Report Card: Army at San Diego State

The Army Black Knights were dominated in their season opener at San Diego State. For the second year in a row the Aztecs jumped out to a 14-0 lead but unlike last year there was no Army comeback. San Diego State out played, out hit and out coached Army in a 42-7 blowout victory. It was the worst Army loss in an opener since 2005 when Boston College defeated Army under Bobby Ross 44-7.

PASSING OFFENSE F
Trent Steelman completed only 3 of 8 passes for 50 yards with two interceptions. Steelman's longest completion was a 23-yard pass to Raymond Maples to started a first half drive. Three plays later the drive ended when Trent threw behind a wide open Patrick Laird who couldn't hold on to the ball. While Laird probably needs to make that catch it was a poorly throw ball. Steelman kept a drive alive with a third and long pass to Chevaughn Lawrence on a shallow crossing pattern for 18 yards and a first down. Lawrence dropped a fourth down pass at the end of the third quarter that would have moved the chains. After completing a 9-yard pass to Patrick Laird on the same series he ruined the drive before halftime by rolling out and trying to shovel pass the ball to a well-covered Maples on first down. The floating ball was easily intercepted by San Diego State. In the third quarter he opened a drive by trying to force a pass to Maples who had four defenders around him and was easily intercepted again on first down. There was no need to make those throws on first down. Angel Santiago played late and threw an incompletion. He was sacked once behind the backup line. The starting offensive line protection did a solid job on pass protection against a team that can rush the quarterback

RUSHING OFFENSE C
The Black Knights rushed for 382 yards, averaged 4.5 yards per carry and scored only a touchdown. Despite those numbers Steelman's performance was miserable. After rushing for a career high of 157 yards last fall against the Aztecs, he gained a measly three yards on nine carries. Steelman's head seemingly wasn't in the game. There was nothing wrong with the snaps he dropped and his decisions were often poor. He seemed rattled by the Aztecs different looks and team speed. He killed a promising game opening drive when he fumbled a snap and wasted a down. Then on fourth-and-1 he tried to run through three defenders when Maples, his pitch man, was uncovered forcing Army to lose the ball on downs. After the defense stopped SD State's second drive, Trent ruined a chance to settle down the game by fumbling the first snap and losing the ball. Two plays later the Aztecs scored making it 14-0. Raymond Maples ran for a hard 107 yards on 19 carries. Maples blocked well. His 38 yard burst started Army's only touchdown drive. Terry Baggett ran for 100 yards in his first start on 13 carries. Baggett scored Army's only touchdown on a 10-yard counter which was Army's best play all night. He needs to improve his blocking on the move.

Fullback Larry Dixon was limited to 34 yards on just eight carries as the Aztecs mixed their front and used the run blitz in the "A "gap. They were determined that Steelman would not run wild like he did the last year. The offensive line was fairly solid against a very athletic Aztec front line.

PASSING DEFENSE D
San Diego's quarterback Ryan Katz wasn't very impressive as he completed 14 of 21 passes for 215 yards and a touchdown. Katz seemed rather unsteady at times in the pocket and didn't seem to be very confident early. The Black Knight's defense wasn't able to take advantage of Katz and let him settle down. Josh Jackson (four tackles and 2 pass defensed) was stiff armed and missed an easy tackle that Ezell Ruffin ran with 57 yards setting up the first score of the second half which blew the game wide open. Jackson has to make that tackle. Tyler Dickson made four tackles in his first start at cornerback but wasn't very fluid at times in coverage. Cornerback Justin Allen (1 tackle, 2 pass defensed) broke up two sure touchdown passes. He stripped Ruffin of the ball in the end zone and later when Katz was late on a skinny post throw he smartly undercut the route and almost intercepted the pass. SAM safety Hayden Pierce hurt his shoulder very early in the game and was replaced by Lyle Beloney (3 tackles) who missed some tackles, was slow to read plays and had some struggles in coverage. Ty Shrader's had a unnecessary face mask penalty on The Opening drive when Beloney had Lockett wrapped up for a 1-yard gain on the Aztecs opening touchdown drive.

