Report Card: Army vs. Air Force

The Army Black Knights took a 14-0 half-time lead only to squander it as Air Force scored 24 straight unanswered points in the second half to defeat the Black Knights, 24-14. The victory allowed the Falcons to claim their second straight Commander-in-Chief's Trophy. Army had two additional great scoring opportunities in the first half.

Max Jenkins apparent one yard touchdown run wasn't allowed due to poor officiating and a worse ruling by the replay official. Scott Williams had the ball stripped on a great defensive play by Falcon defensive back Josh Hall at the 1-yard line with 25 seconds left in the first-half. Army watched helplessly as the ball rolled out of the back of the end zone for a touch back. In the second half the Air Force offense started to click as Army's offense imploded with three straight fumbles. During the Rich Ellerson era against Air Force at Colorado Springs, Army has been outscored 59-0 in the second half. The loss drops the Black Knights record this season to 3-6.



Air Force

Senior quarterback Max Jenkins completed just 2 of 10 passes for 26 yards and threw an interception. On Jenkins second pass attempt, wide receiver Davyd Brooks was able to get behind the Falcon secondary but Jenkins overthrew him. Brooks lacked the speed to run under the ball. Jenkins threw two incomplete passes on a poorly (play) called three and out series with 11:52 left in the fourth quarter. None of his passes were close on that series. The rest of his throws came on Army final possession. He threw away his first pass attempt on the final drive under pressure. Max completed an 11-yard pass to Austin Barr for a first down. He badly overthrew an open Anthony Stephens on the next play. Jenkins completed his next throw on a 15-yard out pattern to C-back Malcolm Brown, which was his best throw of the day. He then tried to hit Barr on a fade when he wasn't open rather than throwing to an open Scott Williams underneath. Jenkins last pass was a throw he forced into triple coverage and was easily picked off. Army's offensive line did a nice job in pass protection during all but one play. Jenkins lack of accuracy cost the ability for the Black Knights to make the Falcons pay when their receivers were open.
It was the tale of two half's as Army rushed for 286 yards in the first half and only 54 in the second half. Army's plebe center Ryan Powis dominated the Air Force nose guards in the first half. Guards Frank Allen and Matt Villanti were able to trap block and get to the second level very effectively. In the second half Air Force tightened their defensive front playing over the guards. They decided to take away the A-Back and fullback and make Jenkins beat them running the option. It was a smart move since Jenkins is rather slow and lacks the athleticism to make many plays with his feet. Sophomore A-back Raymond Maples ran for 132 yards on 17 carries. It was his fifth 100 yard rushing game of the season. Maples continues to be Army's best offensive threat. Freshman B-back Larry Dixon ran hard for 68 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. Dixon demonstrated his lower body strength breaking a tackle on his 13- yard touchdown run. Starting quarterback Max Jenkins ran for 38 yards, scored a touchdown but killed the team with his three fumbles. Jenkins scored on the opening drive. He was ruled stopped on fourth and goal when it was clear to everyone but the officials he scored a touchdown. Jenkins fumbled earlier on that same series costing Army a down to take a chance at the end zone. Jenkins fumbled on the first play after Air Force scored their first touchdown and the Falcons recovered. It led to an easy AF field goal to tie the score. Max made a mistake on the mesh early in the game on fourth-and-2 with Dixon and Army was stopped short on downs. Jenkins missed a number of option reads.

