The Army Black Knights won their home opener 28-12 over the Morgan State Bears from the FCS. Army jumped out to an early 21-0 lead as new starting quarterback Angel Santiago rushed for 120 yards and three touchdowns. Santiago also threw the ball well as he passed for 101 yards and another score. The offense played a clean game with no penalties or turnovers. Its the first time that has happened since the Black Knights beat SMU in the 2010 Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl. Army won its opening game for the first time in three years.
PASSING OFFENSE: B+
Angel Santiago started the game passing the ball extremely well. On the opening offensive play he threw a pass on the move off waggle action for a 24-yard completion to plebe Xavier Moss (2 catches, 75 yards). In the second quarter he hit receiver Chevaughn Lawrence (2 catches, 26 yards, 1 TD) with a perfectly thrown pass in the end zone for an 18-yard touchdown. The next series Santiago hit Moss in stride for a 51-yard completion. Angel stepped up nicely in the pocket and delivered a great throw on the money.
The passing offense didn't click the rest of the game. On the same series Santiago missed an open Moss on a corner route in the end zone. Angel was then sacked on a fourth and goal play as the offense turned the ball over on downs before the end of the first half. The offense bogged down after opening the second half with a touchdown drive. Santiago was sacked and then Xavier Moss dropped a high but catchable ball on third and long which forced a punt. Santiago badly overthrew a wide open Chevaughn Lawrence on his final pass attempt. If he put a little air under the ball it would have been a touchdown. The offensive line allowed two sacks. For the game Santiago was 4-of-8 for 101 passing yards and a touchdown.
RUSHING OFFENSE: B
The Black Knights rushed for 295 yards, averaged seven yards per carry and Santiago scored all three touchdowns. Santiago's quick feet and burst were on display in the first half. He carried the ball 16 times for 120 yards. He finished the opening drive on the fourth-and-3 play with a 33-yard touchdown run. Santiago made a smart decision to fake the pitch and hold the ball as he took it himself for the touchdown. The next series he had a nice burst for a 38-yard run which set up Army's second score. Late in the first half Santiago reverted to his form from past seasons as he made some poor run and pitch decisions inside the 10-yard line which probably cost the Black Knights another touchdown.
In the second half Morgan State started employing a 3-3 stack look and Angel became very conservative with the ball. The running game stumbled as he missed a few of option reads after opening the second half with a touchdown drive. Fullback Larry Dixon ran for 107 yards on 12 carries before leaving the game after being shaken up in the fourth quarter. The slimmed down Dixon looked a lot quicker. Back up B-back Hayden Pierce (7 att., 34 yards) filled in admirably as usual on the final drive as he moved the pile to secure the win. Raymond Maples had a quiet game with five carries for 18 yards. I thought Maples would have been better served on the pitch near the goal line before the end of the first half if he lower his shoulder rather than trying to outrace the defensive back for the pylon. Trenton Turrentine saw more playing time late in the game. His only carry was during the final drive. He made a huge eleven yard run on a third and eight play to sustain the drive and allow Army to run out the clock. Terry Baggett wasn't used much in his return to the lineup after rushing for one hundred yards in last years opener. He had just one carry for five yards.
PASSING DEFENSE: B
The Army defense allowed Morgan State's quarterbacks to complete 6 of 10 passes for 116 yards and a touchdown. The Black Knights best defense against the pass was their ability to generate pressure. They had three sacks and should have had at least two more. Morgan State's big offensive line is strong but not very athletic and had trouble handling some of the double eagle flex's twists and stunts. MSU own penalties may have helped end their first drive but Holt Zalneraitis sack was a key play. Pass rush specialist Colin Linkul should have had another sack the next play on a stunt but Higgins avoided him to complete a short pass that was short of the first down marker. Linkul had a chance at two sacks but failed to breakdown properly and missed the tackles. Defensive tackle Joe Drummond (3 tackles, sack) ended MSU's second drive with a sack. Nose tackle Richard Glover made his only play of the game when he sacked Council to end a promising MSU drive in the third quarter.
The MSU quarterbacks had most of their success passing against SAM safety Hayden Pierce who filled in for an injured Chris Carnegie. Pierce is a better safety than cornerback. He was beat deep when Council hit speedy Tubotein Taylor for 41-yards on a perfect thrown which set up the Bears last touchdown. Pierce's coverage wasn't bad it was just that Taylor was faster and Council threw a nice pass. On the other side freshman cornerback Josh Jenkins (one tackle) matched up well against the Bears speed at receiver except for one play. Jenkins allowed the Bears first touchdown when he tried to jump what he thought was a third down slant pattern and ended up being a button hook. He lost outside contain on Chris Flowers who scored on the 22-yard reception. It a freshman mistake but Jenkins looked good in coverage otherwise.
