Non-Conference Preview, Part 3

This is the third in a five part preseason tour of the non-conference opponents. I'll continue my pre-season tour of the non-conference schedule with a look at the hapless Army Black Knights. I'll review lost starters, expected replacements, and incoming recruits.

ARMY BLACK KNIGHTS PREVIEW


"This is a friggin' flag football team!"  A friend who sat with me at the Rutgers-Army game last year uttered that derisive comment.  A friend who is a lover of college football in general, without any specific permanent attachment to any program with the exception of the academies.  Especially Army.  While wishing that Rutgers football could turn around its fortunes, my friend was cheering for Army that day.  And while my friend was not enamored with Head Coach Todd Berry's redesigning of Army football, my friend was shocked at the appalling state of Army football.  "This is a friggin' flag football team!"  Gone was the toughness and precision of wishbone option football – a system reliant upon precision, discipline, and deception.  A system that could monopolize the football and keep the tough but undermanned defense off the field.  In their place were a spread offense and a 4-4 attack defense for which Army lacked the athletes to operate effectively because Army can't outrecruit its opponents to field better athletes. 

Army finished the 2002 season with a 1-11 record.  The offense was terrible.  The defense was terrible.  Division IAA Holy Cross beat Army.  Rutgers beat Army for its only win.  Few of the Black Knight's losses were close.  Army blew a 19-7 halftime lead in losing to Alabama-Birmingham on a 67-yard TD drive in the final 1:30.  Air Force pounded Army 49-30 at West Point.  After a road victory against Tulane showed a glimmer of hope, Army was demolished in its last two games, including a 58-12 annihilation at the hands of Navy.  The results were not surprising.  Berry inherited a roster not suited to his schemes.  He also inherited his first recruiting class.  Players recruited for his system were freshmen and sophomores a year ago.  Playing freshmen and sophomores is daunting anywhere.  At Army, it is suicidal given the heavy rigors of academy life. 

Berry's first recruits are now juniors.  His young team is a year older and a year more experienced.  Yet Berry only returns 12 starters – and no kickers – from one of the nation's worst teams.  Berry's honeymoon is now over.  He must demonstrate that he can win at Army with the systems he has implemented.  Another cellar-dwelling season in Conference USA is surmountable because next year is Army's last season in a conference in which it doesn't belong.  However, another humiliation at the hands of Navy will spend the end of the flag football era at West Point.  Here's a look at the hapless Black Knights of Army.


OFFENSE

Berry is a proponent of the spread offense.  Berry now has an offensive unit that was recruited to run the spread and has gained valuable experience on the field.  This is the season when the success of the offense will solely be a function of the talent operating the offense.  Army returns only 5 starters from a balanced unit that could neither run nor pass effectively.  The days of Army leading the nation in rushing offense are bygone memories.  Army's 2002 offensive statistics are summarized below:

  • 19 points per game (#106 of 117 in Division 1A)
  • 299 yards per game (#113 in Division 1A)
  • 120 rushing yards per game (#90 in Division 1A)
  • 179 passing yards per game (#85 in Division 1A)


Army returns its top two receivers from Army's deepest unit – starters Jr WR Aaron Alexander (26 receptions for 454 yards and 2 TDs) and Jr WR William White (30 receptions for 384 yards).  Two-year starter WR Aris Comeaux (25 receptions for 308 yards and 4 TDs), starting TE Warren Stewart (14 receptions for 153 yards), and backup WR Chris Pestel (10 receptions for 68 yards) departed.  Sr WR Clint Woody (7 receptions for 70 yards) and Jr TE Doug Horaist will likely replace Comeaux and Stewart.  Jr WR Lamar Mason (10 receptions for 152 yards), So WR Blaine Cooper (5 receptions for 54 yards), So WR Jacob Murphy, and Jr TE Christian Montagliani will be the backups.  Berry now has a deep and experienced group of receivers to deploy in his spread offense.

Jr QB Reggie Nevels  (53 of 102 for 617 yards, 4 TDs, and 5 INTs plus 60 carries for 166 yards and 2 TDs) and So QB Zac Dahman  (89 of 184 for 1,039 yards, 5 TDs, and 9 INTs) will likely alternate until one seizes the starting job.  Berry has yet to resolve the most important position in his offense, a situation that does not bode well for an Army team looking to rebound from a disastrous season. 

