Report Card: Army vs. SMU

The Army Black Knights defeated the Southern Methodist University Mustangs 16-14 in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl. It was the Black Knights' first bowl victory since 1985. At 7-6, this is Army's first winning season since 1996. Army used three first half turnovers to shutout the Mustangs high powered Run and Shoot passing attack and race to a 16-0 halftime lead.

SMU, which outgained Army 413 yards to 229, staged a second half comeback. The Mustang's narrowed the score to 16-14 before missing a 47-yard field goal attempt into a stiff crosswind late in the game. Army converted two key third downs plays to run out the clock. Army is now 3-0 in the all-time series against SMU.




Army was on their way to earning a failing grade for passing as Trent Steelman completed only 1 of his first 6 passes for 8 yards. Steelman opened the first offensive series with a short hitch route that wide receiver Austin Barr dropped. Later on the same opening touchdown drive Steelman did a waggle action roll out and hit Davyd Brooks for eight yards and a first down. Steelman received a gift interference penalty on a wheel route to Pat Mealy during the same drive. Mealy was never open on the pattern but Trent's underthrown ball caused SMU's Chris Banjo to draw the flag giving Army another 15 yards and a first down. Steelman threw a poor pass missing wide out Austin Barr on a whip route in the second quarter on third-and-long. Steelman threw it like he was expecting an out pattern. Later in the second quarter on another waggle action play Steelman overthrew a wide open Brooks on a crossing route. It was a poor throw by Trent and cost Army a first down making them settle for a field goal one play later. Steelman was sacked for a five yard loss on his only pass attempt of the third quarter. After SMU narrowed the score to 14-16 Army was pinned on its own 11. Steelman threw two consecutive incompletions and was bailed out by a 57-yard Jonathan Bulls punt. After SMU missed a field goal Army rushed for a first down then faced a third-and-4 with 1:18 left in game. TSteelman once again ran waggle action and hit Davyd Brooks with a short pass on third down for a clutch 22-yard completion that sealed the win. Steelman completed only 2-of-7 passes for 30 yards but made the play at the end of the game when the team needed it earned the higher grade. Brooks caught the only two completions for 30 yards. The offensive line struggled at times in pass protection allowing one sack.
Army ran for 199 yards and averaged four yards a carry. The Black Knights struggled in the second half moving the ball gaining only 77 yards rushing against SMU huge line and the eight players they put in the box. "B" back Jared Hassin led Army in rushing as he produced 82 yards on 18 carries. Hassin ran hard and avoided the fumbles that had plagued him the last month. Hassin became just the13th back in Army's football history to rush for over one thousand yards (1,013) in a season. Quarterback Trent Steelman did a solid job on his option reads. He didn't find much running room as he ran for only 27 yards on 10 carries. His longest run of 14 yards came off a quarterback scramble. Steelman avoid a costly turnover when "C" back Brian Cobb, who had 2 carries for 11 yards, recovered his fumble to keep the drive that produced the field goal alive. Fellow "C" back Malcolm Brown ran 5 times for 31 yards. Brown scored the Black Knights only rushing touchdown on an option pitch that featured great blocks by Pat Mealy and receiver Austin Barr. Mealy's first carry was his best as he ran a counter for 22 yards to start the touchdown drive. Mealy ran 11 times for 57 yards. There were way too many missed blocks on the perimeter. Plebe Raymond Maples (two carries for minus 2 yards) was hammered on a six yard loss that should have been a decent gain. Brian Cobbs ignored his cut block assignment and let SMU's nail Maples for a six yard loss. Offensive coordinator Ian Shields called one reverse but it took too long to develop and wide receiver Davyd Brooks was dumped for a seven yard loss. Army's offensive line had trouble at times dealing with SMU's size up front, especially in the second half, but used misdirection and counters to create running room.
