Succumbing To Piracy

The Army Black Knights liked prosperity so much, they decided to give it away. As a result, the job became easy for a bunch of Pirates who didn't have to work as hard as they should have.

Yes, Army literally couldn't handle its good fortune on Saturday against East Carolina. The team that had mounted a two-game winning streak and had transformed its personality over the course of the season suddenly reverted to 2003 form. The Bobby Ross mantra of ball security and minimizing turnovers--successfully followed over most of October--got lost on the Cadets in a disappointing setback. After protecting the ball so well for so long, the Cadets--precisely when at their peak--stepped onto the field in Greenville, N.C., and started giving the ball away again, three times to be exact. As a result, a struggling opponent got well against an Army squad that lost not because of inferior talent or ability, but because of the lack of focus that accompanies a turnover-plagued performance.

But enough about Army's excessive charity toward some Pirates that didn't need it. Now that this game's done, let's take the larger and longer view of things.

The month of September, plus the October 2 heartbreaker against TCU, offered four learning experiences for the Cadets: two blowouts and two fourth-quarter failures. Those difficult moments clearly shaped and sharpened the Black Knights into a tougher, smarter and more cohesive unit in their victories over Cincinnati and South Florida. For a team short on depth and blue-chip talent--not to mention a lack of familiarity with winning before this season started--it was necessary to have the agony of defeat before the heady feeling associated with victories, victories that were part of an unavoidable learning process.

This loss to East Carolina, while wrenching in the short term, will be beneficial in the long run for Bobby Ross' crew. The coach who has revived Army football will now have another distinct way to motivate and teach his players. This loss wasn't a blowout, yet it wasn't the by-product of a fourth quarter collapse, either. This was a game where Army entered the stadium as a slight favorite after a bye week, and the combination of a winning streak and extended rest eroded the Black Knights' focus. Ross, for the rest of this season but also for the future in West Point, can use this East Carolina game to add to the total education of his players. The Black Knights have now had the experience of entering a game with the upper hand and not handling the occasion as well as they should have. In the long run, it has to help a team that sure learned from its first four losses of the season. Now, a new learning progression will hopefully develop in West Point.

Armed with the bitter but necessary awareness of how fragile winning streaks really are, the Cadets--sobered by some Piracy against East Carolina--can now tackle Air Force on Saturday and pursue the Commander-in-Chief Trophy with a much better mental mindset... and better attention to ball security. Top Stories