Armed Forces Bowl: As It Happened
13:33 left, first quarter: That's how to announce your return to the college football postseason for the first time in 14 years. Chad Littlejohn jarred the ball loose, and Josh McNary executed the scoop-and-score. Army didn't turn takeaways into points against Navy, but the Black Knights of the Hudson definitely – and directly – made Southern Methodist pay for that bit of madness from Kyle Padron. Needless to say, that's a dream start for Rich Ellerson and The Long Gray Line.
11:10: June Jones, having just rejected the Maryland job according to various reports, finds his inner Chris Petersen and snookers Army with a ballsy – and early – fake punt. This game is providing an entertaining start to the fans in attendance in Dallas, and to a national television audience that might be reveling in a non-holiday Thursday jammed with pigskin competition.
8:47: That should have been first and goal for SMU inside the 5. Army gets a huge break.
8:40: That should have been three points for SMU. The Ponies are putrid so far, but no one in Army colors will dare lodge a complaint.
7:22: I love the run-pass mix from Army offensive coordinator Ian Shields. Army does have to pass the ball to not only keep defenses off balance, but to establish Trent Steelman as a passer... now and for the future. Army has to develop a legitimately two-dimensional offense to improve even more as a program. The play selection by Shields is good as an immediate strategic move, but it also makes sense as part of a long-range plan for the program. Fabulous.
5:26: See how good the option looks once the seed of a passing threat has been planted in the linebacking corps and the secondary? This is exactly how Army wants to play... well, except for the extra point that just got blocked by SMU. This is truly a blueprint for the Brave Old Army Team. Let the other team's offense implode, pounce on mistakes, and show run-pass balance to move the ball down the field. A clinic. Now, the question is: will it last?
3:39: The officials made a clear and confident signal, so one can't complain too much about a missed call. It's entirely possible that ball was stolen from the pile at a late juncture. SMU is scatter-brained and edgy; Army needs to maintain the pronounced mental edge it has already established.
2:32: Army generated a good pass rush there, but it came solely from the edges. Padron had a wide running lane and was able to move the sticks on third down as a result.
1:54: Stephen Anderson looked into Padron's eyes, and Padron never saw Mr. Anderson. Another turnover for SMU, another momentum-booster for Army, and a psychological hold on the Armed Forces Bowl has just been strengthened by the Black Knights.
0:04: Was this first quarter real? Did it truly happen? Beth Mowins of ESPN tells me that Army leads 13-0 in SMU's home stadium (because the normal site of the Armed Forces Bowl, TCU's Amon Carter Stadium, is undergoing substantial renovations). Army needs to maximize this run of excellence and ride the feel-good train as long as possible. SMU won't get shut out... we think.
End of First Quarter Score: Army 13, SMU 0.
14:44 left, second quarter: Third down and 13? No pass play? No problem for Mr. Steelman, who breaks containment and gets 14 on a nifty scramble. Army still maxing out, SMU still trapped in its own little gridiron hell. The spell isn't being broken.
11:51: That pitch was far too early. No guesswork involved for SMU's defense on a third-and-seven snap.
11:06: I don't like punts inside an opponent's 35, but if you're going to do it, do it the way Army just did. Phil Mickelson would have been proud of that lob wedge shot, which was knocked stiff at the 2 by Army punter Jonathan Bulls.
10:50: That's why you rarely if ever punt inside an opponent's 35. SMU ball at the 39 after a 37-yard pass.
9:49: Sure, the SMU receiver stumbled, but that doesn't change the fact that Padron threw into triple-coverage. Army gleefully accepts the donation from the Mustangs' body-snatched and rattled quarterback. The spell still isn't about to be broken. Army's good juju is drowning June Jones at the moment.
8:08: Let the record show that Army has punted inside the SMU 37 on its last two drives. This game is going swimmingly, but a few more points will likely be needed.
6:43: Then again, if Padron keeps playing like this, more points won't be needed. Actually, if Padron keeps playing like this, Army will score two or three defensive touchdowns.
2:39: That's a clutch 44-yard bomb from Alex Carlton, but three combined points on three trips inside the 35 (the second drive was inside the 30 before a 7-yard loss knocked it back to the 36) could still come back to haunt the Black Knights if SMU and Padron ever wake up from their self-induced coma after halftime. When Army builds up its passing attack and creates an offense that's much more at Navy's level, a half like this will be a 30-0 game, not a 16-0 affair. That's the difference between a 6-6 kind of team and an 8-4 or 9-3 outfit. This is where Army needs to travel in future seasons under Ellerson.
1:19: SMU's receiver had a first down, but he made a juke move that carried him two yards backwards. Army says thank you very much.
1:13: Now fourth down because of the SMU brain cramp.
1:09: And Padron, with the pitch open to the left side, pigheadedly tries to run the ball himself and gets whacked by Army's fast-closing defense. The Black Knights are dealing some hellacious hits and are taking away the middle third of the field in both the running game and the passing game. Payam Sadaat and Chris Smeland are outflanking and outthinking June Jones so far, and that's a very impressive achievement.
