Swezey's Army-Navy Review

A co-worker was telling me once about playing defensive end against an option team. When the play went to the side opposite where he was lined up, he was not allowed to move until he went through the following mental checklist: Reverse, counter, trap. Once he made sure the play was not a reverse, not a counter, not a trap, only then could he leave his spot and try to make a play.

"I looked dumb because half the time no one was blocking me and the quarterback was pretty close," he said. "If I had just gone to get the quarterback I probably would have gotten a sack. But I had to sit and wait and say 'reversecountertrap' to myself and read the linemen and backs before I could go."

The Army-Navy game proved once again why Paul Johnson's offense is so hard to defend. Army's defensive end--he also was the team captain and one of its best players (if not the best)--neglected to go through his mental checklist on one play, and it changed the game.

The reverse to Jason Tomlinson for the 33-yard touchdown was born out of the previous play. Army senior defensive end Cameron Craig ran down Kaipo on an option for a two-yard loss; Craig was the backside defensive end on the play.

He must've released early--not gone through the mental checklist my buddy did--and it caught Johnson's attention.

The next play appeared to be an option away from Craig. Same as the last one. Put yourself in his shoes: Though he is playing in a postseason all-star game, this was his last major game, the biggest game of his career. What would you do? Chase the ball, try to make another play.

It's exactly what Paul Johnson thought Craig would do, too. Johnson called for the reverse specifically because of what had happened on the previous down. Kaipo flipped the ball to Tomlinson; Craig was halfway down the line when he realized what was coming.

Too late. Tomlinson had outrun the angle on Craig, and one of the linemen (I think Pritchett) was there to block him anyway.

One mistake, one play, one touchdown, one game changed.

Overall, though, tough nuts to Army. I thought they played as well as they could. For all the questions about Kevin Ross's playcalling--the last play against Texas A&M and the repeated passes during the meltdown against Air Force--someone over there came up with a gem of a gameplan, and Army stuck to it.

Junior fullback Mike Viti entered having carried 40 times (or less than four times a game). Yet Viti weighs 242 pounds, more than all but two Navy defenders. So the plan was to hammer Viti at Navy to try and control the clock, wear down the defensive line and get Army into managable second- and third-down situations.

Viti finished with 15 carries for a team-high 57 yards. The Cadets (never liked the nickname 'Black Knights') ran him out of the one-back sets, which was a surprise; normally out of the one-back they had thrown screen passes to him or, more often that that, he was not on the field in the one-back offense.

Army was controlling the clock and kept Navy's offense off the field. I thought it was very telling when, at halftime, the score was tied, yet all the noise came from the Corps of Cadets.

In this space before the game I said I would not have started the freshman quarterback. For three quarters, he looked fine. But it is so much to ask a freshman quarterback to win this game. Jim Kubiak was a plebe when he started the 1991 game, but junior Jason van Matre took over the offense inside the 20.

In the fourth quarter, with the game on the line, Williams looked very much as he did against Air Force. That day, he threw interceptions on three straight passes. Against Navy, he threw interceptions on two of three passes. I think he will be a fine quarterback one day--maybe even next season--and he is a very bright kid; his high school coach said he graduated fourth in his class in Cullman, Ala. The top three kids went to MIT.

But it was a lot to ask him to go all the way, unless Peveto was hurt. And I doubt Peveto was, since he warmed up (though Williams took roughly 2/3 of the pregame snaps that I saw).

So it appears Army is making strides, though they also are still learning about coaching at a service academy. I think every coach goes through the same process; don't forget the 1995 Army-Navy game changed when Johnson and Navy went for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1 and the pass was incomplete. The play was open (I think the ball was thrown behind the receiver) and at the time, hand on my heart, I was pleased Navy was going for it since it would have clinched the victory if they made it, and I was certain they would.

Bottom line: Army is getting better, no doubt. They are recruiting well. But the same can be said for Navy. And as long as Johnson sticks around, the Midshipmen will always have that head start.


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