November 13, 2011

Frosh Starters Making Impact Despite Loss To Rutgers

I still believe to this very day that Army is a good football team. Forget about all the losses, the close games, the ones we should have won, and the ones no one thought we had a shot in. Forget about all of the disappointment. Let's put all of that in the past right now, because, as Army fans, we should be looking to the future. It might seem far away but it I think it's getting closer then we all think. Pressure is the key here, and the freshman class, they are taking advantage of it.

With star players like seasoned quarterback Trent Steelman and the Black Knights' leading rusher (891 yards) Raymond Maples out for Saturday's game at Yankee Stadium against Rutgers, this writer figured that all eyes would be on senior quarterback Max Jenkins right? Wrong!

Coach Ellerson decided to place the weight of the team, at least the offense, on the young freshman quarterback Angel Santiago. This not only was his first career start for Army but he was tasked with playing Rutgers at Yankee Stadium. For a freshman that might seem like a lot to handle but Santiago was definitely up for the challenge.

"With Max (Jenkins), he distributes the ball well for us, but his legs aren't the threat that maybe a quarterback's legs should be in this offense," shared head coach Rich Ellerson in his Sports radio chat on Friday.

"Angel is a freshman, but tremendous foot speed, ball carrier and has all kinds of upside, but relatively new to all this. The little bit that he's been out there, he gives us a lot of encouragement because he's very comfortable playing the game and he's most comfortable when he's between the white lines and the coaches can't following him out there."

On the opening two drives, Santiago helped the Black Knights march down the field for two consecutive scores, both ending with field goals from Alex Carlton and not the two touchdowns that Army would desperately need by the 4th quarter.

Despite not being able to punch those drives in for touchdowns, the Army "O" looked pretty good.

While I'm not going to say that Santiago wasn't nervous at all, he did look as if he felt comfortable as the play caller in the backfield, which probably reflect the same feelings he shared with after his first true game experience against Vanderbilt.

"When I first took the field, I had the butterflies in my stomach and said to myself, oh shoot this is happening," declares the 5-foot-11, 195 pound quarterback after taking the field for the first time against Vanderbilt on October 22nd . "Then I took a step back, took a deep breath and just remembered that this is the same game I've been playing the past 11-12 years and once I did that, it help me calm down."

The Fontana (Calif.) native was the team's second leader rusher with 72 yards on the ground. On top of that, his passing game was effective as he threw the ball pretty well, bringing in a modest 77 yards through the air. Even though Santiago may not be ready to be the starter yet, he has a lot of potential to do great things for the Army team in the future. These flashes of good, not great, play ended up being too few and far between though, with Rutgers having total control from the second quarter on.

The Dixon Express

The very reliable and tough fullback Larry Dixon, another freshman, really picked up the slack in Maples' absence, as he was able to make some big plays. One being a giant 54 yard gain and the other was scoring our only touchdown of the game. Dixon ended the day with 93 yards yards on the ground averaging over 10 yards per carry. One of Army's biggest mistakes…was not giving Bremerton (Wash.) product the ball more often ... but that's the triple option for you.

With another loss, it would be easy to blame it on the young starters out there on the field but the real fault lies elsewhere, as many young players stepped forward against Army's next door neighbor from New Jersey ... the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.

The talent base is definitely there and the Army faithful may have to wait until the 2012 season to see the full maturation of what has been on display in 2011.

But for us diehard Army fans, there are still two more games to play, Temple and Navy. So, I will be waiting and watching. Hopefully it will happen against the Owls of Temple and the Midshipmen of Navy to close out the season strong and take that "Mo" in spring and summer practices.

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