Army's offense touched the ball 12 times against Arkansas State. The Black Knights ran 50 offensive scrimmage plays (27 rushes, 23 passes) and lost the time of possession battle by six minutes and 26 seconds. With these various totals, it's not hard to do the math: Army had a lot of very short possessions, rarely doing better than three-and-out. Without a lot of live-action reps, new quarterback David Pevoto had an understandably difficult time establishing any rhythm in his first NCAA game under center. Similarly, offensive coordinator Kevin Ross (along with Bobby) had to have a hard time establishing any momentum as a play caller.
All of these things happened because Arkansas State was able to run the ball effectively, milking a clock that runs a lot faster these days.
The new clock rules in college football--in which the clock starts when the ball is ready for play after a change of possession--will severely punish teams that can't stop the run, even if their defense doesn't allow very many points. Since the new clock rules shave real-time minutes off the length of a game, and reduce the number of snaps in a game by (in all likelihood) a double-digit amount, a consistent running game will shorten games to a significant extent. If a team grabs a lead and can run the ball with any effectiveness in the 2006 world of college football, it will find it much easier to remain competitive for four quarters and--at the end of the game--milk the clock with success. Just as importantly, a team that can run the ball in 2006 will severely restrict the amount of time the opposing offense can spend on the field. This is exactly what Arkansas State did to Army on Saturday. With the old clock rules, Pevoto and the Army offense would have gotten ten more snaps, and Kevin Ross could have called ten more plays. In a tight game, ten plays could have given Army's offense the extra edge and sharpness that could have proven decisive. W ith better rush defense, the Black Knights could have bought their offense several more live snaps from scrimmage. In an early-season game--when live reps are crucial to building momentum and an offensive rhythm--these various considerations are crucial. They sure were for the winning Indians, and devastating for the losing Black Knights.
Bobby Ross now has to get his team to learn from this devastating setback, while also strategizing accordingly. Ross has to get his players to defend the run with more passion and urgency, so that Army's offense can get more game snaps and have a chance to establish a solid foundation. Secondly, Pevoto and the rest of that offense must make the most of the turnovers they're given. Receiving three turnovers from the defense, Pevoto should have been able to generate the 15 points needed beat Arkansas State. But his own sluggishness, combined with a clock that squeezed him, proved to be too much to overcome.
Next week against Kent State, Army must gain an early and significant lead if it expects to win. And if the Black Knights fall behind, they need to pass the ball a lot so that Pevoto can get experience while lengthening the game and increasing the number of live snaps from scrimmage. In more ways than one, the Army Black Knights are on the clock; their 2006 season just became a lot more urgent after being run down by a bunch of Indians in game number one.