Army is coming off of a bye week and the team hits the road for their second straight contest. That road leads the Black Knights down to Nashville (TN) to take on the Vanderbilt Commodores in SEC territory.
Army has a chance to accomplish several things they have not accomplished this season or ever before.
First, a win on Saturday would be Army's first road victory in three attempts, but it would also be the squad's first time beating two teams from BCS leagues in the same football season.
If the Black Knights are going to be successful this weekend, it will begin and end with the offense, that is currently No. 1 in nation in rushing with an impressive 361.33 yards per game.
The offense will be facing a very athletic-aggressive defense that mirrors the disposition of their first year head coach, James Franklin.
It is that same Franklin who had an exchange of some very harsh words for Bulldogs' defensive coordinator Todd Grantham after Saturday's loss to Georgia where the Vandy mentor had to be separated from going after Grantham.
"This team (Vanderbilt) is a reflection of the coach's personality," said Army Head Coach Rich Ellerson at Tuesday's Press Conference. "He's a very aggressive, enthusiastic and energetic guy. You can see his team has fed off him. They are blowing up all over the place. Sometimes they blow up in their own face, but they're aggressive and playing with a lot of emotion. He coaches with a lot of emotion. That has made them more competitive this year."
But the Black Knights are not short of energy themselves and one player that many of the guys in the Black & Gold feed off of is junior quarterback
Trent Steelman, who is looking forward to playing down in SEC territory, which is also close to his home town of Bowling Green (KY).
"It's awesome," says Steelman when discussing going up against the Commodores and playing in front of many of his family and friends. "It's just another good opportunity for our team and just another good opportunity to get back where we need to go."
"Yeah, there will be a bunch of Bowling Green (KY) natives in Nashville this weekend," chuckles Steelman. "I'm just looking forward to being able play in front of them and play close to home. It's going to be a great opportunity for me and this team to bring a win back to West Point."
The Bye Week
For the Black Knights, having a bye week could not have come at a more ideal time and Ellerson and Steelman were quick to point out that fact.
"The bye week is a fundamental opportunity, a chance to go back to training camp if you will," shared the Army mentor. "We're treating the second half of the season as a season unto itself. We made this absolute commitment, regardless of the situation, regardless of the scoreboard, regardless of what happened last week, we are going to treat every game like a season unto itself. We are going to stay in the moment."
"Bye weeks are always crucial in the season, especially in terms of getting everybody back to full health," says the junior signal caller, who reiterated his coach's point of view. "Our big goal during this bye week was to focus on the little things, the fundamentals that are going to excel our offense and our defense to the next level."
"We really have the mindset of coming in with perfect ball security. I'm not saying it's been too big of a problem, but it has kind of crushed us at times when we needed it the most. We kind of went back to the little fundamentals, with five points of pressure, tucking that ball away when you are getting hit and even holding onto the ball until the ref is asking for it."
"We kind of re-emphasized what we do best and we know what we do best, where we just have to go back and work at it."
Steelman was quick to interpret the statement made by Coach Ellerson who said that every game is a season unto itself and this team that can no longer be designated as a young or rookie team.
"He hit exactly right," adds Steelman. "The big thing for us is not getting side-tracked by anything else but the game that we have that week, but also the practice we have that week, the practice we have that day or the play that we're getting ready to go out and execute. We have to have the mindset that coming out each and everyday wanting to get better. I have full confidence in this team and the things that we are trying to reach this year. We've shown that we are capable of playing with anyone in the nation and we have that confidence in us. We just have to bring it out every Saturday and represent the type team that we really are."
Steelman's comments are very much in line with those of Army Head Coach Rich Ellerson who during his Tuesday press conference, talked about the identity of his Army squad.
"This team doesn't have a history," conveyed Ellerson. "This week, we're wearing the patch of the 101st Airborne Division. Their motto is `We don't have a history, we have a rendezvous with destiny.' We're going to determine who we are going to be going forward. I talked earlier about playing Army football. We've seen what our football team can do when it's focused in the moment, when it's resilient, when it's determined, when it turns off the scoreboard and the outside voices and decides to play like the Army team on the next snap. We know what that feels like, and that's what we're determined to be snap in and snap out as the season goes forward."
For Steelman, he knows that the eyes are on him. Not only relative to his performance, but his disposition when the chips are down and as others continue to take his lead, it could be just what the doctor ordered.
"The biggest thing is want," says Steelman, who leads the team in rushing with 536 yards. "If you have to want it in order to achieve it and if you don't want it, you're never going to achieve it. When times are not going so well or there are times of adversity, they are going to look to me and have to be the voice of the offense. And have that attitude that anythings possible if you put your mind to it. Not can you preach it but you have to be able to show it. I try to do my best to not let anything effect me field ... fighting through injuries, fighting through fatigue or anything like that. When you play like that or try to show that type of emotion, they're going to be able to follow you and want to follow you."
"That's what I try to do as a quarterback. I may not be the most talented guy in the world, but I can guarantee my teammates and my coaches that I'm going bring everything I have that Saturday."
Currently Steelman has two impressive streaks, where he has completed his last 11 passes and starting 31 consecutive games. But he knows that there are much bigger fish to fry before he can embrace those other accomplishments.
"The thing I try to focus on the most is trying to get that win for that Saturday," he says. "Unless you're winning or having fun, none of that means anything. The big thing that I have to look at and we have to look at is how bad do we want it. Do we want to be a mediocre team where we go 5-7 or 7-5 or do we want to finish this season the right way and come out with that 13th game and another bowl win."
Evolution of the Pass
But those 11 straight completions mean more to catching the attention of opposing defensive coordinators than they do any record books. "It's definitely an increase in the maturity level (Army's passing offense)," says Steelman. "Not only that, but it's building confidence, where we have confidence that the passing game is going to be there and that we are going to have those types of opportunities."
"We have the offensive line to protect, we have the wide receivers to make plays ... we just have to go do it and we have been doing that in the past couple of games. It is just a big asset to our running game and that if we can complete 8 or 9 balls in a game, we're going to have that many more rushing yards."
The added passing dimension is clearly something Vandy is aware of and could create some real match up problems for the Commodores as they attempt to slow down Army's triple option rushing attack.
But even with that, Steelman knows that Saturday's game will be a toe-to-toe and could come down to the last man standing.
"I think that it's going to be a battle," says Steelman, who was under center when the Black Knights defeated Vandy two years ago. "They're a quality SEC opponent and that speaks a lot for itself ... just the name does. But at the same time they have the talent level to compete with anyone on their schedule as they have shown. We expect it to be a battle and we don't expect it to be easy."
"But we also expect to go out there and play Army football. And Army football has the title of being the baddest dudes on the field, so that's what we are going to try to achieve this weekend."
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