Army's 360-Degree Season

The Army football team is just two games into a 12-game regular season, but the Black Knights have already made what seems like a 360-degree survey of their team. They've been able to view themselves from just about every conceivable angle and vantage point. How these various observations feed into this Saturday's game against Wake Forest is the next big drama of the 2015 campaign.

Some teams – plenty of them exist – are what I call “half-a-loaf” teams. These examples of college football teams are well developed and genuinely formidable on one side of the ball, but they lack any semblance of a clue or an answer on the other. These groups will always play high-scoring games or low-scoring games, trying to fight battles in which the enormity of their strength can exceed the magnitude of their weakness. The entirety of the season is spent trying to shore up the weaker points so that the strengths will be substantial enough to win games.

Two games into 2015, it seems rather apparent that Army is not that kind of football team.

Through two weeks of competition in the season, the Black Knights have played two very different games with decidedly contrasting rhythms and patterns. If you were looking for some clear-cut common threads between one game in one week and then the next edition eight days later, you’ll have to search elsewhere in college football. West Point is not the place to find a team which manifested the same personality in weeks one and two.


In week one, Army experienced one spectrum of events and plot twists and results, as though standing on a hill and looking south at a vast expanse from the east to the west. In that game, Army’s offense proved to be reasonably potent, enough to land a lot of punches against Fordham. The Black Knights repeatedly found the end zone and applied a lot of scoreboard pressure to their opponent. The passing game wasn’t a finished product, but it moved the ball in a sustained fashion. The offense developed a rhythm and moved the ball even when forced to abandon the run late in the fourth quarter due to time constraints. The defense, however, couldn’t keep Fordham out of the end zone and was repeatedly gashed for significant plays. The ability to minimize damage on that side of the ball was nonexistent.

This past Saturday against Connecticut, a few common threads emerged, but the larger product was essentially the other view from that hilltop, looking north at the other side of town.

In East Hartford, Army did allow a touchdown immediately after scoring one, but that happened four times against Fordham, so the Black Knights substantially changed that dynamic in week two. In the second game of the season, Army’s defense proved to be far more resilient than it was against Fordham. Despite moving up in terms of weight class – from the FCS to the FBS – Army found this offense a lot more manageable. The Black Knights allowed only two touchdowns to UConn, conceding only three points in the final 23 minutes of this game. Connecticut dominated time of possession to an extent Fordham didn’t, but that gap was partly the product of Army preventing the Huskies from landing quick touchdown strikes, forcing UConn to throw shorter passes and limit the risks it took.

The other basis for the yawning chasm in time of possession (over 39 minutes for the Huskies, under 21 for the Black Knights) was that Army’s offense was nowhere near as effective or potent as it was against Fordham. If the Black Knights’ offensive performance against Fordham could have been viewed as encouraging, that outlook can’t apply – at least not to the same extent – after a lost weekend in New England. The Black Knights did get two home-run touchdown plays, including a 71-yard pass, but other than those two snaps, this offense barely functioned at all. Given a very short field which it cashed into a field goal, Army’s offense really didn’t produce a single sustained drive all afternoon. West Point collected just 265 yards, but 127 came on the two touchdown plays. That leaves just 138 yards on all the other snaps taken by the offense on Saturday. No wonder the time of possession gap was so large. Army’s defense was anything but resilient for most of week one (minus the third quarter) against Fordham, but in the face of the circumstances it had to deal with against UConn, Jeff Monken’s defense could not have done more, if we’re being realistic.

What we have with Army is a situation in which this team has lost two dramatically different kinds of games, in which each side of the ball has either emerged as a strong point or played the leading role in losing the contest. One game had a high-scoring first half, the other a low-scoring one. In one game, Army kept blowing leads. In this game, the Black Knights were playing catch-up the entire second half. In one game, the offense brought sustained and relatively consistent quality to the ballpark, and in the other, the defense carried the workload for the team.

Army has stood on that hilltop, looking south at a dark landscape on a Friday night in week one and then north at a sun-drenched panorama in week two. This team has already traveled around the world, tasting defeat in two diametrically opposed ways which create a rather complete football experience… just not the kind of completeness any coach or player wants to contemplate.

Nevertheless, the experience of losing in two very different ways gives this team an awareness that it is not a “half-a-loaf” team. There is encouragement to be found (and gained) from the realization that both sides of the ball, while inconsistent, can play well for 60 minutes. The offense did so against Fordham and the defense did against Connecticut. With this understanding of who and what it is as a team, Army can now take the field against Wake Forest knowing that it can play a complete game on both sides of the line of scrimmage, not just one. If it can do that, this season will improve, instead of remaining stuck.

We can talk about this until we’re blue in the face, but instead, let’s see Army do what needs to be done. The potential is definitely there to take a big step forward against Wake Forest. Top Stories