Because Army defeated Air Force in 2012, the Black Knights didn't have to snap a particularly long losing streak this past Saturday at Michie Stadium. Yet, any losing streak in a Commander-in-Chief's Trophy game is too long. What was three years extended to four, as the home team couldn't fend off the Falcons on the banks of the Hudson. Dreams of a CIC Trophy faded into the sun-kissed afternoon in New York state.
A 31-12 defeat should not be shrugged off easily. It should -- to a certain extent -- get under the skin of Army's coaches and players.
The key point: This loss needs to unsettle the team in a productive way. Frustration at this defeat needs to be channeled into the next game on the schedule... and the next CIC game, the one in December against the Naval Academy.
If Army can make dissatisfaction at a performance a useful tool -- it did so in the North Texas-Wake Forest stretch, after all -- everyone in West Point will be able to sit back in early January and view this season as a clear success.
Army has two big sources of information to process and study in the wake of Week 10 and what it wrought.
The first is that Air Force won with a backup quarterback who prepared all week but still didn't know until Friday that he would get the call to start under center. Arion Worthman played a solid, disciplined game -- He shepherded his AFA offense to 31 points. He threw for nearly 200 yards, hitting a big play (a 46-yard pass) without tossing an interception. That's quite a performance on short notice.
Worthman therefore becomes yet another backup quarterback to figure prominently in a service academy team's plans this year. Will Worth (not Worthman, but a Worth-man) has been the man for Navy. Army entered this season with Ahmad Bradshaw and Chris Carter in the fold, but a hand injury to Carter played a role in his absence from his game against Air Force. Given that Army scored on its final drive of the first half, the first drive of the second half, and at no other time against the Falcons, a switch to Carter is a maneuver Jeff Monken would have liked to have had at his disposal.
The successes of Worth in Annapolis and Worthman in Colorado Springs underscore the point that as Army gears up for a home stretch with Notre Dame and Navy on the docket, the idea of shuffling quarterbacks in and out of the lineup -- perhaps series to series, perhaps play to play -- is not something to be discarded. It might not be the perfect solution, but it's something to keep on the table. Given the relative lack of offensive punch against Air Force, hitching the wagon to one and only one quarterback seems less advisable in November and against Navy.
Backup quarterbacks represent a change of pace. Army clearly didn't have a good read on much of what Worthman tried to do. The Black Knights -- if Carter is sufficiently healthy -- must consider more flexibility under center, especially since Carter was such a thorn in Navy's side last December. Giving Bradshaw and Carter certain sets of plays -- or situations, or types of runs or passes (or all of the above) -- will offer Monken more options, more paths to victory, against Notre Dame and Navy.
The second big lesson Army learned in Week 10 did not concern the game against Air Force, but rather what its rival in Annapolis achieved against the Black Knights' upcoming opponent.
You've certainly heard or read by now that Notre Dame's offense performed well against Navy and left few points on the field. The Irish scored 83 percent of the time they had the ball. That stat sounds great, and this statistic sounds even better: Notre Dame failed to score on only ONE possession against Navy.
Given those realities, Notre Dame surely won big, right?
As you also know, the Irish didn't. Why? They collected a total of only six possessions all day in Jacksonville. That's three possessions per half, an average of one possession every 10 minutes of scoreboard-clock time.
The key to beating Notre Dame cannot be any clearer. The Irish offense will likely score against Army's defense. The Black Knights have to use the Navy blueprint. It isn't just their best chance; it's their only chance.
Saturday against Air Force, Army went 4 of 12 on third downs, 0 of 2 on fourth downs.
Keep this in mind about third downs: While they do mean that a team fails to get a first down on two plays, indicating limited amounts of yardage, they also open the door for clock-eating drives. Third downs -- against Notre Dame (and also Navy, for that matter) -- are to be coveted and not avoided, at least if they are under four yards. Army wants to be in a third and three or third and two. Moreover, being in fourth and one is a situation the Black Knights should want.
Converting a first down on third or fourth down means that Army can eat two minutes or more of clock time on one series of downs. Replicated three or four times within the course of one drive, that's how Army can produce the same nine-minute touchdown drive Navy delivered in the fourth quarter against Notre Dame. If Army springs a huge play for a touchdown, great, but the Black Knights need to be conscious of the need -- not merely the possibility -- of playing lots of high-pressure third downs on offense against the Irish.
Army will get to six wins when it takes care of Morgan State, but the Black Knights need seven to get to a bowl. That path to seven -- and a season which will feel supremely satisfying -- must run through either Notre Dame or Navy.
Saturday, Army learned important lessons about how to defeat (or at least attack) the Irish and the Midshipmen.
We'll see if those lessons can be effectively applied.