At a certain point, merely competing and giving it the old college try isn't enough; one has to see at least something in the way of tangible results, and on Saturday night, the Cadets showed they could produce, and not merely hang around, in the fourth quarter. For the second straight week, Army competed and also played an appreciably clean game, committing just four penalties and one turnover; but this week, the Black Knights' levels of fight and soundness were also complemented by a little more scoring punch.
The 21 points Army registered against Louisville weren't nearly as impressive as the 21 posted against the Cougars, given that 14 of the Cadets' points against the Cards were tallied while trailing by substantial margins. Against Houston, all 21 points were scored in the context of a close game.
It's clear for everyone to see--including and especially Boss Ross himself--that the bar is slowly but surely being raised for West Point football. The cleaner brand of football Army needed has existed from day one. The level of performance has definitely improved from week one to week two. The amount of scoring punch in meaningful game time has increased. The ability to fight and avoid wearing down in the fourth quarter has gotten better. On so many levels, this is already a better football team than last year's crew.
What's left, then, is for the Black Knights to be able to finish and seal a victory.
A mere 47 seconds after Army tied the Cougars midway through the fourth quarter, Houston struck back with a touchdown. Then, after a quick failed possession by the Cadets, the Cougs stacked another seven points on top of that to account for the final 35-21 margin.
It's a lesson Army will profit from as the season continues, and as this hard-working and motivated team seeks to gradually climb up the college football ladder: when you reach one level of success, you have to work twice as hard to go beyond that level. It's hard not to think that Army was just a little giddy, just a little overexcited, about being tied with just 7:25 left. It's difficult to look at a team with a 16-game schnide and say that, no, none of them were even remotely thinking about breaking that unfortunate streak.
Whatever might have been publicly said by everyone in the Army locker room after the game, the moment in which the Cadets forged that 21-all tie had to provide an extra adrenaline rush of some sort. The fact that that tie lasted just 47 seconds shows that Army has not yet learned to keep an opponent down. Now, the Black Knights will have a better idea of how to stay in command, once they seize late-game momentum.
But in the bigger picture, one can't expect Army to know how to play from a commanding position, for the Cadets obviously haven't had experience being in control of a football game for a long time.
So as the boys prepare for U-Conn next Saturday, the clear verdict is that they can... they can produce a victory, if only they can continue to raise their level of play yet another notch and learn how to navigate the final minutes of a tight contest.
Imagine that, Army fans: learning how to finish a game is Army's biggest problem right now, instead of something much more gloomy, such as figuring a way to stay within 35 points of anybody. Progress wasn't going to be measured solely by the scoreboard in 2004, so when looking at the details beyond the box score, another game--though another loss--has managed to bring even more indications of progress and growth in this team. Bobby Ross is moving the ball forward--literally and figuratively--in West Point.