Sunday, October 30, 2016

Quick Thoughts: Army at Wake Forest

In his media availability after the game, QB Ahmad Bradshaw said, "A lot of people thought we didn't have a chance coming into this game."

Yeah, well, count me among them.  This is the best team Wake Forest has fielded in a decade.  The Demon Deacons holds wins over Duke, Indiana, and Syracuse among others.  Granted, the Blue Devils are having something of a down year, but those are still some very good teams.  This win by Army proves that the Black Knights have a good team, too, though it has to be said that they are young and can be maddeningly inconsistent.

My take-aways:
1.  Army is a warm weather team.  Their best games have come in 80-degree weather under blue skies.  Their worst, most maddening games have come in cool, sloppy conditions.

2.  Edgar Poe really is Army's best offensive player.  What a difference he makes in the lineup!  With Poe limited last week, Bradshaw went 7-21 passing with four interceptions.  This week Poe was back to full speed, and Bradshaw went 6-8 passing for 145 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT.

Army has needed to throw at times to loosen up defenses.  With E. Poe in the lineup, they've generally been able to do it, thanks mostly to his ability to go up and get contested balls in coverage.  Without him, they've struggled.  Jeff Ejekam has played okay, but he doesn't have Poe's catching radius, and no one on the team can adjust to balls in the air as well as Poe can.  That's important because as we saw last week, Bradshaw has a tendency to let balls hang in the air.  Having a tall possession receiver is an absolute must.

3. Army made adjustments at halftime that fixed their running game.  Wake Forest crashed the center of the line in the first half, shutting the triple-option down in its tracks.  The Deacons got excellent penetration, limiting Army to 44 yards rushing in the first half and forcing a fumble on a QB keeper.  Things looked really bad.  But Army was able to recover and wear the Deacons down in the second half.  Army carried 64 times last night for 238 yards (3.7 yards/carry) and 2 TDs.  Almost all of that was late in the second half.

Wake Forest has an excellent defense, and an excellent rushing defense, but Army came back to win the game.  That is a great sign going forward.

4.  Special teams is still a problem.  Army cannot consistently make chip-shot field goals, and although that didn't cost them this game, it certainly could have.  They've got to get that fixed.

5.  Elijah Riley played his best game as a Black Knight.  In fact, this was the best that the secondary has looked since the passing of Brandon Jackson.

The secondary was meant to be a strength of this Army team headed into the season, with Jackson on one side and safety coverage rolled the other way.  We saw that for two games.  In fact, I can make a good case for Jackson as the MVP of the win over Temple.  With Jackson gone--I'm sorry, but it has to be said--Army's secondary hadn't played to the same level.  They gave up a terrible 4th quarter to Buffalo, and they let North Texas throw all over them early.

This week, Army's secondary looked like the secondary we were expecting to see this season, and the difference-maker was plebe CB Elijah Riley.  With Riley making interceptions and generally holding up his assignments in coverage, we saw much better play out of safeties Rhyan England and Xavier Moss.  That is HUGE.  It is perhaps the biggest take-away from this game.

This secondary has taken a lot of hits this season.  Not only Jackson's loss, but also firstie CB Steven Johnson, who looked to start opposite Jackson but was lost to a knee injury in the preseason.  That they have managed to recover and they are now coming together now as a unit is quite an amazing statement about the resiliency of this team.

6.  Teams are running away from LB Andrew King.  King had four tackles last night, and while that's hardly bad, it's well below his usual.  I noticed during the North Texas game that the Mean Green had started cut-blocking King on every play in the second half, that this was a large part of why their running game got going when it did.  On almost every run that got yardage, when I looked, I saw King on the ground.

LB co-captain Jeremy Timpf had to pretty much carry the load yesterday against Wake Forest, and he did it.  9 tackles, 8 solo, with 1 tackle-for-loss.  That's outstanding, especially when teams are running right at you.

7.  Darnell Woolfolk is a really good player.  He again had fewer yards than Andy Davidson and fewer yards-per-carry, but he's a sure-handed fullback who always seems to make the tough yards.  That was true against Temple, and it was true again last night, and it may well show up again against Air Force.

8.  Army played out of a base nickel defense last night.  You don't see that very often, but Wake Forest is one of the best passing teams that the Black Knights will face this season.

9.  This Army team needs a lot of warm-up.  I called that out after North Texas, having just watched Ahmad Bradshaw take three quarters to settle into his passing game.  Apparently someone listened because Army did one of the most extensive warm-ups last night's ACC commentators had ever seen before the game, and it made a huge difference.

There is no shame in that.  This is a young team, struggling with consistency, and warming up correctly is one of the basic ways to work past that problem.  These guys have plenty of aerobic fitness to go the distance.  What they need is to come out playing precise football.  Even with the warm-up, they didn't quite manage that, but against a good team on the road, they did enough.

That's all I've got.

It's Air Force Week, and the early weather report looks pretty good.  Mid-50s with partly cloudy skies, just a bit of wind, and no humidity.  That's critically important.

Go Army!  Beat Air Force!!!

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