Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Army Football Preview: Wake Forest

I know what you’re thinking, but honestly, I thought the team played better this week.  Yes, this was another frustrating loss with a few head-scratchingly bad decisions, but where last week’s defense was a disaster, this week Army at least mounted a credible game plan and kept its players in the right places at the right times.  
In many ways, I thought that this was the defense that Army needed to play.  They gave up 415 yards, but they only gave up two touchdowns, and they forced UConn to repeatedly drive the length of the field, allowing for the possibility of mistakes.  UConn made plenty of mistakes, but unfortunately, Army rarely capitalized.  Chris Carnegie is the best player in Army’s secondary right now, but he got beat over the top twice, and he also gave up two pass interference calls.  I thought safety Rhyan England played much better this week, but he got burned with at least one pass interference call.  The result was that Army had trouble getting off the field—again—even when UConn managed to get itself into long yardage situations.  This happened frequently, but Army couldn’t quite force punts.

Still, there were things to like.  Linebackers Andrew King and Jeremy Timpf looked like the leaders on defense that Army needs them to be, and in general, Army did a good job of defending the run.  Granted, they got gashed a few times, but they were on the field a Hell of a lot, and they are always going to be undersized.  Mostly, Army’s defense played well against the run, and if they gave up passing yards, most of those plays allowed just a few yards after the catch.  That was a dramatic improvement.
UConn had the ball for almost the entire game, but Army only gave up 22 points.  That’s as much as we could reasonably ask, and if Army’s offense had shown up, it would have been enough to win the game.
Army’s offense is another story, though.  Quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw again played well, but he is the team’s only effective weapon on that side of the ball.  Plebe Jordan Asberry has some speed, and the offensive line blocked a little better, especially early, but the Fullback Dive isn’t getting much penetration, and in general, the coaching staff keeps trying to go away from the triple-option in ways that are a little too creative.  As of this writing, Bradshaw is averaging 7.6 yards per carry and fullback Aaron Kemper has 4.7.  Asberry is around 9.  With those stats, you would think Army would just pound the rock, but that’s not what we’ve seen.  Instead, we’ve seen Army get between six and eight yards on first down, try to either throw or run some kind of toss-sweep on second down and get stuffed, then come back to the triple option on 3rd-and-short, only to see Bradshaw get swarmed under on an obvious keeper.
Bottom line: once teams realize how good Bradshaw is, they are committing to him on every play.  That’s a good idea.  As we’ve seen, you have to commit to Bradshaw, or he’ll take it to the house on every play.  But this has left some nice pitches on the outside, and we’ve yet to see enough commitment to the triple-option to get the fullback going once the opposing defense really commits to Bradshaw.  Army keeps going away from its offense in favor of all manner of inexpert downfield passes, trick plays, and weird variations.  That stuff is not working.  What would work is a pair of Fullback Dives on 2nd-and-short and 3rd-and-short to wear the opposing defense out.  That’s what keeps Army’s offense on the field, which is in turn what wins games.  
Army also needs to cut out the holding penalties, although at least one of those was so ticky-tacky that the TV announce team couldn’t find it even after multiple replays.  Still, this is not the kind of team that can recover from undisciplined play.  We’ve seen that repeatedly.
The Army Black Knights
Army is currently averaging 109 yards passing per game (108th) and 218 yards rushing (42nd).  Those are not great numbers for a triple-option offense, especially one that is completing less than half of its throws.  Army is averaging 26 points per game (24th) and giving up 29.5 points per game (40th), and while neither of those is terrible, ESPN’s metrics have the Black Knights rated as the 126th best team in FBS college football out of 128 total teams.  Using the Pythagorean Wins (P-Wins) formula gives Army an expected winning percentage of 42.6% or 5.1 games in a 12-game season.  However, that assumes a constant strength-of-schedule, and as a matter of reality, this team hasn’t actually played a tough game yet.  ESPN is currently projecting a final record of 2.6 - 9.4, but that might be optimistic.  Given this start, I think we’ll be lucky if we get to three wins.
Based on team statistics, ESPN gives Army a 23.1% chance of winning this week at home.
Stats for a few or Army's rushing leaders:
Ahmad Bradshaw: 36 carries, 272 yards, 7.6 ypc, long: 56 (TD), 3 TDs
Aaron Kemper: 10 carries, 47 yards, 4.7 ypc, long: 28
Matt Giachinta: 6 carries, 16 yards, 2.7 ypc, long: 8
I am officially ready to name Aaron Kemper the starting fullback now, but if that’s actually happened, I’ve not heard.  He’s clearly gotten a lot more done this season.
The Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Wake Forest lost last week at Syracuse after a good start in the first half.  The Demon Deacons went up early, but Syracuse got their offense going in the second half while shutting Wake down completely.  Coverage I’ve read makes it sound like a triumph for Syracuse’s passing game, but Wake QB John Wolford is 50/72 for 696 yards (69.4%), 4 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions.  That’s a lot of yards and a good completion percentage, but it’s also a lot of turnovers.  By contrast, Wake mounts a running game by committee.  As a team they have 74 carries for 249 yards, 3.4 yards per carry, and 3 touchdowns.
In summary: to stop Wake Forest, you need to stop John Wolford.

