Army 2013 Review: Don't Pass This Up

The Army passing game will never be the focal point of the team's offense as long as triple-option football remains in place. With that having been said, it is important for the Black Knights to get more out of their passing attack. The key point to emphasize: This facet of West Point's arsenal doesn't have to improve in every way; merely growing in one fashion would improve Army's offense.


ONE WAY OR ANOTHER

One temptation which surfaces anytime a struggling team looks for answers is to think that improvement must be total and all-encompassing. Naturally, that's the desired long-term goal, but on a much more realistic level, improvement for a lower-tier college football program happens incrementally, piece by piece. The whole project doesn't come together all at once… well, unless you're 2013 Auburn under Gus Malzahn, one year after 2012 under Gene Chizik. There are always exceptions, but for 98 percent of programs, the climb up the mountainside is a slow and steady one.

Few elements of Army football underscore the need for patience – and an expectation of slow growth, not rapid transformation – more than the West Point passing game.

The site cfbstats.com, at its Army page, offers detailed statistical profiles for everything you could hope to examine about the Black Knights in 2013 and in prior seasons as well. On the passing game page, you'll find that Army averaged 6 yards per passing attempt this season. If you do the quick math – 75 completions for 931 yards – the Black Knights averaged a little over 12 yards per completion. Opponents, as a point of comparison, averaged 9.4 yards per throw and a little over 15 yards per completion (155 completions for 2,370 yards).

Why do these numbers stack up the way they do? One important follow-up statistic tells the tale: completion percentage. Army completed 48.7 percent of its passes, opponents 61.8. Yes, Army is not supposed to be a polished, high-volume passing team. Nevertheless, the lower completion percentage dragged down the yards-per-throw average. Opponents, on the other hand, boosted their yards-per-pass numbers by getting into the 60s in terms of completion percentage.

Going back to the beginning of this analysis, the temptation is to insist on complete improvement. Let's instead set reasonable short-term expectations for Army under Jeff Monken: the passing game should not have to become a completed project in one and only one season. It is something that will need to be developed over time. For 2014, Monken would do well to get improvement in either the realm of completion percentage or in a separate category, big play production.

Maybe Army can become a better passing team in third-and-five situations, getting a higher completion rate on six-yard passes in those situations. Yards-per-throw numbers wouldn't be substantially boosted, but drives would be sustained. That's one thing for Army to pursue. However, one mark of a strong triple-option offense is to be able to uncork the home-run pass play when the defense is sitting on the run. If Army hits a few more pass plays beyond 30 yards – even at the expense of a lack of improvement in completion-percentage terms – the tradeoff might very well be worth it.

All in all, if Army can get either a higher completion percentage (especially on third downs) or a bigger number of home-run plays from its passing game, it should feel that its offense is headed in the right direction. Would it be great to get both in 2014? Of course. Should this be expected? Not quite. If the Black Knights can make genuine gains in just one of these two areas, they can move forward in the other area before the 2015 season.

This project – to renew Army football, especially against Navy – isn't going to happen overnight. Avoiding the trap of "instant dramatic improvement or bust" is part of the process when a rebuilding effort under a new coaching staff characterizes the reality of the present moment.

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