Academy Review: Week Eleven
PLAYERS WIN, COACHES LOSE, DEFENSES FALTER:
THREE DISTINCT TALES FOR NAVY, ARMY, AND AIR FORCE
On Saturday afternoon in Annapolis, Md., the Navy Midshipmen did what good teams eventually learn to do over the course of the season: They got out of their own way.
After a terrific offensive performance the week before against Notre Dame, the top priority for the Midshipmen was to be able to replicate their effectiveness and potency against far more beatable opponents. Mission accomplished.
Keenan Reynolds piloted the Navy offense with distinction against the Hawaii Warriors, leading his teammates to 28 second-half points, 14 of them in both the third and fourth quarters. If Navy started slowly due to a subpar performance from its offensive line, the Midshipmen corrected those issues after halftime and executed as crisply as one could reasonably expect. A total of 383 rushing yards with no turnovers represents the combination of cleanness and productivity this offense is capable of. Maintaining this identity for the rest of 2013 is something that's well within the Midshipmen's capacities. Three more efforts like this past Saturday's showing (followed by another such performance in a bowl game) will give the Men of Ken Niumatalolo a great chance at 9-4.
The members of Navy's offense earned this win against Hawaii. They hold the key to more gridiron successes for the Midshipmen this season.
If Navy secured a "players' win" against Hawaii, Army endured a "coach's loss" against Western Kentucky. Army fans will recall Rich Ellerson's game-management adventures in his first few Army-Navy Game trials by fire. Ellerson once again affected a game with his chess moves in the final five minutes against Western Kentucky on Saturday. Army's offense should feel comfortable in a fourth-and-four situation, but moreover, the Black Knights – like any college team – should be willing to take chances inside an opponent's 40-yard line. The ball was sitting just inside the WKU 40 when Army faced a fourth and four near the five-minute mark of regulation, leading 17-14. One play, one fourth-down conversion, would have put Western Kentucky on the ropes and given Army the ability to run the clock to under three minutes at the very least. One fourth-down conversion at that point on the field would have also given Army the ability to potentially kick a field goal, provided it could have gained at least six or seven yards on the subsequent series of downs.
The biggest reason, though, to go for it on fourth and four just inside the WKU 40 was that the Black Knights, at 3-6 and locked out of a bowl, had nothing to lose.
Teams that have nothing to lose should play like it. It's not as though an Army failure on fourth and four guaranteed defeat in that situation. Western Kentucky still would have had to drive 60 yards to win the game, so it's reasonable to claim that Army's reward was greater than the risk involved. Ellerson, though – and not for the first time in his West Point career – played not to lose. Army lost. That's on the coach.
A return to the first half of the 2013 season marked Air Force's loss to New Mexico on Friday night. The Falcons' loss to Nevada was a game in which the Falcons blew a late lead. This loss to UNM was different from Air Force's high-scoring failure in Reno. Yet, the larger common thread of both games was that Air Force's offense played more than well enough to win… only for the defense to surrender more than 40 points. Air Force played well on defense against its two service academy opponents (Army and Navy) this season. Unfortunately, the Falcons have not been able to reproduce that standard of performance against most of their Mountain West foes.
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