Shaquille Tolbert (2 tackles) had an uneventful day in his first career start at SAM safety. Army pass rush pressure was responsible for ending three MSU drives
RUSHING DEFENSE: C
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 nose tackles had no tackles against the run. While the flex nose tackle position plays mostly two-gap and isn't designed for making a lot of tackles, it was troubling to see the Black Knights pushed around up front in the running game by MSU's big if not very athletic offensive line. Geoffrey Bacon (a career high 16 tackles) had a huge game in his initial start at free safety. He did a terrific job supporting the run but was forced to make too many tackles.
Quick end Dalton Mendenhall had a disappointing debut with seven rather unproductive tackles. He didn't get up the field on his pass rush and had trouble disengaging from his blocks. Too many of his tackles were down the field and he missed a couple of potential tackles in space. New Mike linebacker Alex Meier (11 tackles, 1 PD) did a solid job playing inside out and covering the alleys. Meier and Bacon limited any big running plays despite the fact that the defensive line was pushed around. The Army defensive staff rotated in the second line in an attempt to keep fresh legs on the field. Backup Kyle Maxwell (2 tackles, 2 TFL for a minus 4 yards) was one of the few who answered the physical line play of the Bears. I felt Jarrett Mackey (5 tackles) was more productive at Whip linebacker than starter James Kelly (3 tackles). Rover Thomas Holloway (6 tackles) made a huge play tackling Lamont Brown on fourth-and-2 late in the game short of the first down to seal the victory. The Black Knights are lucky that MSU didn't employ the Temple strategy on lining up their offensive line in tight splits and running the ball all night long. Army won this war but lost the battle in the trenches.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B
The Black Knights received a big effort from Lawrence Scott on the punt coverage team. He nearly blocked Morgan State's second punt flying in off the edge. The following punt he forced MSU's punter Lawrence Forbes to pull down the ball and run then try to punt but he couldn't get it off and Patrick Laird recovered the fumble. That set up Santiago's 18-yard touchdown pass to Chevaughn Lawrence two plays later. The Army's coverage teams did an excellent job limiting Morgan State's fast and talented return men.
New punter Alex Tardieu performed as expected. He averaged 38.7 yards on three punts with none returned. This is how Tardieu punted at USMAPS. He doesn't boom the ball but gets a nice hang time on his punts. Army kicker Dan Grochowski kicked off deeper than he did it at USMAPS two years ago. He had a touchback and hit all his extra point attempts.
Senior Kick returner Julian Crockett had two kickoff returns for 39 yards. Crockett was his usual self. He handled the ball well, demonstrated quick feet and his lack of a breakaway gear. Slimmed down Larry Dixon had one kickoff return for 21 yards.
New freshman punt returner Jalen Noble ruined the "A" special teams grade when he treated all four punt that headed his way as if they were weapons grade plutonium. Noble allowed all the punts to hit the ground include one that went over his head. Army started inside the 20-yard-line each time as a result. Noble cost the team valuable field position. He has to at least fair catch the ball.
Offensive coordinator Ian Shields opened up the passing game and Angel Santiago delivered in the first half. Santiago missed a few passes and option reads but he did a nice job managing the game. Shields needs to work on getting Angel more fluid in his pitch decisions. I felt Shields sort of treated this much like a preseason game in some ways after jumping out to a big lead. He put the passing game on tape and the offensive running game was rather vanilla in the second half. I'm sure we will see more of Raymond Maples and Terrence Baggett off counters and pitches the rest of the season.
The Black Knight defensive was pretty sound against a team with some legit speed but it was pushed around physically up front at times by an FCS team which is a concern. Payam Saadat and Chris Smeland now have better speed in the secondary but the defensive line needs to hold the point of attack a lot better than they did last Friday. They did a good job of rotating players to keep them fresh on a humid night.
Three areas that have been the Black Knights Achilles' heel the last two years are ball security, untimely penalties and uneven special teams play. All were excellent as Army played their first "clean" game since 2010. Ellerson made a poor coaching decision to go for it on fourth and goal at the end of the first half instead of kicking the short field goal. This wasn't a second guess. That was a long three yards
and Santiago was sacked attempting to pass. The crowd audibly groaned when Ellerson left the offense on the field and they were right. Why give Morgan State's defense life? They obviously built off that play as they held Army to just one second half touchdown. In addition his field goal kicker Dan Grochowski lost his job last year and was inconsistent at the end of summer camp. Why not give him a boost of confidence by allowing him to open the season with a chip shot at home? It was a poor decision. This was far from a great performance against an FCS team. At least Ellerson had his team ready to execute the schemes in the opening game unlike the last two seasons.
OVERALL GRADE: B
This team won only two games last year so it was a positive start. There are obviously still some concerns with the offense and the play of the defensive line was a disappointment. Still, as a famous West Point graduate once said, there is no substitute for victory.
Army Report Card: Morgan State
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