A Step Back.....Way Back

It sure was great to be a visiting fan in Ames. Just stick on some Army gear and all the locals welcomed you with open arms. You couldn't have been treated much better. It was a super feeling. But based on what happened at the game, Army played the perfect guest, reverting to many of the things that have made the past few seasons a never-ending nightmare in a dismal 31-10 loss on Saturday evening.

The past three games, Army marched right down the field on its opening possession. But on Saturday, the Black Knight's won the toss and elected to take the ball (Jeez, I hate that. I much rather would have the ball to begin the second half). What followed was the first of many 3-and-outs for the Cadets. It gave you the feeling that things were not going to go well. And for the most part, they sure didn't.

What has puzzled this observer all season is the lack of innovation with the offense. As the Cyclone defense took away the corners and filled the box to clog the middle, Army was happy to go to a double option with Chip Bowden at the controls. Let's face it; we're looking at Stan Brock's offense right now, without the battering-ram fullback. Neither quarterback has much touch on their passes, causing way too many low percentage throws, many being the poorly thrown jump balls to Ali Villaneuva.

The newly rebuilt offensive line has had many problems. The running backs are not very fast. A plebe quarterback has had the bulk of the playing time. The passing game is a crap shoot. So it's hardly a surprise that the offensive results have been a very mixed bag. So hopefully the coaching staff will start opening up their bag of tricks instead of closing it. Misdirection plays are not happening. So far this year, one reverse and one halfback pass has been attempted, both of which were shut down in the backfield. But it says here that some razzle-dazzle might result in some big plays, which haven't happened at all since the first quarter of the Duke game.

The defense had their first truly poor day trying to contain the Cyclone attack. We've seen in the first three outings that the defense gives up yards in gobs, but is able to make enough big plays to keep the point total down. They've been able to pressure the quarterback, resulting in sacks and hurried throws. One such hurried throw was the difference against Ball State. But on Saturday, the pressure was not there. Tackling, which has been amazingly good this year, slipped back to level of the bad old days. The massive State offensive line was able to push Army around for much of the game. Now to be fair, the defense was able to make several stops for losses and kept the team in the game going to the fourth quarter. But the big plays went to the Cyclone offense, and not the Army defense. Because of the struggles of the offense, this group will need to jump back to the level of the first three weeks. It will be hard, because things are only going to get tougher size-wise with a majority of teams left on the schedule.

But the biggest worry is the special teams. Even in the toughest times, you could count on this unit to frequently set up good field position on returns. But the kick returns have become a major liability. Kick off returns seldom make it to the 25 yard line, giving an offense that has a tough time on sustained drives an even tougher job. Now, the coverage units have not been good for some time. And even though the opponents have been getting good field position to start, Saturday was the first time that a return was a back breaker, when ISU returned a punt deep into Army territory and scored soon afterward. Kickoffs have been low and not deep. Jonathan Bulls' punts have been sometimes very good, but enough bad kicks are starting to become killers. The place-kicking continues to kill the team, with another chip-shot being missed on Saturday. As stated previously, the kicking game is the difference in 1-2 games a year. And that could become the difference in going to a bowl or sitting home wondering "What if?".

It's not too late for this team to go to the 6-6 level. Remember, the team has gone 3-3 the last couple years only to finish with six game losing streaks. And this team should be happy if they stand at 3-3 in a couple weeks. But the schedule is more manageable this year and the idea of finishing 6-6 this time doesn't seem so far-fetched. But both the offense and defense will have to make the big plays for this to happen. If they don't, a season of great anticipation will end in great disappointment.

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