So RB Carlton Jones (161 carries for 611 yards and 4 TDs plus 13 receptions for 137 yards) emerged to solidify an otherwise unstable backfield that lost its top two backs before the season started.  Backup RB Josh Holden (97 carries for 490 yards and 8 TDs plus 18 receptions for 137 yards) departed.  Backup RB Marcellus Chapman (36 carries for 124 yards plus 9 receptions for 50 yards) is also no longer on the team.  Backup RB La'Berrick Williams (14 carries for 28 yards) suffered a knee injury in spring camp and will miss much of the season.  So RB Tyson Roy may backup Jones but Fr RBs Andre Broussard or Tielor Robinson may see considerable action given the attrition at RB. 

Army lost four starters off of a veteran unit OLine that underwent the transition from the wishbone to the spread offense.  Two-year starter and 2nd Team All-Conference USA LG Aaron Burger, two-year starter RT Craig Cunningham, two-year starter RG Alex Moore, and C Steve Schmidt departed.  Backup C Mike Hastings and backup RT Jon Green also departed.  Returning starter Jr LT Joel Glover will anchor the rebuilt line, which almost entirely will feature linemen that Berry recruited to run his offense.  Jr LG Andy Dytrych, Jr C David Evetts – a converted RG, and Jr RG Jake Holly will move into the starting lineup.  Sr RT Brad Waudby and Jr RT Seth Nieman will battle for the remaining starting job.  Jr LG Adam Wojcik is the only experienced backup.  Jr LT Regan Tatford, So C Justin Troy, and So RG Pete Bier will complete the second team.  The OLine is very inexperienced but have been recruited by Berry and allowed to mature before seeing significant action. 


DEFENSE

Berry employs an attacking 4-4 defensive scheme ala Virginia Tech whereby the OLBs are really safeties.  Berry puts eight men on the line of scrimmage to stop the run and dares the defense to throw.  Unfortunately, Army couldn't stop the run even with an 8-man front.  Army lost only 4 starters from a squad that was susceptible to big plays.  Army's 2002 defensive statistics are summarized below:

  • 41 points per game (#112 of 117 in Division 1A)
  • 393 yards per game (#76 in Division 1A)
  • 210 rushing yards per game (#109 in Division 1A)
  • 183 passing yards per game (#23 in Division 1A)


Army lost only one starting LB off the unit that will be the heart of the defense – three-year starter and second leading-tackler ILB Jason Frazier (88 tackles, 11 TFLs, 6 sacks, and 2 FF).  Backups ILB Mike Lennox (56 tackles and 4 TFLs), ILB Joe Martinez (38 tackles), and OLB Brian Todd (7 tackles) also departed.  Two-year starter and leading tackler Sr OLB Ryan Kent (99 tackles, 3 TFLs, and 2 INTs) returns as the defensive leader.  Former backup OLB Jr Curt Daniels (11 tackles) will start opposite Kent.  Sr ILB Brian Hill (22 tackles) will replace Frazier.  Starting ILB Jr Greg Washington (54 tackles and 6 TFLs) returns after an injury-riddled sophomore campaign.  Former starting OLB Jr Mikel Resnick (59 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 3 FF) and So ILB David Clamon will backup Washington and Hill.  So OLB Taylor Justice and So OLB Seth Gulsby will complete the second unit.  Army's success defensively likely will hinge upon the performance of its LB corps. 

The secondary returns nearly intact.  Two-year starter FS Maurio Smith (56 tackles, 2 TFLs and 2 FF) has departed but his replacement, Jr FS Lucius Weaver (71 tackles, 5 TFLs, and 2 FR), had essentially displaced Smith as the starter late last season.  Starting Jr CBs Jonathan Lewis (45 tackles and 3 FF) and Delente Brewer (59 tackles and 2 INTs) return.  Backup CB Mike Sehzue (32 tackles) also departed.  The backups – So FS Dhyan Tarver and So CB Ray Stith – are inexperienced.  One of six freshmen likely will man the other backup CB position.  The 4-4 defensive scheme puts a tremendous burden upon the secondary. Berry has plenty of experience but little depth on his back line. 

