Finding a Winning Formula

Army football changed coaches in the offseason. After Saturday's decisive loss to Air Force, no coaching changes should be made whatsover. With that said, this 20-point defeat in a Commander-in-Chief Trophy game should lead Stan Brock to consider making some changes as his football program evolves.

This loss to the high-flying Falcons in Colorado Springs was different from a number of the Black Knights' other losses in 2007. This time, Army wasn't undone by turnovers. Quarterback Carson Williams displayed good ball security, and Army's skill players didn't allow this game to get out of hand because they put the ball on the turf.

If anything, Army stayed competitive in this game because of a turnover it forced from the opposition. When Frank Scappaticci picked off AFA quarterback Shaun Carney and returned the ball to the Falcon 3, the Black Knights found the opportunity they needed to tie the game at 10 midway through the second quarter. On this day, Army didn't lose because of turnovers. An off week made this team more responsive to the need to protect the pigskin. This was a pleasant change in the world of West Point football.

The sad part is, it didn't matter. Not one bit.

Army still got whacked in the second half, as the Falcons shrugged off their big mistake to shut out the Black Knights while coasting home to a 30-10 triumph. For once, the stat sheet didn't lie: Air Force's 437 rushing yards represented an authentic and accurate measure of the Falcons' dominance. By using their option attack, the Falcons were able to run at Army from different angles and vantage points. The sleight of hand and finesse-oriented movements involved in option football clearly kept Army's solid defense off balance. Army stuffed the traditional straight-ahead running attack posed by Boston College, but didn't have an answer for the funky Falcon formula.

Precisely because this was a Commander-in-Chief game, it's worth noting that Army's other service academy rival, the Navy Midshipmen, scored a little bit of history while the Black Knights lost in Colorado. This defeat at the hands of Air Force--combined with Navy's triple option-led victory over Notre Dame--should lead Coach Brock to reconsider the way he approaches the offensive side of the ball with just one month remaining in his first season at West Point. This is where change enters the landscape for a program that's improving, but which still needs to find a winning identity.

Brock has proven to be a good teacher on both sides of the ball in his first year as the face of the Army program. As seen against Air Force, he can use a bye week to teach ball security. As seen throughout most of this season, Brock can inspire superb efforts from his defensive unit. But in light of the successes enjoyed by Air Force and Navy--the two programs that are more similar to Army than any other programs across the country--it would seem that the time has come for the Black Knights and Brock to bite the bullet and admit something that is as simple as it is undeniable: a conventional style of offense just isn't working. It's time to embrace the option.

It's not a terribly original idea. Longtime observers of college football have always said that option football is a great equalizer for undermanned programs. Given that service academy football lacks the heft and stature it possessed in the 1940s (and earlier), it's hard to think that an academy football program can win in the 21st century without an option or a similarly tricky style of offense.

When Army's offense committed stacks of turnovers earlier this season, it was reasonable to think that the elimination of turnovers was the biggest obstacle to this offense's level of success. But after Saturday's performance against Air Force, in which a lack of turnovers did nothing to improve the productivity of Army's offense, it would seem that in 2008, changes must be made. The next month can't be a time to suddenly junk the existing system; as the old saying goes, "you are what you are." But once this season does end, Saturday's loss to Air Force might be the catalyst that prompts Stan Brock to make the change that Army football so plainly needs.

It's time. Army needs to look at the successes of Air Force and Navy and consider an unconventional style of offense. Creativity, not raw talent, is the main ingredient Brock must bring to the table if he's going to bring about further improvements in the program he now leads.


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