Army's Unlucky Seven

It was the kind of game you file in the trash bin and forget. More specifically, it was the kind of game you want to throw away. After all, "throw away" is exactly what the Army Black Knights did in their blowout loss against Central Michigan.

Five interceptions from the arms of Army quarterbacks led to a seven-turnover haul for the homestanding Chippewas, whose 47-point tally was much more a function of tremendous field position than anything Army's overworked and frustrated defense failed to do. Even a defense as solid as this West Point outfit had little chance in the face of a seemingly endless stream of sudden-change situations.

The story of this game--from beginning to middle to end--was so painfully evident for Stan Brock's crew that the focus needs to shift to Georgia Tech, yet another road opponent from the ACC (the third this season for Army). After registering tremendous results the previous two weeks, the Brave Old Army Team found it hard to retain its winning edge for a third straight game. Given the youthfulness of the team and the upstart nature of the Army program in general, such week-to-week consistency can't be expected--not yet, at any rate. Consistency of execution and performance are in the process of being cultivated, so one week's lapse is the next week's teachable moment. Consistency of effort level is a mandatory expectation, but technical performance is something that's much more difficult to replicate with any kind of regularity. This is the next step in the evolution of Army football under Brock and his coaching staff.

With that as prelude, then, one can say that Saturday's seven-turnover slip-up against Central Michigan offers the Black Knights an ideal way to prepare for the Yellow Jackets. If there's one key to defeating the Rambling Wreck in Atlanta, it is indeed turnovers.

Oh, sure, you say: turnovers are always a key. Well, no one would ever deny the importance of turnovers, but against some teams, they're not that valuable.

An example? Louisville. The Cardinals rack up yards and will score a fair share of points, but the key is to outscore them, not necessarily to play an efficient game against them. An occasional turnover might have value if it leads to seven points, but beating Louisville is achieved mostly by punching Brian Brohm in the mouth and disrupting the Cards' rhythm... and, of course, scoring at will against a swiss-cheese secondary. Louisville is one of those teams that will make a number of mistakes, but compensate for those mistakes with several more big plays. Such teams won't play technique-perfect games, but they'll pose a formidable challenge by daring you to keep pace in a playmaking festival, a gridiron version of a track meet. These teams don't lose because of turnovers; they lose because you put the clamps on them.

Georgia Tech, though, is not the type of team for whom turnovers are largely irrelevant. With Chan Gailey's Yellow Jackets, turnovers are exactly the thing that will throw them over the cliff.

The boys from Atlanta have a very limited offense (in the form of one player, running back Tashard Choice) and a distinguished defense coached by coordinator Jon Tenuta. This leads to a very simple but incredibly important point: against Tech next Saturday, a repeat of this Central Michigan "throw-away" game will get the Black Knights another brutal beatdown. Turnovers will give a largely impotent offense the advantages it needs to score, and a rout would be on in Bobby Dodd Stadium.

However, the flip side of the equation is that if the Brave Old Army Team can coax a number of turnovers from the Rambling Wreck, the West Point footballers could snag the ACC road win that narrowly avoided them at Wake Forest. Army's defense is plenty good enough to limit Tech to a maximum of 10 to 13 points. With zero turnovers from Carson Williams and the rest of the Army offense, a victory becomes possible. With a turnover margin of plus-two, the game would probably rate as a toss-up. With a turnover margin of plus-three or better, Army could indeed march through Atlanta and do what General Sherman did to the city back in 1864.

It all comes back to turnovers in the end. Hopefully, Army's pill-coughing parade against Central Michigan represented all the giveaways the Black Knights will make for the next few weeks. If one Saturday's seven turnovers lead to zero turnovers in the following weeks, this bloodbath against the Chippewas will be worth the price. It's time for an offense to use a bad loss as a teachable moment.

Then, Army's "seven" might still become lucky after all.


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