No, this game was decided between the ears and deep inside the gut, for it was one of those games that mature teams know how to win, and not-yet-there teams manage to lose. Army, plainly put, is still a team that's learning how to win. You can talk all you want about the Xs and Os, but you win in this sport with the Jimmies and Joes. The Black Knights--for all the considerable progress they have in fact made under Bobby Ross--still have a long way to go. The awesome accomplishment in Waco against Baylor seems to be a distant memory now, as Army has--for whatever reason--lost the winning edge it possessed on those two Texas Saturdays back in September.
Every Army fan is asking the same basic questions after the loss to UConn: How come our offense couldn't play against the Huskies the same way we played against A&M and Baylor? How come our defense--so tremendous against UConn for over three quarters--suddenly faltered precisely after we scored a touchdown to make it 14-7? How can we be so consistently good in some games (A&M, Baylor, VMI) and then have our offense play so poorly on a snap-by-snap basis? How can this same offense finally come to life (with two long throws from David Pevoto to Jeremy Trimble) only when we were down by two scores? Why couldn't Army avoid committing turnovers on two previous forays into UConn territory?
All of these questions--and others that could be asked as well--all point to a core reality about this game: while Army did play poorly on offense, the team as a whole did not play that bad a ballgame. The killer for the Black Knights, however, was that they played poorly when they needed to play well. A defense that allowed just one sustained touchdown drive fell asleep for one play, and 98 yards later, UConn had a touchdown. A special teams unit that didn't have many busts had only one breakdown, but the Huskies turned it into seven points. An offense that is, of course, a work in progress--and should not be expected to light up scoreboards--was nevertheless presented with a few opportunities to change the trajectory of the ballgame, and failed on those select occasions.
Right now, Army is clearly a team on a yo-yo where the ups and downs are equally severe. From the very beginning of the season, the Black Knights have displayed a Jekyll-and-Hyde profile: the bad loss at Arkansas State, the tremendous swing through the state of Texas, the letdown against Rice, the steamroller over VMI, and now this puzzling loss to UConn--puzzling not because it was a loss, but puzzling given the way it played out. From early September through mid-October, inconsistency has been Army's only consistent trait.
Bobby Ross's biggest job--this week and for the rest of the season--concerns mental and motivational work, not the blackboard calculus other coaches might have to tend to. If Army can find any kind of positive consistency--and an ability to maintain performance levels from game to game--this team could yet reach that elusive .500 plateau. But even if this year fails to deliver six wins, the Black Knights can look at this game against UConn as a measuring stick and realize that in future seasons, they'll have to bring the same sterner stuff to the ballpark every Saturday if the program is to attain that proverbial "next level."