The DLine was most heavily hit with departures as three-year starter DT Paddy Heiliger (34 tackles, 6 TFLs, and 2 sacks), two-year starter DE Clarence Holmes (51 tackles, 11 TFLs, and 2.5 sacks) plus co-starters DT Myron Toles (20 tackles and 2 sacks), and DT Seth Langston (11 tackles) are gone.  RS Jr DE Odene Brathwaite (31 tackles and 2 sacks) is the sole returning starter.  Jr DE Keenan Beasley (27 tackles, 6 TFLs, and 4. 5 sacks), who displaced Holmes to DT late in the season, will start opposite Brathwaite.  Co-starter Jr DT Trey Landry (16 tackles) will likely start alongside Jr DT Will Sullivan (34 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, and 3.5 sacks), a converted DE.  The second team includes Jr DE Mike Clark, So DT Seth Lotts, So DT Tommy Ryan, and Jr DE Ryan Johnson.  The DLine is undersized and lacks playmakers.  The starters are experienced but the backups are green. 


SPECIAL TEAMS

Army lost heavily among its specialists.  P Chris Castelli (37 yards per punt) and Sr PK Paul Stelzer (5 of 6 FGAs and 19 of 20 XPAs) have departed but neither represents a great loss.  However, the departure of PR Aris Comeaux (19 yards per return and 2 TDs) will be difficult to fill.  So PR Ray Stith will attempt to replace Comeaux's valuable contributions to a team that struggled to move the football and score.  Jr KOR William White (23 yards per return) will resume those duties.  So PK Joe Riley (4 of 5 FGA s and 6 of 7 XPAs) actually displaced Stelzer late last season.  Jr P Alex Bradford will replace Castelli.  Army struggled in nearly all aspects of its special teams last season.  Berry needs tremendous improvement from this unit during this crucial season. 


SCHEDULE

Army has a super-sized 13 game schedule with 6 home games and the neutral site game against Navy at the Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.  Army didn't play in any "pre-season" exempt games so I'm not sure how they were able to schedule 13 games but the academies do receive special treatment from the NCAA due to their unusual competitive circumstances.  The dispensation probably related to the Black Knight's 8-game conference schedule, which has prompted their departure from Conference USA.  The conference schedule is nearly as favorable as it can be given Army's current predicament.  Army does not play conference heavyweight Southern Mississippi but also misses a chance at featherweight Memphis.  However, Army gets three of its four most beatable conference foes at home – Tulane, East Carolina, and Houston.  The Conference USA coaches have picked Army to finish last in the 10-team league.  Academy rivals Air Force and Navy, regional rivals Rutgers and Connecticut, and far-flung Hawaii comprise the non-conference schedule.  Air Force and Hawaii are the only non-conference games likely out of reach for Army. 

 

September 6

Connecticut

September 13

Rutgers

September 20

Tulane

September 27

South Florida

October 4

@ Texas Christian

October 11

@ Louisville

October 18

East Carolina

October 25

@ Cincinnati

November 1

@ Alabama-Birmingham

November 8

@ Air Force

November 15

Houston

November 22

@ Hawaii

December 6

Navy (in Philadelphia)

 

PREDICTION

I predict that the Black Knights will finish 1-12 (1-8).  Army simply lacks the talent to run its talent-based offensive and defensive systems.  Connecticut is rapidly assembling a legitimate Division IA football program and will show that it is already past Army's grasp.  Rutgers is also stockpiling talent at a faster clip and, while not yet ready to challenge bit time Division IA programs, has more than enough firepower for Army.  The Conference USA season will be another death march, with only a late season home victory over Houston sparing Army from an O-fer.  Air Force is more talented and better coached.  Period.  Hawaii has way too much firepower for the popgun Cadets.  Although records rarely matter in the Army-Navy game, Navy clearly demonstrated that the Middies are running the right system for their program, something that Army is discovering the hard way.  Todd Berry will be looking for a new job in December and Army will return to the wishbone.  And my friend will enjoy watching Army football again. 


Coming Next:  Keys to the Army Game.  I'll review the five keys to a mandatory road win at West Point.  I'll also identify five key players whose contributions will be essential to a win.  


Please send any comments to dwelch11@comcast.net.  I welcome and appreciate your feedback.  In the meantime, if you would like to discuss the upcoming Army game with other Rutgers fans, please visit our message board.  Thank you for your patronage. 


Scarlet Report Top Stories