But as all football coaches like to say, "You are what you are," and there's no point in trying to deny the truth that's staring this hard-working, butt-busting football team: the tank is running on empty.
This isn't a bad or unexpected development--more on that a little later--but as a matter of pure analysis, it's real and, like Mount Everest, "it's just there." No sense running away from it.
Tulane was a team that posed a huge passing threat with quarterback Lester Ricard, who riddled Army's secondary in the time he played, hitting 11 of his first 13 passes for 214 yards as the Green Wave rolled to a 24-7 halftime lead. It was enough of a cause for concern that the Black Knights' defense got victimized by Ricard, and the challenge for the Cadets' defense was to toughen up in the second half.
But then Ricard got injured and left the game. Suddenly, Army had a chance to get back in the game. Without its meal-ticket quarterback, the Green Wave figured to lose most, if not all, of their offensive firepower. Bobby Ross' team had its ticket to a comeback victory.
Only one problem, though: Tulane ran the ball down Army's throat, with seldom-used freshman running back Matt Forte storming the Superdome field for 159 second-half yards, on his way to 216 for the game. A defense that figured to prey on a limited Tulane offense instead got lit up in a different and unexpected way. A week after battling valiantly against Air Force--only for the offense to get shut out in the second half--the Black Knights' defense gave way in the second half. On both sides of the ball, Army has entirely lost the second-half endurance and resiliency it briefly captured in the two-game winning streak against Cincinnati and South Florida.
September marked a number of fourth-quarter flameouts, only for October to offer several inspiring bounce-back moments from a smarter and tougher team that learned from its early-season mistakes. But now, the past few November games have clearly shown that Army's late-game intestinal fortitude has left the building. Against East Carolina (Oct. 30) and now against Tulane, the defense couldn't hold the line after halftime; against the Air Force Academy, the offense didn't make the adjustments needed to win the game. All in all, this team has lost its finishing kick, a sign that the wear and tear of the season have taken their toll.
Predictably, like an NBA rookie hitting a psychological wall near the end of an 82-game season, this Army team--not used to being challenged or ridden hard the way Bobby Ross has (impressively and successfully) done in 2004--has faltered on the field, even while the entire roster of players surely knows, deep down inside, that its future is bright. Next year, every returning Black Knight will be genuinely ready for a full year of Bobby Ross football played at Bobby Ross standards under Bobby Ross conditioning requirements.
But for now, the reality--the first step in what must necessarily be a slow, developing process for the Army program--is that the Black Knights are mentally tired.
The recommendation from this corner is for a light week of practice before taking on high-octane UAB this Saturday. Then, blessedly, the Cadets will get two weeks to prepare for Navy, with one of those weeks offering a chance for some much-needed rest. Expect Army to bring its A-game to the Midshipmen on Dec. 4.
But for now, don't expect too much of a team that's given its all, but is just flat worn-out. Army started against Tulane by being out-passed; but in the end, Bobby Ross' crew had that run-down feeling.