Today 20, Next Year 60

Losing to Navy is never easily accepted. Losing four in a row to the Midshipmen can't be cause for happiness in West Point. But amidst the sorrow of another setback against the rival from Annapolis, there is hope for Army football. That hope was as bright as the first 20 minutes of Saturday's game in Philadelphia.

After a four-game winning streak and a season with double the wins of last year's campaign, one has to keep the big picture in mind when assessing the 2005 Army-Navy Game from a Black Knight perspective. This was a contest in which the first 20 minutes revealed all the improvements this team has made over the course of 2005, ever since the post-2004 offseason began. All the forward strides made by Bobby Ross' program were evident in the first third of Saturday's game from the stadium known as "The Link."

Zac Dahman looked every bit the polished passer he had increasingly become in the second half of this particular Autumnal sojourn.

The Ross family--head coach Bobby and offensive coordinator Kevin--saw a Navy weakness on defense and exploited it repeatedly, hitting the Midshipmen secondary on the edges with short-intermediate routes that continuously got first downs. And had Walter Hill not dropped a third-down pass at the Navy 2, Army could gave fared even better in the first 20 minutes of play.

Army's defense rose up to make big third- and fourth-down stands against Lamar Owens and the rest of a Midshipmen offense that was slow out of the blocks against the Black Knights' superior hitting and speed. P<> Yes, for 20 minutes, the improved Army team showed up.

But then Owens--Navy's quarterback--sharply elevated his level of play, and once Army received a few stomach punches from the triple option attack that has posed so many problems to the West Pointers over the years, Bobby Ross' team didn't have a response. The tone of the game--not to mention its X-and-O dimensions, which had been favoring Army--abruptly changed, and all the weaknesses of the team that started the year 0-6 (not the team that finished the year 4-1) resurfaced. Army got outhustled and outfought when Owens began to roll, and the Navy momentum that has been a staple of the second half in each of the past three Army games came rushing right back in a nightmarish case of deja vu. The inconsistency that was so apparent in September and October re-entered Army's bloodstream, and no one on the Black Knight sideline had any answers.

But that's instructive to remember: this was a team that put together a four-game win streak, but it was also a team that lost six in a row to start the year. Just in case anyone had forgotten this team's limitations, they became apparent when a better Navy team decided to put its foot down. And while it has to be well nigh impossible to forget the game's final 40 minutes (and Coach Ross, in fact, should make sure his team never forgets those 40 minutes heading into 2006), it is also quite important to remember the first 20 minutes on Saturday in Philly. Those 20 minutes were 20 minutes of quality football that Army hasn't had in past years against Navy. Those minutes showed that Ross is clearly closing the gap on Paul Johnson and everything else the Navy head man has done in Annapolis.

It hurts like hell to once again lose to Navy, but a clear-thinking football man would say, now more than ever, that Bobby Ross has moved this program forward. Twenty great minutes against Navy this year now need to become 60 great minutes against Navy next year, as the positives established in the early going of this year's Army-Navy Game need to be sustained when the Brave Old Army Team gets its next shot at the Brigade. With continued belief in Coach Ross' plan, and a determined insistence on attaining consistency of performance, the Army program could do even better things in 2006, starting with a total team victory over the Midshipmen. Finishing next year what was started this year has to be Army's main theme and mission as this offseason now begins.


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