I've always liked Wake Forest's motto.
Overall, Wake Forest is averaging 380.5 yards passing per game (7th) and 124.5 yards rushing (89th).  That is a lot of offense.  They’ve averaged 29 points per game (27th) and allowed 16.5 (18th).  But that’s a little misleading.  Wake destroyed their FCS opponent in Week 1 before giving up 30 to the Orangemen on Saturday.  If you’re a Wake Forest supporter, you may still be wondering exactly what your defense is, and hoping that this week’s game against Army will provide you with some better answers.  
Like Army, Wake’s P-Wins score is substantially better than its ESPN projected finish.  P-Wins predicts 79.2% winning percentage, or 9.5 wins in a 12-game season, but ESPN currently has Wake Forest as the 113th best team in FBS college football with a predicted finish of 3.5 – 8.5.  That puts them only marginally ahead of Army, and if I’m a fan of the Demon Deacons, I probably think my team is a little better than that.

What to Watch
Last year, Wake Forest started a new quarterback behind an inexperienced offensive line, and Army still couldn’t get much pressure.  Still, Army moved the ball well and probably would have won that game save for an errant pitch late that Wake recovered deep in Army territory.  The issue this year is that Wolford has a year of experience under his belt, his O-Line is at least somewhat better, and his team has already shown the ability to blow out an inferior opponent.  
Syracuse won last weekend by throwing over the top against Wake Forest’s secondary.  Army’s not going to do that.  At the same time, Wake is going to mount a potent passing attack against a defense that’s done okay against the run—once—but which has given up a lot of yards through the air.  Honestly, that’s not a great match up.  UConn wasn’t real good about driving down the field with disciplined passes underneath, and even then Army couldn’t get off the field on 3rd-and-long.  Wake Forest is going to be much better in every aspect of its passing game.  Considering that Army’s best cornerback got torched repeatedly by UConn through the air, this week’s match up scares me.  UConn’s passing attack is improving, but it’s hardly scary.  By contrast, Wake Forest’s quarterback is actually good, and it looks like he has the receivers to take full advantage of his talents.  If his O-line holds up, he could have a big day.
Wake Forest is not a superior opponent, and Army is at home.  The Black Knights can win this game, but to do so, they will need to dominate time of possession against the strength of the Demon Deacons’ defense.  They’ll also need to play with a level of discipline that we’ve yet to see this season.  That said, the line on the game is only 3 (over/under is 48.5), and statically, it’s hard to say that Wake Forest is a much better team.  They are a little better, and they’re playing on the road.  Army could win.
If I was betting, I would probably take the Deacons to cover (and the over), but statistically speaking, this is a winnable game.  Army needs to win.  I don’t know if they can actually get things turned around, but it sure would be nice if they did.
Saturday’s game kicks off at noon on CBS Sports Network and/or 770 AM if you’re local.  It’ll also be on SiriusXM, but you’ll have to look the channel up yourself.
Army’s players are wearing the 82nd Airborne patch this weekend, which is fitting because my buddy Chris is coming up for Saturday’s game, and he is a veteran of the 82nd.  He also just got selected for Colonel, proving that he is a total badass.  It’s an open question as to how much that will inspire the team, but we’ll be in the stands in Section 16, about twelve rows off the field.  If you’re there, and you know either of us, feel free to come by and say hello.

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