Northwestern-Army, As It Happened
12:49 left, first quarter: Terrific stand by Army's defense. Northwestern landed a few short, quick jabs in the midsection, but the Black Knights held tough in the front seven and effectively blanketed NU's receivers.
9:05: What I really like about that first-down-gaining run by Trent Steelman is not the first down itself, but the fact that Steelman bounced off tacklers with great body lean and showed considerable grit, one week after getting dinged up against San Diego State.
6:33: The decision to go for it was aggressive enough in its own right. Steelman's continued ability to overpower defenders and knock them back is even more ferocious. Army is starting this game exactly the way it should. The physicality and resolve of this team are sharply and beautifully evident so far. Extremely impressive.
3:49: Wow, wow, wow. There's your template for the rest of the season, and frankly, for as long as Rich Ellerson coaches the Army Black Knights. The Brave Old Army Team just capped a perfect triple-option drive, using speed, shiftiness and sleight of hand to complement some blue-collar muscle and determination. What a masterclass that was by Mr. Steelman and Friends. That drive took almost NINE MINUTES.
2:02: Army is punching Northwestern in the mouth. Hard. Repeatedly. The Black Knights need to maintain tunnel vision and not allow this spell to be broken.
End of First Quarter: Army 7, Northwestern 0. That's a textbook first quarter. Repeat, wash, rinse for the rest of the year, and the Black Knights will have something on their hands.
13:47 left, second quarter: Repeat, wash, rinse on that short-yardage conversion. Army is making the sport simple. Excellence makes any endeavor seem a lot easier than it actually is. There's nothing complicated about the Black Knights' dominance – they're working better and harder, with more resolve and energy.
12:23: Gee, just when momentum was cresting, a fumble. A recovered fumble, but a drive-buster and surge-stopper nonetheless.
11:33: Did that break the spell? Will that miss awaken Northwestern? Army hopes not, but since two teams, not one, determine the outcome, the Black Knights aren't solely responsible for answering those two questions.
9:55: Nope – the spell hasn't been broken. Army's defense has responded so magnificently to the drubbing it endured at the hands of Chandler Harnish and Northern Illinois. Payam Saadat and Chris Smeland have done some fantastic work over the past two weeks. The Black Knights played well enough to win – and then some – against San Diego State. Now this. What a marvelous turnaround.
9:23: Throwing or catching, the Black Knights need to make a pass attempt work once in three tries. I frankly don't mind the play selection because this part of the sport needs to be performed with competence and craft; Army will need big pass plays before this season's over. Don't knock the strategy; knock the execution..
7:15: Spell broken. Sigh.
5:50:Just when it seemed Northwestern was steamrolling to a likely touchdown, Army's front seven – helped by a late movement to fill a gap on the line – creates a holding penalty on the part of the Wildcats. Let's see how substantial that play turns out to be.
5:23: Not very substantial – no thanks to Northwestern's toe-dancing fool, Jeremy Ebert, who exhibits a textbook piece of Gregory Hines in the back of the end zone to knot this game at seven-all. Now comes the test of any team that wants to call itself a winner: How do you answer a punch to the gut?
3:05: Army ballcarriers have resumed bouncing off Northwestern tacklers, using a sledgehammer approach to move the pigskin. This drive doesn't matter so much because of the scoreboard; it matters because it needs to (re-)set the right psychological tone for the second half and, for that matter, the rest of this season. This is a drive whose value exists in the locker room and on the sideline more than on the field, if that makes any sense.
1:12: That quickly unraveled. Blown assignments on the offensive line were part of the equation, but Northwestern's front seven showed more speed and awareness on those last two plays.
0:12: This is not how a high-level first half was supposed to end. 27 high-level minutes have been undone by three poor ones.
0:00: And then that happens for Northwestern. At any rate, the Black Knights – though not trailing – were the superior team for 90 percent of that half. However, they're merely tied. This second half will reveal much about the ability of Rich Ellerson's club to finish what it started so well. Last week against San Diego State was a come-from-behind scramble. This is a game in which Army dictated from the word go. The Brave Old Army Team has to stay the course; otherwise, this once-again-winnable game against a bowl team will go begging… and a bowl game will fade from the Black Knights' 2011 outlook.
Halftime: Northwestern 7, Army 7. Army's passing yards in the first half? Six. The Black Knights have to move the needle there if they want a good half of ball (which they just played) to produce more than seven (or even 14) points.
