finally take the jump necessary to finally get on the level of their service academy foes, and finally get that elusive bowl game. Many internet posters still expect 7-8 wins this year. But it isn't necessarily so.
The good news is that it's finally fun to watch the team play again. The wins have, of course, been great and even the losses have been entertaining. Army's offense is on an entirely different level than in recent years. The depth in the backfield has been a revelation, with numerous players stepping up when a starter goes down. Trent Steelman has shown great improvement as both a passer and a decision maker. The team has shown an ability to sustain drives and has already exceeded their touchdown total from last year.
But the storm clouds remain. With all the good things happening on offense, their performance in the second half of games has been very spotty. The Duke game is a good example. Even with a big lead early in the third quarter, the offense pretty much sputtered to a halt. Duke was able to get enough possessions to finally score two touchdowns and could have gotten tighter still had not Duke gone into a give-up mode, using none of their time outs late in the game to regain the ball.
The Temple game was worse. After scoring early in the third, Army's offense only generated 22 yards in three possessions, allowing Temple to quickly get back in the game and pretty much negating the big time of possession advantage the Cadets had in the first half.
Which leads to the biggest problem. The defense just hasn't been very good this year. After allowing Eastern Michigan to gain huge chunks of yardage in game one, both Hawaii and Temple were able to score pretty much every time they had to. Had not Duke continuously turned the ball over, things may have been much different in that game.
Army's success on defense is predicated on creating pressure on the quarterback and limiting the time he has to throw. This just hasn't happened.
For decades, Army has been weak on pass coverage, and this year is no exception. The defensive backs are frequently asked to cover receivers 1 on 1, and as in years past, they are getting burned. When Army drops more players in coverage, then the opponent's running backs can put up big numbers… and they have. Throw in some ill-timed penalties to keep drives alive, and leads go away in a hurry.
Fans have pointed out that the defense is getting worn down by bigger and stronger offensive lines but if the Black Knight's want to be successful, this is no longer an excuse. It's the way it's always going to be. Navy and Air Force face the same problem and they overcome it. Army will have to do the same on a weekly basis to have more than limited success.
So it can be said that Army is capable of winning every game on the rest of the schedule. They are also capable of losing every remaining game, save perhaps VMI. We here at the Glass Half-Empty Cafe would also point out that with a loss against Tulane, the record would even at 3-3. That's the same record Army has had several times in the last few years. Those years quickly turned into disaster as the team reached the meat of their schedule. And that same meat awaits this year's team in the next few weeks.
So what will happen? The team has been amazingly adept at causing turnovers leading to offensive scores. The offense is able to go up and down the field better than maybe anytime in the modern era. But two big problems must be solved. During Rich Ellerson's tenure, the team seems different in second halves. Even the players have talked about the inability to seal the deal. And the other? Special teams. Every Army fan holds their collective breath on every kickoff and punt. If the results from the first five games continue, teams will continue to get the ball on a short field. It will be tough to beat anyone if that continues.
So it's a lot more fun watching this team on a weekly basis. But big improvement is necessary to finally secure that long-awaited bowl bid and contend for the CIC Trophy.
Bowl game no sure thing
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