Jared Hassin (68 yards, 4.9 avg.) was having a solid game until, like last year against Air Force, he committed another costly fumble. It set up the Air Force field goal that made it a 10 point game and took Army out of its offense the rest of the fourth quarter. Malcolm Brown (7att., 49 yards) was effective on the fly sweep. Scott Williams raced 18-yards to the goal line only to have the ball stripped on a great defensive play by Falcon defensive back Josh Hall at the 1-yard line. The ball rolled out of the end zone for a safety just before the end of the first half. It was a very rare fumble by Williams. I have watched Williams play for three years (USMAPS-JV- Varsity) and had never seen him fumble or drop a pass. I thought it was a great strip by Hall as he was tackling Williams. To me the worst culprit on that play was wide receiver Austin Barr. He was loafing on the play instead of going all out to block the safety. When Barr saw the play coming his way, he tried to pick it up and get to Hall. Instead he was late and blocked Williams path as Hall tackled Williams. If he did his job and hustled Williams would have scored standing up. Plays like that are often the difference between winning and losing.
Air Force quarterback Tim Jefferson completed 6 of 12 passes for 122 yards. Jefferson's passing allowed the Falcons to get back into the game in the third quarter. Army safety Tyler Dickson (6 tackles) was in perfect position to pick off a pass, only to see Zack Kauth leap in front of him to snare the ball for a 35-yard completion that set up the Falcons first touchdown. Kyler Martin started his first game at safety and played very well. Martin made six tackles, defended a pass and recovered a fumble. Quick end Zach Watts (5 tackles, 2 for a loss) recorded Army's only sack. Army was able to pressure Jefferson. Thomas Holloway (5 tackles) at free safety took too shallow an angle covering Warzeka on a wheel route. He allowed a 37-yard completion that led to an AF field goal on the first drive of the second half. Josh Jackson did a nice job in coverage. Hayden Pierce (1 tackle) started at cornerback but left the game with a leg injury.
Army held the Falcons to only 179 rushing yards which is well below their season average of 326 rushing yards per game. The Black Knights played a 5-2 look most of the game and allowed just 3.3 yards per carry. The three consecutive fumbles by the Army offense and special teams set up 13 points on three drives that netted the Falcons just 24 yards The Black Knights actually held the Falcons without a first down on two of those series following the turnovers. Holt Zalneraitis made eight tackles as he played the best game of his career. Holt showed his speed running down a reverse to prevent a big gain. Andrew Rodriguez made seven tackles and knocked down a pass. Steve Erzinger (6 tackles, fumble recovery), after missing the Fordham contest, had his usual solid game. A.J. Mackey (4 tackles) did a nice job taking the fullback as DeWitt averaged just 2.8 yards per carry. Linebacker Geoffrey Bacon didn't start but was one of the best defenders on the field making five tackles including a key open field tackle on Jefferson. Nate Combs started and produced four tackles.
Chris Boldt was booming the ball in the high altitude averaging 55.3 yards on his three punts. He nailed a 72-yard punt that flipped the field when Army was pinned deep. Eric Osteen hit the ball well on his kickoffs and had a touchback. The special team's fake punt was actually well executed and wide open but Justin Allen simply dropped a perfect pitch from Ty Shader setting up the Falcons go ahead touchdown. Josh Jackson returned two punts for just five yards. The punt return team didn't give him much blocking and had a block in the back penalty. Scott Williams (53 yards) and Larry Dixon (13 yards) did a solid job fielding the Falcons short kickoffs. Coverage teams were, as usual, very solid.
First the good news. The Black Knights came out well prepared and ready to play. The defensive game plan was outstanding and well executed the entire game. The in-game decision making was very questionable in my opinion. First, I agreed with Ellerson going for it on the second series on fourth-and- two. Army was running wild at that point and the play failed due to Jenkins poor ball- handling on the mesh. Last year Ellerson settled for a field goal in a similar spot against Air Force. He probably felt he needed to score if he was going to win going into the game. I agreed with the call.

I disagreed with the personnel used in two key spots. Scott Williams fumbled at the goal line after his 18-yard run. Like I said before it was more a good defensive play by the Falcons. However with 25 seconds left in the first half why are your third string A-back (Stephen Fraser) and C-backs (Williams) on the field at the same time in such a key spot? The fake punt from the Army 36 was a gutsy call open to criticism. Tied at 14-14, I would have punted. I understand why Ellerson did it to change momentum but I have a real problem again with his use of personnel there. The play, if properly executed, would have been a big play but Justin Allen dropped the pitch from Ty Shrader. That was my problem with the call. Allen is a good athlete who won the starting job at wide receiver this spring but lost it early this fall because of his poor hands and was moved to defense. Why was the pitch designed for him rather than say Crucitti or Fraser, players with good hands, that wouldn't tip off the Falcons punt team? That was a head scratcher and with Allen's inconsistent hands the Black Knights were asking for trouble calling his number.

The other move, or to be more exact, the non-move after the third quarter disaster of three consecutive Army fumbles was frustrating. Air Force had changed their defense at halftime to tighten their defensive front and play over the guards. They knew Jenkins didn't have the speed to run the option wide. At the 11:47 mark of the fourth quarter I would have countered with Angel Santiago speed and quickness at quarterback. They stayed with Jenkins. Offensive coordinator Ian Shields, who called a great game till that point, I think became pass happy and went away from the game plan. Max Jenkins can't make the plays that plebe Angel Santiago can with his feet. The move to Santiago at that point would have made sense and kept the team in its offense.

The other problem I have is with Rich Ellerson rather stoic nature on the sidelines and in his pregame. Too many calls go against the Black Knights with barely a peep of protest. Air Force was able to get away with a horse collar tackle and other chippy play with no flags. His pregame speech which was shown by CBS sports was, in my opinion, like let's hope for the best and expect the worst. Under Ellerson, Army has been outscored 59-0 in the second half at Colorado Springs. Ellerson and his staff had the team ready to play going in. I believe the four fumbles are on the players. Ellerson has focused the last two weeks on ball security and the same mistakes continue. I don't blame that on the coaching staff. The players have to be accountable.
The Black Knights were ready to play and had a great first half. Somehow Army found ways to kill themselves with turnovers, bad luck and unforced errors. This team let a winnable game and a chance to potentially earn the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy slip away in a very ugly fashion.

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