Report Card: Army vs. San Diego State

Déjà vu? Similar to the second game last season, also a home opener at Michie Stadium, the Army Black Knights lost to a Mountain West opponent after mounting a comeback. The San Diego Aztecs jumped out to a 14-0 lead. Like last year against Hawaii, the Aztecs looked like they were going to blow out Army.

The Black Knights battled back to tie the game twice but like last season a missed kick, this time an extra point, cost Army a chance to take the lead. Similar to last year's home opener, Trent Steelman left with an injury to be replaced by backup Max Jenkins on last series as the Aztecs held on to win 23-20. Army chronically fumbled and drop the ball all game. The Black Knights fall to 0-2 for the first time under Ellerson.



San Diego State

The Army quarterbacks completed only 2-of-7 passes for 43 yards. That's was mostly the receivers fault. Sophomore Jared McFarlin caught one pass for 19 yards in the first quarter to keep a drive alive. He had a chance to make a leaping reception in the end zone but could not come down with it. The most costly drop was on a go route when Max Jenkins hit McFarlin in his hands but he dropped what should have been a 53-yard touchdown. Anthony Stevens made a 24-yard reception off a perfect waggle action third down pass from Steelman.

On the last series backup quarterback Max Jenkins threw three incompletions but deserved a better fate. McFarlin dropped a potential touchdown bomb already mentioned. Malcolm Brown was separated from a catch on a big hit by the Aztecs cornerback Leon McFadden. On the last play under pressure Jenkins threw a pass that McFarlin had a chance to make a play on, which is all you want in that situation. This grade should have been higher but the receivers have to catch the ball. Catching passes consistently has been a problem for receivers in the Ellerson era. The offensive line protection did a good job on pass protection until the last series when Jenkins was sacked and was then under pressure his last throw.
This should have been an ‘A' grade. The Black Knights rushed for 403 yards, averaged 5.2 yards per carry and scored three touchdowns. What lost this game was the inability of almost every offensive player to hold the ball. Army put the ball on the turf a ridiculous eleven times. Eight times they fumbled and three were lost. Another three times the Black Knights were fortunate to be ruled down by contact.

Trent Steelman rushed for a career high 157 yards and three touchdowns. Steelman averaged 7.5 yards per carry. He seems quicker this year. Trent had some uncharacteristic missed reads for the second week in a row and was guilty of some poor ball handling. He fumbled three times and lost two. One of his fumbles gave the Aztecs a short field and an easy score. He made a terrific scramble for a touchdown on third-and goal from the 11-yard line to tie the score in the first half. On the first drive of the second half he badly missed a read on fourth-and-2 yards. He gave the ball to the fullback for no gain when he had the edge. He made a terrific scramble for a touchdown on third-and-goal from the 11-yard line to tie the score in the first half. Steelman left the game with a shoulder injury on the last drive. He returned briefly before being knocked out of the game again on his next and last carry.

Malcolm Brown continues to play well through pain. He has been playing hurt since the summer but still rushed for 77 yards on ten carries. Brown had a huge 31-yard run for a first down on fourth- and-1. Jared Hassin playing with a bad back rushed for 59 yards (4.5 avg.). Hassin made a bad decision on the last drive snatching the ball from Max Jenkins on the mesh when Max wanted to run the option. Jon Crucitti had his usual solid game with seven carries for 39 yards. Raymond Maples ran for a hard 37 yards on 10 carries. Maples blocked very well. His cut block helped Brown gain the edge on his 31-yard run for a huge first down. Two plebes from the prep school, Trenton Turrentine and Larry Dixon, had rough games. Turrentine (13 yards) continues a trend he had at the prep school of dropping a pitch for the second consecutive game. Dixon (22 yards) uncharacteristically had two fumbles and lost one.

The offensive line blocked well all game. Dan Whitaker did an excellent job finishing the game in place of Brad Kelly at left tackle after Kelly limped off. Frank Allen blocked well and was alert in recovering a few fumbles.
Ryan Lindley is a terrific quarterback who averaged 294.6 passing yards per game last season. After badly burning plebe cornerback L.J. Harris (1 pass def.) on his first throw for a 68-yard touchdown Lindley completed just 7-of-17 passes for 78 yards the rest of the game.

Army's staff did an excellent job mixing the looks up front to create pressure against an excellent offensive line to upset Lindley's rhythm. Zac Watts started at quick end in place of Jared Mackey and had the only sack. Plebe safety Hayden Pierce (four tackles) made an excellent open field tackle in the flat on Ronnie Hillman for a four yard loss that forced a punt. No one could run with San Diego's State's Colin Lockett who burned Josh Jackson (4 tackles) deep but dropped a sure touchdown pass. L.J. Harris dropped an easy interception on third down that allowed Abe Perez the opportunity to kick the game winning 42-yard field goal. Overall this was a terrific effort but there were some breakdowns to keep it from an A grade.
Army entered this game undermanned and undersized up front yet they battled. The defense was a lot more sound and tackled better than the disastrous opener against Northern Illinois. Army still struggled getting off blocks up front with A.J. Mackey (1 tackle) and Brian Zalneraitis (2 tackles) not making many stops at line. The Aztecs ran for 146 yards, two touchdowns and 5.8 yards per carry. Army's best ally at times was San Diego's offensive coordinator, who finally realized on the last two series, that he should just hand off the ball to Hillman and Kazee. Hillman produced a touchdown and on the next drive the Aztecs hit the game winning field goal.

The move of Justin Trimble to Mike linebacker helped stabilize the defense. The Black Knight tackling was very sound. Ronnie Hillman blew up more than a few Army tackling angles but he's a great player who will play in the NFL. Thomas Holloway (3 tackles) was faked out of his shoes on a Hillman cutback for a touchdown but generally played well. Co-Captain Rover Steve Erzinger made a quiet four tackles.
Kolin Walk had only one punt for 39 yards. Field goal kicker Alex Carlton missed an extra point mostly due to a poor snap. Scotty Williams, who had a great opening game returning kicks for the JV against USMAPS, earned a varsity spot. Williams flashed his quickness and instincts as he returned two kickoffs for 53 yards. Larry Dixon handled two kickoff returns for 43 yards. Punt returner Josh Jackson made a mistake to catch one punt inside his 10-yard line. He returned two punts for 22 yards. Coverage teams were excellent.
Offensive coordinator Ian Shields used both his wishbone and half bone sets during the game and called a great game. Army limited possessions and dominated the time of possession 42:11 to 17:49. Co-defensive coordinators Chris Smeland and Payaam Saadat put together a tremendous game play and rebuilt their young defense by inserting Zac Watts at quick end, Justin Trimble at Mike linebacker and to a lesser extent, L.J. Harris at cornerback. They did a great job mixing their front and creating pressure to take Lindley out of his rhythm. Ellerson deserves a ton of credit for preparing the team to compete.
I give the team an ‘A' for effort and game plan but the fumbles killed their opportunity for the huge upset. The inability of the team to make plays in the fourth quarter is frustrating.

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