Nate Combs was the only front defensive line player (the bandit is considered part of the defensive line) who performed well. Combs made five tackles and had two sacks. Plebes Chris Carnegie (1 tackle) and Brandon Fusilier Jeffires, the son of former Houston Olier Pro bowl wide receiver Heywood Jeffires. (six tackles) made their Army debuts in garbage time. Fusilier Jeffires was physical and played well. Carnegie missed few tackles and seemed a little nervous.

RUSHING DEFENSE D
With apologies to the Who's Pete Townsend meet the new defense, same as the old defense. When you look at the stat sheet you can tell what happened when you see that Army defensive line starters Mike Ugenyi, Bobby Kough and quick end Zac Watts posted only one tackle each. It wasn't just that the defensive line was knocked off the ball like last year; it was that they were so unsound.

The Black Knights were not playing their gap responsibilities on defense and were too often out of position. It causes the whole system to break down. Overall there were way too many missed tackles and the Black Knights were slow to shed and used poor technique. The lack of a true nose guard the last two years is an issue versus the run. Army lacks a player to handle both A gaps and the play of the new defensive tackles was mediocre. San Diego used the fullback and double tight end looks to seal the defensive ends which not only gave the Aztec backs the edge but it limited the inside out pursuit from Bacon to the alley. San Diego State was smart in the way they attacked the flex and they have a Remington Trophy candidate at center but Army's defense was undisciplined and their own worst enemy. They have to play what they're taught and stop this freelancing in the front seven which destroyed the defense's effectiveness. Up front only Bacon (team leading 9 tackles) and Combs consistently square up to tackle but even Bacon missed too many tackles. If this keeps up I would find a spot for USMAPS defensive MVP Alex Meier (4 tackles). In garbage time he made all his tackles. He's backing Bacon but can play rover or safety. I can tell why the staff likes Ty Shrader (8 tackles) in that his instincts are excellent. The problem is he's an athletic overachiever and I don't believe he is talented and fast enough to be an FBS safety. New rover Justin Trimble (3 tackles) was often buried at the point of attack. I saw Thomas Holloway spell Trimble but he didn't make the stat sheet.

SPECIAL TEAMS D
Punter Chris Bolt averaged 43.5 on four punts with one inside the 20. He had touchbacks on two opportunities when he failed to pin the Aztecs deep inside their own ten. None of Bolt's punts were returned. The kickoff coverage team was burned by speedy Colin Lockett who broke clear of the coverage at midfield and raced down the left sideline to score. Army's new field goal kicker Dan Grochowski along with plebe snapper Drew Ellerson and holder A.J. Schurr made their first extra point as a unit. Punt returner Josh Jackson (1 return, -1 yard) had no running room. Stephen Fraser fumbled his first kickoff return chance and returned it just four yards. He was replaced the rest of the game by Larry Dixon who did a good job averaging 25.3 yards on three returns.

COACHING D
I saw the criticism of offensive coordinator Ian Shields on the Black Knights Alley board but I disagree with the criticism on his play calling. It was Steelman's fumbles and forced interceptions that killed any offensive consistency the team could have had generated. Players have to take responsibility and Steelman had a miserable game. On defense I do blame the staff for not having their players accountable. There was a lack of gap discipline by the Army defense that had nothing to do with the Aztecs being more physical. The tackling was awful. I know Rich Ellerson likes the early morning practices to get his players rest but with the three hour time difference in traveling to the west coast it looked like Army was sleepwalking and unprepared. Ellerson admitted he was "stunned" with the lack of execution.

OVERALL GRADE D
The new defensive line was a major disappointment. I rated Trent Steelman the best service academy quarterback for Fox this year in a preseason poll. After the first week he looked like the worst of the three. Army cannot sustain drives and win if he fails to handle the ball.

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