October 29, 2012

Army's defense still searching for it's identity

For the third straight game since Boston College, the Army Black Knights fell short, losing for the first time to Ball State at Michie Stadium (2-1). At this point in the season, Army's record at 1-7 officially places them out of bowl contention. Although Black Knights' fans hope that this Saturday's game will keep them in CIC (Commander in Chief's) trophy with a win over rival Air Force.
There are many cadets in the Corps who would consider this season successful if Army were to pull off wins over Air Force and especially Navy this year.
Looking back at Saturday's loss against Ball State, especially defensively, it continued to have the same them as in previous games for Army.

The defense was slow to start out and adjust in Ball State's opening two drives. The Cardinals quietly scored two touchdowns in the first 10 minutes of the game. This came via a when-needed pass from QB Keith Wenning and on the ground with RB Jahwan Edwards.

Amazingly, but no longer surprisingly, in the past 6 out of 8 games, Army's opponents have scored on the opening possession and in those games, the Black Knights are 0-6. Co-defensive coordinators, Payam Saadat and Chris Smeland needed demonstrate the ability to make the necessary adjustments on the defense and in a more time manner. In order for the team to have a chance in contest .... the repeated early 10-14 point swings within the early part of most games are too large of a hurdle for both the defense and offense to overcome for the balance of the game.

After a Hayden Tippett score to narrow the gap in the 1st quarter, 14-7, the defense showed some life as Army held Ball State on their next possession to a field goal after being stopped on third down when freshman LB Alex Meier sacked QB Wenning for a loss. Fast forward as a holding penalty created a 1st and 20, but Wenning completed a 15 yard pass shortly after. Once again reflecting Army's inability to place pass pressure on the opposition even in the obvious passing situations. The referees called two offsides penalties on freshman defensive lineman T.J. Atimalala but it didn't matter after Justin Trimble picked off a Wenning that subsequently lead Army to a field goal and a bearable 17-10 deficit, with 5:22 remaining in the 1st half.

Junior DE Jarrett Mackey who is the team's legacy captain stepped up and had a career high 13 tackles to fill the empty void left by impact player Nate Combs who sat out for his second straight game due to injury. Despite CB Chris Carnegie being 5th on the team in tackles, there is still a lot of work for him on protecting the deep pass. There were multiple opportunities when BSU's Wenning barely threw a pass inches past a receivers hands in deep pass plays, and this mistake is evident in not just Carnegie, but the other corners on defense.

Each week, especially with a lack of a pass rush, the Black Knights' corners appear overmatched and size doesn't matter. Army had to deal with WR Jamill Smith who is listed at 5 foot 8, 138 pounds - his style of play was similar to that of Kent State's Dri Archer as they both use their speed to their advantage. If Ball State wanted an easy five or more yards, right after the snap, Wenning's 1-2 step drop and pass & catch to his diminutive weapon would allow Smith to work his magic as defenders answer for his quickness and speed. Another case and point where adjustments needed to be made defensively and there was no evidence that they were. Worse case scenario would have been for the corners to contain the outside boundary so that the flow of tacklers could meet the ball-carrier cutting back towards the inside. But high tackling and poor angles continue to plague this defense and at this portion of the season, that should be the least of the team's worries.

Ultimately, Army needed to play catch up the rest of the game, but the defense was not to blame in the game against Ball State. The defense showed signs of improvement and Coach Ellerson shared his views on the defense: "Maybe you can't see it, but we made some progress. We're getting some stops. We're stopping a good offense. We're creating some opportunities. There are opportunities to improve on that side of the ball, obviously, but we're on track there."

For the rest of this week, the Army coaches do not have to worry about pumping up their players for the upcoming game against Air Force, but they do need to prepare smart and have a solid game plan set on both sides of the ball.

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