Looking Ahead Can Wait

The Army football team has almost reached the end of the "normal" portion of the regular season: the 11 games which take the program into Thanksgiving and precede the three-week break leading up to the clash with Navy on Dec. 13. Army doesn't have a bowl bid to play for. The Commander-In-Chief's Trophy resides in Colorado Springs. Army could so easily lose focus this week. It must avoid doing so.


The Army Black Knights were, in a word, defenseless against Western Kentucky last week. The West Point defense had every right to expect an aerial assault from the Hilltoppers – this commentator certainly was – but the WKU crew wrecked Army’s afternoon in the Commonwealth of Kentucky by prying open holes in the running game. Leon Allen of Western Kentucky had a field day, rolling for 345 rushing yards in a lopsided affair that dashed Jeff Monken’s dream of a 6-6 regular season. Army has been relegated to that familiar place where it plays for pride in game number 11, with game number 12 – the one against that other academy from Annapolis – looming on the horizon.

Yes, it’s that point in the season when Army can see Navy in the distance, and that game becomes everything for the Black Knights. In the long run of human history, no one will remember this game against Fordham on Saturday at Michie Stadium, but everyone will certainly remember the Navy game if Monken’s young men can win it, breaking the streak that has lasted entirely too long at the United States Military Academy. It is so easy to downplay this game or not accord it full weight…

… and that’s precisely why it means something (or at least ought to) for the Brave Old Army Team.

How does a program climb out of the shadows? How does a long, dry period of failure and frustration eventually morph into a new era of success and sustained prosperity? It doesn’t happen in a blink – not ordinarily, at any rate (Gus Malzahn and 2013 Auburn, cough, cough). The typical path from misery to success is paved with pain and hardship, and it’s also defined by an ability to cultivate good habits. The games that don’t seem to mean much, the ones that don’t jump off the page, nevertheless feature exceptional focus and constantly high effort. How you carry yourself one day is how you’ll carry yourself the next. Creating the right instincts and a winner’s mindset will eventually lead Army to the promised land… if players trust the plan.

How Army plays against Fordham – more in terms of effort, but also surely in the realm of precision – shouldn’t be overanalyzed as an indicator of how the team will fare against Navy. For better or worse, the upcoming three-week break will minimize the extent to which this game will flow into Dec. 13 in Baltimore. However, this game is a revealer in that it will show a measure of this team’s commitment to doing things right. The outcome doesn’t have to be perfect, but the effort has to be there. If it is, Monken can know that with only one more game left in 2014, his players are going all-out for him on every snap.

The time to care about Navy will come soon enough. Saturday will measure the extent to which the Black Knights simply care, period – about football, about playing the right way, about becoming better in the present moment and in 2015. That’s what will be worth monitoring when Army takes the field against Fordham.

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