Army Football: Trying to Move Four-Ward

If you look at the past nine seasons of West Point football through the prism of rushing yards, one way to drill deeper on the matter is to break down Army's results when it managed to hit the four-yards-per-carry barrier. This might seem obvious to many, but the point is worth underscoring in plain terms: Army hasn't won as often as it has hoped because of many reasons, not just one.


ARMY’S FOUR-YARD PROFILE: 2005-2013

It’s very easy to look at all sorts of statistics or results and say, “Well, Team X has to do this one thing, and it will improve.” In isolation, such a comment is not necessarily wrong, but it will often fail to tell the full story. Yes, a piece on Tuesday about turnovers can create the idea that a team just has to solve one problem here in order to thrive, but then a Thursday analysis about red-zone defense will lend more context to the issue. A Friday overview of the passing game will fill in more gaps, and eventually, the complete picture emerges. Such is life for Army football these days.

If you were to look at the past nine seasons of Army football and identify the program’s performance in games when it rushed for at least four yards per carry, what would you be inclined to guess about the team’s results? Would you guess that the team didn’t play many such games but had a near-.500 record when it did? Would you guess that the team played a ton of games but had a very poor record?

The answer is in the middle, at least in some respects.

Army has played 60 such games over the past nine seasons. Excluding teams such as UTSA and Texas State that have not played a majority of the past nine seasons as FBS members, that 60-game number is higher than 75 other FBS teams, putting Army in the top 50… but not all that close to the top 10.

Yet, when you consider that Army did not pursue rushing dominance from 2005 through 2007, given its offensive system, the Black Knights have done quite well over the past six seasons in establishing their ground attack on a per-game basis. If you adjusted this statistic to look at only the past six seasons and not the past nine, Army would certainly move up the ladder, so the program’s performance in this realm (number of games with four yards per carry) isn’t as discouraging as you might think.

What IS discouraging? It’s the record in the games with at least four yards per carry. Army is 19-41 in those games, dead last among all FBS teams surveyed. The other members of the under-.400 winning percentage group as far as this statistic is concerned: North Texas at .377; Western Kentucky at .360; Akron at .333; and Eastern Michigan at .327. Western Kentucky, of course, was awful for most of the past nine seasons but has been very good over the past three. North Texas has thrown in some clunker seasons, but the Mean Green represent the head-scratcher on that list, given their accomplishments over time under multiple head coaches.

Why has Army’s record been so poor even when it has established high-quality consistency in the ground game? You know the answer, and it was explained above in the opening paragraph. A team that runs the ball as well as Army has over the past six seasons can’t point to any one thing as the all-encompassing reason for its struggles. Last week’s piece on fumble luck offered some clues, but when you consider Navy’s results in recent years, the Midshipmen have been better about supplementing their running game with big-play passing. Navy (like Air Force, before the Falcons’ recent collapse) has generally fielded a better defense as well, one which could enable the offense’s ball-control virtues to carry more weight.

Army’s fortunes with respect to the running game invite a comparison with baseball. The Oakland Athletics and Detroit Tigers both traded for more starting pitching before the trade deadline. Talk of an ALCS meeting flowed through Twitter and the rest of the internet. Yet, after these trades, both the A’s and Tigers have faltered, primarily because their hitting has suffered. The Tigers’ defense has been atrocious. Both teams’ bullpens have been exposed to a greater degree.

Does running the ball well improve the odds that you’ll win a football game? Yes… but you have to be good enough elsewhere to back it up. It’s just like pitching. You need it to win in baseball, but let’s not pretend it’s the only part of the recipe. Army needs all sorts of ingredients to become a bowl-level program again. This is why Jeff Monken’s biggest task is not the development of his offensive system; it’s the development of a team that can equip itself with more resources, more ways to win in the face of a determined opponent on Saturdays.

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