SMU opened the game with a 45-yard bomb from quarterback Kyle Padron to wide receiver Aldrick Robinson. Cornerback Richard King (one tackle) never turned to find the ball and early it looked like it was going to be a long day for Army's defense. Two plays later whip linebacker Zach Watts (4 tackles) blitzed and sacked quarterback Kyle Padron forcing a fumble that Josh McNary (3 tackles and half a sack) scooped up on a bounce and ran 55 yards for a touchdown giving Army a lead it never relinquished. It was the story in the first half as Army generated pressure with its usual twists and stunts plus a number of well-timed blitzes to create pressure and help force two first half interceptions. Padron completed 23-of-34 passes for 302 yards and two touchdowns. Game defensive MVP Stephen Anderson had a huge play as he jumped a crossing route and intercepted the ball at the 15-yard line. It was a huge momentum swing as SAM safety Donnie Dixon was trailing on coverage and if completed it probably would have been an SMU touchdown. Cornerback Josh Jackson (4 tackles) intercepted Padron and returned it 38 yards in the first half. Jackson was beat by Robinson on an 8-yard slant when he was in press coverage and bit hard on a move towards the outside. After Jordan Trimble (3 tackles) missed a sack on a blitz Jackson had a huge hit on Darius Johnson stopping him well short of the first down and forcing an SMU final field goal attempt that was wide. Rover Steve Erzinger (5 tackles) didn't have bad coverage when he allowed a 28-yard touchdown pass to Darius Johnson. Johnson was just faster and Padron made his best throw of the day. Donovan Travis, seven tackles, did a good job in helping to limit the Mustangs run after their catch yardage that the Black Knights had struggled with when they faced Hawaii's Run and shoot offense earlier in the year.
SMU running back Zach Line ran for 103 yards and averaged 6.1 yards a carry. It was Line who helped get the Mustang offense untracked in the third quarter. He is a load. Mike linebacker Stephen Anderson led the Black Knights with 14 tackles, an interception and 1/2 a sack. He was everywhere and the best defensive player on the field. Near the end of the half nose tackle Mike Gann had a huge tackle on fourth-and-2 of quarterback Kyle Padron when he attempted a quarterback sneak which denied them a score. This was the only time all year that SMU's Line ran for over 100 yards and the Mustangs lost.
Alex Carlton finished the year hitting eleven consecutive field goals. His 44-yard field goal near the end of the first half proved to be the difference in the game. SMU's Szymanski missed both his field goal attempts at that goal post. Jonathan Bulls last game as Army's punter was outstanding. The numbers, 6 punts for a 36-yard per punt average, do not tell the story. Bulls used his rugby style punt to place two punts inside the five-yard-line. After SMU narrowed the lead to 16-14 and forced the offense into a three-and-out the Mustangs had all the momentum. Bulls then boomed a clutch 57-yard punt from his own end zone which forced the Mustangs to start their last drive from their own 38-yard-line. Bulls was the main reason Szymanski's last field goal attempt was from 47 yards not in a lot closer. Kingsley Ehie did a great job downing a punt at the two to prevent a touchback. Army's kick returns were asleep at the switch when they allowed SMU's punter Szymanski to run 18 yards for a first down on his first punt attempt after forcing a defensive three-and-out. Matt Campbell showed how strong the wind was early when he recorded a rare touchback for him on his opening kickoff. Army's punt coverage teams allowed just 22 yards on four punt returns. The kickoff coverage team allowed an average of 19 yards on three returns. Raymond Maples muffed his only kickoff return attempt and was fortunate to recover it. He was bailed out by Jonathan Bulls 57-yard punt that saved Army from poor field position on SMU's last drive.
Give Rich Ellerson credit as he had his team ready to play from the opening gun. With exams and taking time off for the Christmas break I didn't like the Black Knights preparation entering this game but Ellerson knows his team. Great job winning this game despite being outgained by nearly 200 yards against an SMU team at home that had almost a month to prepare. Great call by offensive coordinator Ian Shields on first series. Shield knew SMU played a cover 2 against the Navy's option with the safety spying the motion pitch back. Shields first running play was to send fly sweep across the formation and run a counter to the other side. It gained 22 yards but if the ball carrier Pat Mealy wasn't as slow as molasses it would have been a 50-yard gain. Shields used waggle action roll outs to keep Trent from being sacked and create safe throwing lanes. It worked in a big way finally on the gutsy third down pass to Brooks for 22 yards that sealed the win. Payam Saadat and Chris Smeland used the flex front to try to create pressure and brought a fifth defender on a blitz from different angles to confuse Padron. The double eagle flex is as unique as the triple option offense is in that it showed looks and schemes that quarterbacks don't regularly see and helped the Black Knights shut out SMU in the first half. The defensive game plan created pressure that produced negative plays and was the main key for the victory.
After a wait of 14 long years wait Army appeared in a bowl game and won its first bowl game since 1985. It was a great team effort against a team playing on its home turf that allowed Army to prevail despite being outgained by 184 yards. Congratulations to the staff and seniors who produced a signature victory in a big game.

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