A Fighting Chance

True, the results weren't there for the Army football team on Saturday against Baylor, but at least the fight and determination that marked Bobby Ross' first season at West Point returned to Michie Stadium on Saturday.

A 20-10 loss to the Bears is disappointing, especially since Guy Morriss' boys from Waco were sloppy in their own right. But one can't deny that the Black Knights of the Hudson showed a lot more grit and determination than in their opener against Boston College, and that fact alone indicates this season still holds much promise for Cadet football.

It was a recurring theme last year for Army to battle like heck and not get results on the scoreboard. But once those September setbacks occurred, October victories soon followed, and Ross' team wound up with a successful 2004 season. What was absolutely critical about this Baylor game was not necessarily the result, but Army's attitude, and on that score, this football team passed with flying colors. Getting a good lunch-pail effort—big on passion though weak on execution—enables Boss Ross to go back to the practice field, teach with more precision, correct the correctable errors, and close the gap even more between potential and fulfillment in the world of Army Football.

It's a fact of life that Army will have—for the rest of 2005, and frankly, for the next few years—a very small margin for error in each game it plays. The Black Knights have to make every reasonably makeable play, and avoid turning the ball over, and this Baylor game showed exactly why.

First of all, the Cadets have to do what's within their abilities to do. For placekicker Joe Riley, a converted 49-yard try showed that the young man has plenty of leg... not enough to hit a 56-yarder, but certainly enough to make a 47-yarder and way more than enough to nail a 37-yard kick. Riley should have made 3 of 4 field goals, giving Army six more points on the day.

Then, on the turnover front, Army quarterback Zac Dahman—who won't wow opposing defenses with his arm or any other dimension of his play—will substantially increase the fortunes of this team if he can merely avoid the interception bug. Ball security will enable him to avoid giving away seven precious points the way he did to the Bears on Saturday.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, Army lost this game by 10 points. If you take the six points not scored by Riley, and the seven points not given up by Dahman, that's a net total of 13 points, three more than the final spread by which Baylor won. If Army cleans up its act—and forget about what Baylor did or didn't do; Army opponents will frankly have to leave some points on the board for the Cadets to win tough games, but the Brave Old Army Team will have to capitalize—the West Point footballers win this game, 16-13.

The passion was there, but the execution wasn't. That summation of the Baylor game is okay for Bobby Ross, who can coach ‘em up on the practice field this week. Maybe when another Big XII foe—Iowa State—comes marching into Michie on Friday night for a national ESPN2 telecast, the execution will improve. And while the nationally-ranked Cyclones figure to beat the Cadets, Army can at least generate the kind of balanced, blended performance—equal parts good effort and good execution—that will translate into victories against weaker opponents on the 2005 slate. By late November, 2004's win total could be exceeded, and a program that knows how to fight will see bigger and better results on the scoreboard.

Army's Scott Wesley, left, defends off Baylor defender James Todd while returning a kickoff during the first quarter at West Point, N.Y., on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2005. (AP Photo/Jon Winslow)

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