Second, the defense can't wither in the fourth quarter. It's no mere coincidence that in Army's two wins, the defense was stout and sure down the stretch, smothering the opposition and riding a freight train of momentum that carried the Brave Old Army Team to victory. Being able to rotate people in and out, stay reasonably fresh, and have enough left in the tank at the ends of games will be the central priority on a defense that is not expected to be a brick wall, but which needs to have fuel in reserve come the final 15 minutes of play.
Third, the Black Knights must collectively make halftime work for them, not against them. Winnable games that slipped away from Army's grasp last season—in year one of the Bobby Ross era at West Point—were games in which strong first-half performances seemingly stopped in the halftime locker room. Agonizing losses to TCU, Air Force and Alabama-Birmingham all involved poor third quarters that sharply changed the momentum and flow of each game, which had tilted Army's way in the first half. If there's one thing Bobby Ross needs to address in 2005, it's how to put Dahman and the rest of Army's offense in an even better position to produce on the first possession of the second half and beyond. While the coaches of generally more loaded opponents regroup at halftime, Army's coaching staff needs to be able to push the right buttons with more success this year. And of course, now that Boss Ross knows his team and personnel much better than he did at this point last year, one can expect this to happen. Last year, Ross was necessarily learning about his team in virtually every game.
So those are three basic analytical keys to look for in Army's 2005 season. But beyond the technical analysis, there's a larger theme at work here: stage presence. Indeed, the Black Knights of the Hudson need to have a sense of theater this upcoming season.
What do all three of the above items point to? They show the need for Army—in all phases of the game—to make plays when big plays matter. Teams that give up touchdowns when up by 10, or score touchdowns when down by 4, are the great ones. Conversely, teams that score touchdowns when down 10, or give up touchdowns when up 4, are the close-but-not-quite losers. Whereas rival Navy won all four of its games decided by 7 points or less, Army couldn't close the deal in close games. With a few more timely plays against TCU, Air Force and UAB, Ross and his boys could have had a sensational five-win season. The line between a solid improvement (which last year was) and a spectacular resurgence can often be that small. One play, when made at just the right time, can turn a three-hour, 35-minute, Saturday afternoon war in the winning direction. If Army plays a bunch of one-possession games in 2005—and by all appearances, they should; the Baylor game in week two might provide a first big test on that scale—a sense of theater could make the difference between two and five wins, and this year, another 2-9 record won't rate as a success. Three wins ought to be expected, and four wins need to be pursued doggedly. If that fourth win is to come, it probably won't come in a runaway; someone will have to make an incredibly big play at an important time in a game whose outcome hangs in the balance.
Bobby Ross ushered in dramatic improvements in the energy level and performance of Army Football in 2004. Now, his team needs to have a sense of drama if the improvements are to continue at West Point.