Whether or not you think Army is still relevant in college football today, one thing is for certain: West Point is still one of the best sporting venues in the country. Pregame on the Hudson remains a combination of pride, patriotism, and sheer mania as cadets, fans, and a general officer or two come together for some of the best traditions in college football.
Cannon blasts, military parades, skydivers, helicopters, American flags, and a sea of uniformed servicemen and women speckled with zany costumes greet fans and foes alike.
Combine all of that with the hope of a new season and the return of the much-anticipated option offense, and the excitement surrounding last Friday’s game against Temple was palpable. Yet the game that followed the festivities on Aug. 29 was anticlimactic, as the visiting Owls routed the Black Knights of the Hudson by a score of 35-7 in what was clearly a disappointing showing for the home team.
Perhaps most frustratingly, Army seemed to beat themselves with atrocious special teams play and a mistake-prone offense that was ineffectual at best.
What about that so-called “new option offense”? A unique combination of the flex-bone, traditional wishbone, and the spread offense, the Hudson Valley Express couldn’t get the train on the right track early in its debut.
Third year starting quarterback Carson Williams didn’t look comfortable and often had trouble making reads, which led to missed opportunities and an occasional fumble (one of which was returned by Temple for a touchdown).
Fullback Collin Mooney displayed the toughness and tenacity we have come to expect from a West Point fullback. The senior bruiser was the workhorse last week with 26 carries for 81 yards, mainly because of the offense’s inability to get the ball to the outside and into the hands of talented running backs Patrick Mealy and Tony Dace.
The passing game was similarly impotent, as Williams couldn’t find the open receivers underneath and forced passes upfield (one of which led to an interception).
Poor quarterback reads and bad exchanges aside, second year head coach Stan Brock is probably more disturbed by the subpar blocking of his charges. The offensive tackles were constantly jammed on their all-important releases to linebacker row. This was in part responsible for Williams’ miscues, as he couldn’t adequately determine if the jamming end was cracking down on the fullback or keeping contain on the quarterback.
Probably less obvious was the lack of blocking by Army’s halfbacks. In a scheme known for its devastating cut blocks by runners that are half-men/half-ballistic missiles, Army’s tandem seemed lost trying to decide who to block and often didn’t find anyone at all, which contributed to a lackluster outside running game.
As insufficient as the offense seemed last Friday, it still offers hope for a team that hasn’t crossed the .500 mark since 1996. Brock and his staff were wise to turn back to the option during the offseason.
Former coach Todd Berry’s decision to trade in the triple-option for a one-back spread offense proved disastrous, and Bobby Ross’ balanced, pro-style attack only showed marginal improvement. Brock’s scheme displays the uniqueness and creativity that may, in time, turn the Black Knights into a perennial winner.
But no scheme can replace sound fundamentals. To so many West Point fans, last Friday’s defeat looked awfully similar to last season—and the year before that, and the year before that.
It was the same turnovers that plagued Todd Berry’s reign. The same play-not-to-lose conservatism we saw under Bobby Ross, and the same promise of a team on the brink with renewed confidence and preparedness to win.
That promise fell short.
It was on a Carlos Santiago muffed punt in the first quarter of last Friday’s game against Temple that I heard that all-too-familiar phrase, “Here we go again,” echo in my head like those pre-game cannon blasts. But as I looked at players, coaches and other fans, I knew.
I knew they were thinking the same thing.
It was validated in the Black Knight’s performance. Miscues, conservative play calling, and the gradually emptying seats confirmed, in my mind, the real problem with Army football.
This team and those who support it feel that the Black Knights have to be perfect to win.
It’s like a mistake is a death sentence to the Black Knights, a condemnation of the team’s imperfection—a glaring statement of the Black Knights' “lack of athleticism, size and speed.” Army football hasn’t had a winning season in 11 years because they don’t believe they can overcome.
Well, guess what, Black Knights. You aren’t perfect! But football, like war, is about overcoming adversity.
If Army is going to ever achieve a winning season, they’ve got to have enough confidence to know that they are going to make mistakes and can win in spite of them. Players, coaches, and fans need to believe not just in what the Black Knights stand for and represent—we must believe in what they can do.
We’ll get that chance tomorrow when Army hosts the University of New Hampshire. When the Black Knights make that inevitable mistake, let’s replace “Here we go again” with “Here we go, Army. Here we go!”
Go Army! Beat New Hampshire!