14:34 left, third quarter: Great change-of-pace running call by offensive coordinator Ian Shields.
13:19: Just like the start of the game – whack, whack, whacking Northwestern in the teeth and not relenting.
10:43: So, two first drives of halves, two touchdowns. Now, about the rest of the canvas of competition… we're waiting for the answer, Black Knights. This is all prelude to another stomach punch, or a season-changing reversal. It's your basic moment of truth on September 17, before the official change from summer to fall. That's all. No big deal, right?
8:40: Momentum sustained. Objections overruled. This is a country whuppin' being applied by Army's offensive and (just now) defensive lines. Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter has rarely felt comfortable today, and that's what happens when the opponent is bringing all the heat and dictating all the movements on the gridiron.
7:53:*Clears throat*… *Breathes deeply*… *Pauses*… NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
7:42: Good call by Ron Cherry's officiating crew to pick up the flag – that was a slap to the helmet with a hand, not a face-mask grab. Huge (and proper) decision.
5:38: Northwestern's defense flew around the field and snuffed out the option to the perimeter. Army and Steelman needed that rollout pass on second down. You can run 95 percent of the time, but the proverbial "extra 5 percent" has to mean something, too.
4:10: Northwestern's defense might be gaining more leverage in this contest, but NU's offense remains straitjacketed by Army at every spot on the field. This isn't just about one or two guys making clutch plays for the Black Knights; this is an 11-man smackdown of a Big Ten offense that has shown in the past that it can be hard to defend. Yes, there's no Dan Persa under center for Northwestern, but still – Army is hanging in the trenches, and that's the biggest reason this game is going so well for the home team in West Point.
2:08: Northwestern's linebacker made a great play, the kind of play that deserves a tip of the cap. Filling a passing lane and reaching behind the body to deflect a pass? That's high-grade stuff. Nevertheless, the point remains: Army can't hit a big pass to gain separation on the scoreboard. Until this is a two-possession game, it won't feel safe for the West Pointers.
0:29:MISTER. STEVEN. ERZINGER. The lad has been all over the field… and a holy terror in Northwestern's backfield. Another punt for Northwestern's listless offense, but Army's defense is as electric as NU is pancake-flat. One would be right to say that Army's energy has made the visiting Wildcats so flat. The Black Knights have zapped the 11 men who play offense for Northwestern.
End of third quarter: Army 14, Northwestern 7. This is Army's game to lose. Will the Black Knights hit two key pass plays and avoid the big fumble? It's up to them.
13:23 left, fourth quarter: MALCOLM BROWN! Look at those JETS! No fumbles and a few first downs will enable Army to, at the very least, accumulate a two-possession lead over an offense that's going nowhere.
10:24: Normally, going for it is the right call in fourth-and-short situations. However, a field goal means a 10-point lead. I say kick it.
9:37:Trent. Steelman. Body. Lean. He has played with a boatload of guts today. He is not just performing well – that bit of praise does far too little to accurately and thoroughly characterize his effort today. Steelman isn't just performing at a high level; he's winning one-on-one battles involving considerable physical contact with Northwestern defenders. Talk about "Army Strong." That's Mr. Steelman this afternoon.
6:55: ARE? YOU? KIDDING? ME? ARE? YOU? KIDDING? ME? Last week's missed PAT in a 20-all tie was bad enough, but THAT?
6:03: Yep – of course that just happened. Of course.
5:56:So, whatcha got, Army? Just what are you made of? Let's see.
4:53: So far, so (very, very, very) good. Perfect triple-option execution.
4:10: Who saw this drive coming after the brutal sequence a few minutes earlier? I didn't. (Still, the drive has to be finished first.)
3:11: THE MAN OF STEEL! AGAIN! Look at that willpower and want-to! Mercy!
2:49:The question was asked. The question was answered. Your turn, defense.
1:42: GREAT open-field tackle by Army's Nate Combs to prevent a first down for Northwestern.
1:06: NATE COMBS'S TACKLE WINDS UP BEING THE DIFFERENCE! THERE'S YOUR FANTASTIC WIN, MAKING THE FIRST TWO LOSSES WORTH THE PAIN! Getting through these three games with a victory represents a legitimate accomplishment for the Army program. A bowl bid is still a very realistic goal, thanks to this massive win.
0:00: ON, BRAVE OLD ARMY TEAM! That song is being sung with relish and joy… as it should be.
Final score: Army 21, Northwestern 14.
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