Increasing Hope: Texas A&M Review

The results still aren't there for the Army football team, but for the first time in a difficult 2008 season, boosters of the Black Knights were finally able to see the fruits of a coaching staff's new approach. On a significant Saturday deep in the heart of Texas, the soul of a program--an identity that had been in hiding--finally seemed to emerge.

If Army needed anything after a disastrous 0-3 start, hope would have ranked first on coach Stan Brock's shopping list. That's exactly what these boys took with them on the plane flight back to West Point, because everyone on the Brave Old Army Team finally experienced the benefits of the triple-option attack in a live-game, real-time situation. While failing to topple Texas A&M, the Black Knights gave their coaching staff, their fans, and--most importantly--their own selves a glimpse of what their new offense can offer. The direction of this team just acquired a far more encouraging trajectory compared to a week ago.

After three home-field losses that averaged just seven points of offensive output--a turn of events produced in part by an injury to Carson Williams, who showed signs of being a very effective passer--the Black Knights stood at a crossroads. Lacking their best gunslinger and forced to play at Kyle Field--one of the more intimidating venues in college football (in previous years, Army has drawn A&M at San Antonio's Alamodome; this time, the Black Knights had to play on the A&M campus)--Brock's boys had to find some semblance of a solution to their problems.

And while wins will still be hard to come by for this team--let's not try to deny it--one can confidently assert that Army did indeed find an answer to its woes against Texas A&M. That answer's name is Chip Bowden.

Not a gifted thrower by any means, Bowden--only a sophomore--received a clear set of instructions from his coaching staff: Go into the fire. Walk over the flaming coals. Head pell-mell into the teeth of the A&M defense. Learn the art of triple-option football. Get used to the hits and the split-second decisions that have to be made within the framework of this offense.

Bowden, like his entire team, came to a point in this 2008 season where, win or lose, a pronounced identity had to be created from the ground up in this agricultural town called College Station. Bowden had to risk failure in the pursuit of victory, to keep getting up after being knocked down. With the loss of Carson Williams, someone had to step up on these fertile Texas fields and win the trust of the offensive huddle, not to mention the entire Army sideline.

Safe to say, that trust has been established. The Black Knights can now play with a real Chip on their no-longer-sagging shoulders. Despite falling on the short side of an agonizing 21-17 decision against the Aggies, this team now knows what the triple option can do for its future.

Bowden, who carried the ball an impressive 21 times in his previous game against Akron, decided to keep the pigskin an eye-popping 34 times against A&M. That's a lot of hits for a quarterback to take, regardless of results. But the fact that Army accumulated 280 rushing yards--that's almost Navy territory, for crying out loud--made those 34 carries good carries, and not just an extended exercise in stubborn futility or ball-hogging selfishness. College football's quirky and diversified offenses, not to mention its uneven talent distribution across the field, creates situations in which certain matchup advantages can, should and must be exploited over and over again. This means that if a given play has success, the play should be run over and over again until the defense can reliably stop it. If one man gets tons of touches due to a consistent pattern of success, it's not selfishness--not in the pejorative sense of the term, at any rate. Chip Bowden's "healthy selfishness" says a lot about the leadership he's been able to display in a relatively short amount of time.

The other particularly encouraging element of Saturday's near-upset of A&M lies in the fact that the triple-option--much to the delight of coach Brock and his staff--kept the pigksin for nearly 37 minutes. All in all, time of possession favored Army by a decisive 3-to-2 ratio. The Black Knights held the ball just over 60 percent of the time. One can't overstate how much this statistic can mean for the Army program over the remainder of this season, and particularly in future years.

Over the past several seasons, Army's defense has had to do almost all of the heavy lifting for this program. It's been on defense where the Brave Old Army Team has buttered its bread and remained reasonably competitive, all things considered. Without outstanding efforts and vital situational surges from a stalwart front seven, anchored by a terrific linebacking corps, Army would have lost stacks of games by even bigger margins, and failed to pull a few wins out of the hat. Defense has been Army's calling card this decade, despite the dearth of quality results on the scoreboard. In the winnable games Army has lost in recent times, the offense's inability to hold onto the pigskin has usually made the difference. Everyone in and around the program knows as much.

Imagine the joy, then, that surfaced on the Army sideline on Saturday at Kyle Field, as a defense watched Chip Bowden do his thing, to the tune of 10 third-down conversions in 17 attempts. Imagine the glee that inwardly grew among the members of Army's defense as they gained ample rest on the sideline, enough to limit A&M's offense to just 14 points. If Army can continue to possess the ball for anything close to 37 minutes--in this season and beyond--you can bet your bottom dollar that the Black Knights will become far more formidable and competitive.

A win that was so close managed to elude Army's grasp against Texas A&M. But in multiple ways and on numerous levels, Saturday's narrow loss pointed the way to the vision, the blueprint, for a more successful future. One can only hope that the Black Knights will continue to Chip away with the triple-option, growing in competitive confidence as they march through a season that just became a lot more enjoyable.

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