Army Offensive Puzzles Unsolved

As Army's football program comes down the home stretch for the 2009 season, there are a few items that leave me puzzled. Some of these items have been around for awhile, some of them are more recent. Let's have a look at a few of them.

A vanilla option offense: This one has been a mystery for two years. Last year, Stan Brock's offense ran two basic plays, the fullback dive and the quarterback keep. If the opposition stopped those plays Army was doomed, as that staff would keep running them until they got them right. Trouble was, there were games they never got it right, especially the Rutgers and Navy games. It was doubtful that Army would have scored against the Mids if that game had been played until the following Tuesday.

Along came a new staff, one that had run the option successfully for years. Players were moved to better suit the speed the option required and others, such as the much celebrated move of Ali Villanueva to wide receiver, gave Cadet fans reason to hope that a multi-faceted offense was on the way with some razzle-dazzle thrown in. Instead, we've been treated to more of the same, with this year's attack being about just as unimaginative as last year's. If the opposition stops the fullback dive and pinches the corners, Army's playbook shrinks to a couple pages. Most baffling has been the use of Villanueva, who in many games has been completely invisible. In others, the only passes thrown to him have been fade passes that both Army quarterback's have had little success throwing. After throwing a slant to Ali to get out of a tough spot on their own 1- yard-line against Air Force, he was again ignored the rest of the game. The VMI game showed that Villanueva is a weapon if you can get the ball to him, and the staff would be wise to lean on him the last two games.

Another problem that has continued from last year is the offense's inability to sustain drives. There's several reasons for that. One of course is the amazing amount of fumbles from the team both this year and last. Army was fortunate to recover many of their own fumbles in earlier games, but it almost always put them in a second or third and long situation that they were unable to overcome.

The other big factor in not sustaining drives happens the 1st play after picking up a first down. Army very frequently does not pick up positive yards on that first down play, leaving them in a second and long situation. This is a situation that could use much more innovation, yet the Black Knights stick to basics. Between the Temple, Rutgers and Air Force games, Army was 6-of-37 in third down attempts. To me, the amazing part of that is that Army had 37 third down situations in three games. That's an indication of very little going on during first and second down.

Many fans have argued that because of all the changes on the offensive line, a plebe quarterback, and the general lack of speed in the backfield, the staff is getting the most out of what they have. But it says here that the playbook could have been opened up a bit, with a lot more misdirection and short slants and passes in the flat. That would keep opposing defenses more on their toes and maybe generate more than one touchdown per game, which many of us thought we saw the last of with the 2008 team.

Now do I think Rich Ellerson is the man for the job? Absolutely. And does Trent Steelman have the talent to become a four year force at quarterback? Again, absolutely yes. But I also think it's proper to suggest things could use a tweak, and could really use a jolt to compete with Navy. Because for now, it's hard to see how Army can stay with the Mids at all.

Later in the week, we'll take a look at other issues coming down the stretch.

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