0:01: Army couldn't turn a lot of great drive starts into points, but other than that, it was a marvelous 30 minutes of football in Dallas. The Black Knights really should be expected to win the Armed Forces Bowl at this point. They also get the ball to start the second half.
Halftime Score: Army 16, SMU 0.
12:13 left, third quarter: Go for it, Ellerson.
11:53: No, he just wanted to draw the Ponies offside. Wait a minute – he called timeout instead of accepting the delay-of-game penalty, which means he might go for it after all out of the timeout. DO IT, RICH! This is a bowl game! Make a STATEMENT!
11:47: YES! HECK YES! That's how you coach in a bowl game, sir! Army had every right to think it could get at least one yard in this game. Army's offense has been contained, but not shut down. There's a difference, and Ellerson realized as much.
9:03: Army punts, but SMU has six fewer minutes to work with in the second half. The noose is already tightening. Solid momentum-sustaining drive by the Black Knights to open the second half.
6:39: Army's secondary is locking down on SMU's receivers. Padron had several seconds on each of the last two plays, but he had to chuck the ball out of bounds (and was smart to do so, by the way).
6:25: Oh, that's a costly missed tackle on a play Army should have stopped.
5:07: Loving the aggressive blitzing by Army – Padron's getting popped, and SMU must convert another third and long.
4:58: That's the best throw Padron's made all day. Will SMU score?
3:19: One more third-and-long situation for the Ponies.
2:56: One more conversion, and this one's for a touchdown. SMU's receivers finally beat Army's corners on slant patterns. The Mustangs finally established the middle third of the field with their passing game. Now, all those points Army left on the field in the first half – those stalled drives around the SMU 35, just outside of Alex Carlton's range – loom a bit larger. If SMU scores another touchdown, they'll stand as tall as Mount Everest in terms of importance. Time for Army to not only possess the ball, but score. And yes, the spell has finally been broken, for the record.
0:54: Did SMU force that quick pitch, or did Steelman bail out on the play? I'd lean toward the former view, not the latter, but at any rate, triple-option plays can't unfold that way.
0:01: This feels like a nail-biter. Buckle up.
End of Third Quarter Score: Army 16, SMU 7.
13:26 left, fourth quarter: SMU goes to a shotgun look on third and one, but gets away with it. An above-average catch bails out Padron, who made a poor throw.
12:52: For you game-management gurus and experts, that's precisely the time when a five-yard delay penalty should be accepted. Passing teams should not feel they need to preserve five yards on first down; the use of a timeout when trailing by two possessions early in the fourth quarter is a very wasteful move.
10:39: Army's defense isn't playing poorly or dropping off in quality. Padron is simply making intelligent decisions and exhibiting the patience that was nowhere to be found inside Gerald J. Ford (not President Gerald R. Ford) Stadium in the first half.
9:20: Ruh-roh. A perfect back-shoulder throw by Padron, and if you have a sense of humor, you'll sing these verses: "White-knuckle time for The Long Gray Line (CLAP-CLAP-CLAP-CLAP!) DEEP IN THE HEART OF TEXAS! The Knights must score to close the door (CLAP-CLAP-CLAP-CLAP!) DEEP IN THE HEART OF TEXAS!"
8:34: Just a remotely significant third-and-long coming up here for Trent Steelman....
8:27: Remember that run-pass balance Army needed to reach the next level? Yeah – nowhere to be found since the early first-quarter surge.
8:19: Titanic punt by Bulls. A merely average punt would have enabled SMU to start in Army territory. Great coverage by Army as well on a long kick. Textbook special teams at a very critical point in time.
6:09: This is Chinese water torture being applied by SMU. Drip, drip, drip...
5:39: Huge dropped pass. SMU needed to make a mistake or do something to blunt its own momentum.
4:41: Oh, that sack MUST be registered. Now SMU can try a field goal. Army's secondary remains outstanding, though. No big plays being allowed.
4:10: SMU better make this kick now that June Jones simply wasted a second timeout this quarter. The Ponies have only one timeout left.
4:05: Army lives. Two first downs will win this game, and one will put SMU in deep trouble, especially if it takes three plays to get it. Army needs to think about a pass or a bootleg on first down to get SMU's defense off balance.
3:20: SMU uses its final timeout. Be aggressive with this play call, Ian Shields.
3:14: Bootleg! THERE IT IS! OUTSTANDING CALL!
1:18: For the win....
1:00: ONIONS! That's how you put away a game! That is EXACTLY what this program has needed to find. That play will resonate throughout a very, VERY happy offseason in West Point. THAT play shows what Army can be like when it has a passing game and a play-action/bootleg dimension along with the triple option. Can you imagine what this team can be like with a dangerous rollout passing attack?
0:00: Meanwhile, forget about 2011. The 2010 season will finish as a winning season with a bowl victory, the Black Knights' first since the 1985 Peach Bowl against Illinois. Army locks up its first winning season since 1996. The three service academies all finish with at least seven wins in the same season for only the second time in recorded history. That's pretty sweet... just like this bowl triumph. Rich Ellerson, you have learned well. You have learned very well indeed.
2010 Armed Forces Bowl Final Score: Army 16, SMU 14.
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