Army Defense: Real or Mirage?

The off-season for Army football featured talk of a new offense. Secret retreats, closed practices, coaches consulted, a scaled down spring game, etc. Speculation was rampant on message boards and the local papers. Finally, the new option offense was unveiled. Or unwrapped like a smelly fish, at least for the first 3 games.

Black Knight fans have since basked in the glow of decent offensive football, leading to hope of much better things to come.

Little mention was made about the guys on the other side of the ball. You know, the guys that for years have given up points and yards by the bushel. The guys who always seem a step behind the receiver, always trying to catch yet another elusive runner, treating the opponent's pass pocket as if it were some off-limits gin mill? The guys that Army fans hoped would be kept off the field by an effective option attack? You know......the defense?

Well, well. Look what's happened. The group that has made their fans reach for the nearest bottle of Tums is performing at a level not seen since....since....well, a long time ago. Players that struggled to tackle early in the season have gotten much more physical, limiting big plays and yards after catch. Pass rushers that couldn't get near the QB have all of a sudden started to create havoc in the opposing backfield. Army turnovers, which always has put the defense back on their heels is now being treated as another opportunity to make a big play or create the big stop.

As you sit in the stands in wonderment over these developments, you can't help but wonder: Is this for real? Can this level of performance be maintained as the BK's enter the toughest part of their schedule?

After all, it hasn't all been good. Tulane gained over 400 yards. A Buffalo team which looked befuddled for 3 quarters suddenly came alive and shredded the Army defense in the 4th, with the stop group missing on multiple chances to make the big play to put the game away. And after making a big 4th and 1 stop late in the game, the Knights propensity to fumble let the game get away.

But then, you look at E. Michigan having two chances to score the winning TD, something that would almost always happen in the past, and getting stoned by the D. You look at La. Tech having 5 drives start in Army territory due to fumbles and an 8 yard punt. A formula that always meant another blowout loss. You remember 4 TO's on 4 plays against AF two years ago and the mess that created. But this time, the defense rose up on every occasion and refused to let Tech take control of the game. For this game, you actually wanted the defense on the field to keep the sputtering offense on the bench.

What a great, and rare, feeling.

Now comes the hard part. The D will be sorely tested the rest of the way. Air Force and Navy both run option attacks that pick up yards against everybody. Rutgers looks to have escaped their doldrums with a big win against Pitt. And Rice has been lighting up the scoreboard as if it were a pinball game.

But it says here that this defense is for real. Army may not win another game down the stretch, but the days of the big blowout losses could finally be in the past. The combination of much improved line play, much more athletic linebackers limiting underneath passes, and a set of backs that can concentrate more on coverage bacause of the play of the front 7 bode well for this season and in the future.

So if the offense can start hanging on to the ball and complete some drives to generate points, Army fans can look forward to competitive games every week.

And after the first three games, who'd thunk it?

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