The Army Black Knights (1-4) comeback fell short in a 20-14 loss to Penn State (4-1) at Beaver Stadium. Quarterback A.J. Schurr led one last drive but was sacked on a fourth-and-5 with less than two minutes left at the Penn State 43-yard line and the Nittany Lions took over on downs. Army outgained Penn State 293 to 264 total yards but three lost fumbles led to ten Nittany Lions points. Army fumbled seven times overall and lost three, all in the first half, as they trailed 10-0 at half time. Penn State extended to 13-0 on their first possession of the second half. Army battled back and scored twice to pull to 20-14 after a Schurr 56-yard touchdown run.
PASSING OFFENSE: D
A.J. Schurr started at quarterback in the place of the injured Ahmad Bradshaw. Schurr completed his only pass attempt when he hit Edgar Poe for 32-yards down to the PSU 12-yard line to set up Army's first touchdown.
On his first actual pass attempt Schurr was sacked and fumbled but Mike Houghton hustled back and recovered the ball. His next pass attempt, on the first possession of the second half, he was also sacked. Get the picture? On the final play Schurr took a sack on fourth down. He had to release that ball there on timing. AJ had a receiver open at sticks. I have no idea what he's thinking when he failed to throw the ball. He must have locked on another receiver.
Army's offensive line did a good job running the ball but simply couldn't handle one of the best front fours in the nation in pass protection.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C
Army ran for 261 yards, averaged 4.7 yards per carry and had two rushing touchdowns. Army’s offensive line deserved an “A” for their run blocking against one of the best defensive lines in football. Army was missing three starters and played two freshmen but opened holes much of the game. Penn State struggled with the mesh and it’s a shame Army couldn't hold on to the ball especially in the first half. Quarterback A.J. Schurr was the main culprit. Schurr has struggled handling a wet ball in every bad weather game I've seen him play. As a starter at prep against Columbia JV, vs Navy in 2013 and Ball State last year he was pulled. Jeff Monken didn't have an option to turn to so he kept Schurr out there despite him fumbling four times and losing two. Schurr ran 24 times for 74 yards and scored both of Army's touchdowns. A.J deserves credit for battling and making it a game. His 56-yard run was perfectly blocked and he broke two tackles to score.
John Trainor (8 att., 69 yards) was Army's most effective slotback running the ball. On the end around Trainor probably should have raced for the sticks rather than juking the Penn State defensive back. B-back Matt Gianchinta ran hard with seven carries for 54 yards. Direct admit Drue Harris (7 att., 35 yds.) did a nice job of finishing his runs. Aaron Kemper carried four times for 25 yards.
Slotback Joe Walker had a key seven yard run for a first down. Too bad he slipped on the wet grass or it would have been a much longer gain. Walker's blocking was excellent on the edge. Plebe slotback Jordan Asberry ran twice for 5 yards but lost a fumble on a pitch. Nick Black did a nice job to gain only two yards as he avoided a loss during his only carry. Christian Drake fumbled his only carry twice before DeAndre Bell recovered but it gave the Black Knights terrible field position and set up Penn State's field goal to make it 13-0 on the ensuing drive. The skill positions combined for six fumbles and lost three which really killed Army's upset hopes.
PASSING DEFENSE: A
Quarterback Christian Hackenberg completed just 10-of-19 passes for 156 yards and a score. Army was very aggressive in bringing pass rush pressure and sacked him three times. They had him out of rhythm in the Nittany Lions conservative game plan. Andrew King (8 tackles, 2 TFL sack) set the tempo that the defense had come to play early when he ended the opening series with a sack to force a three-and-out.
Brandon Jackson (7 tackles, sack) made a nice blitz from the slot to record his first career sack. Linebacker Alex Aukerman (5 tackles) was playing the best game of his career when he released tight end Mike Gesicki in coverage on a wheel route for a touchdown. He must have been expecting safety help. It was a big mental error on Alex's part because Gesicki was his man and there was no help designed to come over the top. Defensive tackle Eddy Ruzga had three tackles in the best game of his career. He made two key stops and posted his first career sack.
Cornerback Chris Carnegie (3 tackles, PD) was beat on 49-yard bomb to Godwin that set up Penn State's final score but his coverage was fine. It was a perfect throw that caught the Black Knights in a safety blitz so he had no deep help on the post pattern. Carnegie also broke up a pass that he nearly intercepted. Free safety Rhyan England (3 tackles) battled and was twice forced from the game with injuries. Safety Xavier Moss (3 tackles, PD) broke up a pass.
RUSHING DEFENSE: A+
Penn State ran for only 108 yards, a 3.2 average per carry and a touchdown. While the Nittany Lions were missing their top two runners it was still a great effort by the Army defense. Jeremy Timpf made eight tackles and broke up a pass. Timpf filled the running lanes all day. Outside linebacker Bayle Wolf made four tackles including two nice plays in the open field.
Nose guard T.J. Altimala didn't appear on the stat sheet but covered both A-gaps well freeing up the inside linebackers to make 16 tackles. John Voit had a huge tackle in chasing down Nick Scott from behind to force Penn State's final punt to give Army a chance on its last drive. Jordan Smith (3 tackles) was stout at the point of attack. Kenneth Brinson showed his athleticism when he chased down Mark Allen from the backside on a running play and dropped him for a loss forcing a punt.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B
Kicker Dan Grochowski had two touchbacks on three kickoffs. Punter Alex Tardieu averaged 39 yards per punt and placed two inside the 20-yard line. The weather made it a brutal day to punt with the wind and the rain. Freshman Marcus Hyatt returned his first kickoff 30 yards which was his career long. He averaged 21.3 yards on four kick returns. Punt returner Edgar Poe’s third-quarter 14-yard punt return was a career long. Poe allowed a punt to hit his shoulder pads but he recovered the muff to avoid disaster. Justin Fahn made a touchdown saving tackle on DeAndre Thompkins 25-yard punt return. The kick coverage on the only return was excellent.
Jeff Monken had his team mentally prepared for the challenge. I'm not one that blame fumbles on the coaches. A.J. Schurr can't handle a wet ball and it was the main reason for the offensive struggles. Monken was smart not to switch quarterbacks since the backups were not ready for this stage. This team does show the mental toughness and determination that their coach brings to the table.
Offensive coordinator Brent Davis deserved better. He had a terrific game plan but the inability to hold the football hurt the chance of an upset. The offensive line played well with two freshmen starting. Penn State, despite their talent, was lost at the mesh at times and Army could have capitalized if not for the fumbles.
Defensive Coordinator Jay Bateman's defense game plan was focused on attacking Penn State's two weaknesses: its offensive line and the lack of mobility of Christian Hackenberg. Army's defense had three sacks and six total tackles for losses. The defense made one last stand to give Army a shot to win on the final drive.
OVERALL GRADE: B+
It was a tremendous effort but seven fumbles kept this from being a potential victory and an A-grade. You see a lot of positives with this young team and the building towards the future. Unfortunately with young inexperienced players it leads to the unforced errors we saw Saturday that makes all the difference between winning and losing. Army's four losses have been by total of 16 points.