Solid Body, Weak Arms

If the Army football team could be compared to the human body, a physical examination would reveal a very strong upper and middle body, but weakness in the extremities. This tough group of guys knows how to take a punch and stand in the ring; it simply hasn't learned how to throw a punch just yet.

It was one thing to stay with Wake Forest, a team that's still struggling and trying to find its own identity; but on a surprisingly hot September Saturday in New England, Stan Brock's ballclub played an even better football game against Boston College, who sits atop the ACC and enjoys a top-20 national ranking. What Army did against the Eagles offered more proof that this is a program on the rise. If you watched the nationally televised ESPN Classic broadcast, you'd have seen a number of things that provide ample cause for optimism in West Point.

The most outstanding feature of this game was that Army lost by 20 to the powerful Eagles, but acquitted itself very well. The final margin of victory was more a testament to one position than it was to the overall quality of both teams. Service academy football teams usually suffer from deficiencies up front, but on a scorching hot day when the on-field temperature was 114 degrees at kickoff time, Army's interior linemen stood up to BC's boys in the trenches. The Eagles--as good as they are--could not pound the ball up the middle and punish Army's defense between the tackles. Boston College needed toss sweeps, delay draws, and other change-of-pace runs to get yardage on the ground. Army's front seven is a stout group that proved--against a formidable opponent--that it can stay on the field and continue to get big red-zone stops. The more you see about this defense, the more you know just how legitimate it is. Army's defense can compete with almost anyone in college football--that's not a hyperbolic statement.

And while BC did rack up stacks of passing yards behind stellar quarterback Matt Ryan, the fact also remained that the Black Knights' defense--though trailing big in the second half--never stopped fighting. Army's defense played so hard that by the time the game ended, Ryan was playing worse than he did at the beginning of the contest. A pick-six and another near interception on an out route left Ryan flustered and pressing in the game's latter stages. BC still had the outcome tucked away, but the Eagles actually lost ground in the fourth quarter. That's an amazing testament to the will and determination of Army's defense, which can play with the big boys in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

They played hard. They played well. They played with tremendous physicality. They played a highly skilled offense. They played in brutal heat. They had to stay on the field a long time in the game's first 20 minutes, when BC controlled the ball and drove into the red zone on several occasions. Through it all, Army's defense never really faltered. Matt Ryan threw some punches, but the Black Knights turned away Boston College on numerous occasions. With any sustained ball possession from Army's offense, BC would have scored under 30 points, a tremendous accomplishment for a defense that would have folded against quality offenses in previous years.

About Army's offense... well, as analyst Bill Curry said on the TV broadcast, Carson Williams has to be coached up a little better. The baffling throws and crucial, drive-killing interceptions have to stop. This is still a young signal caller on an offense that needs more pure firepower from its skill people on the edges, but good decision making can exist independently of talent levels. With a clearer mind and a steadier hand, Army's man with the throwing arm can ensure that this strong upper body will shed the weakness of its outer limbs and extremities.

Army won't be beaten between the tackles--Saturday's game against Boston College proved as much. It's on the edges (on both sides of the ball) where Army needs to find a winning edge... and stronger arms.


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