Temple Of Doom
In past seasons, a three-week break (with two bye weeks) did not precede the Army-Navy Game, making the annual clash in Philadelphia (or Baltimore, or sometimes East Rutherford, New Jersey) more a part of an integrated regular season. The new schedule alignment puts Army-Navy on an island and makes that event even more of a bowl game than it had been over the previous few decades. This new schedule shape shines an even bigger spotlight on game 11 of the season slate. Though technically not the final regular-season soiree, game 11 certainly feels like the last "normal" part of the football campaign. For this reason, it's an occasion when nerves are tested and stamina is challenged. This was a time for the Black Knights and head coach Rich Ellerson to mount one final rally, one final demonstration of their ability to deal with the weekly punishment of major college football. A season that has taken a bite out of Trent Steelman and worn down other Army players wound its way to Philadelphia this past weekend.
Standing in the way of victory was a Temple team that barely escaped Miami of Ohio the week before. Since Army had Miami on the ropes before allowing the RedHawks to slip away in the fourth quarter over a month ago, it was quite reasonable to think that the Brave Old Army Team could make a game of it against the Owls and first-year head coach Steve Addazio. Temple's defense manifested considerable weaknesses against Ohio and Miami in the month of November, allowing the MAC East Division title to evade its grasp for yet another year. Temple was a stronger and more robust team in 2009 under former coach Al Golden, and its 2010 version – though ravaged by injury – won eight games. This year's TU crew possessed a slightly softer underbelly, giving Army a line of attack and a legitimate chance for success.
So much for those hopes – they went up in smoke inside the home of the Philadelphia Eagles, another team that could tell you all about the emptiness of aspirations that drift into the afternoon sky with other particles of wasted breath.
What was striking about this particular contest was that it did not rapidly get away from Army, at least not in the traditional way that games unravel. Typically – and this is especially true for Army, given its ball-security issues this season – an untimely turnover represents the turning point, the moment when the faucet gets turned on and the waves of water send momentum rushing to the other side of the line of scrimmage. If not turnovers, penalties – such as the ones committed against Ball State and Rutgers – mark the hinge-point horror shows which enable an opponent to seize and opening and take control of a Saturday slugfest.
In this game, turnovers and penalties simply weren't the sources of Temple's first-half domination and the 28-0 halftime lead which accompanied it. The Owls simply bludgeoned the Black Knights with straightforward plainness and power. Temple ran the ball down Army's throat, mounting four touchdown drives that had all the subtlety and finesse of a tire iron. On one of Temple's first-half marches, the Owls traveled 88 yards in seven minutes and 40 seconds. They ran 15 plays, all of them on the ground. Army simply couldn't stop the Owls. It was an old-fashioned display of country hardball at its best. Temple said, "I'm gonna throw you this here fastball, and I'm daring you that you can't hit it. Let's see whatcha got, kid."
Army swung and missed. Repeatedly. Consistently. Discouragingly. There's really no other way to put it.
The weight of a season and its disappointments, the pit in the stomach caused by the Ball State collapse… the Miami crumble in the fourth quarter… the horrible officiating at Air Force followed by the fumble on the Falcons' 1-yard line… and the Rutgers fourth quarter all came crashing down on the Black Knights this past weekend. Temple threw the first few punches in the opening stanza, and Army – depleted in body and spirit – basically said, "no mas." Tired and broken, weary and beaten, a shorthanded team didn't have a full tank of energy to call upon. The regular season ended not with a bang, but with a whimper… a whimper which was the result of accumulated disappointments that did not get flushed out of the system.
Speaking of those disappointments: They need to be wiped away over the next few weeks. A 4-7 Navy team – the worst since 2002 – is there for the taking. Army has to do much more than merely put on a happy face; it must truly believe that it is ready to meet the moment against the Midshipmen. The Black Knights must truly dedicate themselves to excellence. They didn't do that this past weekend in Philadelphia.
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