If you asked a sportswriter versed in college football to react to Army's win over Temple on Friday night in Philadelphia, the prevailing assessment probably would have gone something like this:
"It's not just that Army won; it's the WAY the Black Knights won which is surprising."
True enough. Fair enough. Accurate enough.
One doesn't need to spend thousands of words explaining the backdrop to this game. Temple had just won a division in a very competitive conference in 2015. The American featured several of the finest minds (Tom Herman, Justin Fuente, Ken Niumatalolo, Willie Taggart) in college football. It featured some of the brightest stars on the field (Greg Ward, Paxton Lynch, Keenan Reynolds). The league won the Group of Five sweepstakes for a New Year's Six bowl, and its champion (Houston) thrashed Florida State in the Peach Bowl. Temple, by thriving in that league, not merely surviving it, made a huge statement about its quality in college football. The Owls did not embarrass themselves against Houston in the first AAC Championship Game, limiting the Cougars to 24 points. Temple's defense -- and its larger personality as a team -- were strong. Temple's calling card was its toughness.
Very simply, then, Army out-toughed Temple. The Black Knights blew the Owls off the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Army won the leverage battles for most of this game, and moreover, it got stronger in the second half, as the game moved along. If anyone felt that Temple -- after a sluggish, rusty first half -- was going to readjust itself at halftime and thump West Point in the second half, s/he was loud wrong. Army served a "refutation sandwich" to all its doubters, beating Temple at its own game on the road.
Anyone who said that the manner of victory, not just the victory itself, was the most surprising feature of Friday's fabulously forceful conquest is fundamentally correct.
Yet... it's not quite the whole story. One more very central and salient detail enters the picture, and this is where conventional wisdom forms a core part of this discussion.
The conventional wisdom surrounding triple-option teams is that they win with finesse and cleverness. Not knowing where the quarterback will take the ball -- handoff, pitch, keeper, pass -- creates uncertainty, mental fatigue, and blown assignments which ultimately get a defense off balance. It's not as though line play is secondary to the functioning of a triple-option offense -- of course it is -- but blocking success in a triple-option is often defined and appreciated through the prisms of speed and lateral agility, not as much through the lens of pure straightforward power. This isn't the Nebraska power I or old-school Michigan football from the early 1980s.
Flowing from this conventional wisdom is the notion that a slick, wizard-like quarterback is needed to not only run the offense well, but provide the defining difference between winning and losing. Army fans have seen Keenan Reynolds use his considerable skills to pilot Navy's triple option with distinction. Army began to hope in a brighter future last season when Chris Carter played so boldly and well against Navy. A relatively prominent line of thought before this season -- before Friday in Philly -- was that the quarterback, be it Carter or Ahmad Bradshaw, would have to carry a considerable share of the workload for the Black Knights to win.
Was that the case on Friday? Not really.
Bradshaw was a superb game manager, but he averaged a pedestrian 3.1 yards per carry (50 yards on 16 carries). He showed the run enough to give the defense something else to think about, but nothing more. Bradshaw passed for only 11 yards, completing only one pass. It's not as though Army established two valuable components of the triple option: the QB keeper and the change-of-pace pass.
West Point simply took hold of this game by blasting Temple off the line, including -- and especially -- when Temple knew that a running back was going to get the ball.
It happened early. It happened late. It happened on second and long. It happened on third and short. It happened on fourth and short.
The quarterback -- seen as a vital need for Army in its attempt to improve under Jeff Monken -- was much more peripheral to a huge, identity-changing, hope-creating than most of us ever could have imagined.
THAT is why this win is so special, and that's why Army's sense of possibility is so much brighter than it was when Friday evening began.