Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Quick Thoughts: The Heart of Dallas Bowl

Army just pulled out a squeaker at the Heart of Dallas Bowl in a rematch against the North Texas Mean Green.  An exciting win caps an exciting season.  To say the least, I was certainly not expecting a 38-31 shoot-out that went to overtime.  But despite a few mistakes, I'll certainly take this result.

Some thoughts are below:

1. The Heart of Dallas Bowl was Army's season in microcosm.  They started strong, making it look like they were about to run the Mean Green right out of the building.  But they can never make it easy on themselves, be it earning bowl eligibility, building a winning season, beating Navy, or winning a bowl game.

2. Despite their failure to pick up that last first down at the end of regulation to put away the game, this was a very solid effort by the Army offense.  Army's offense gave up no turnovers against a team that was very motivated to strip the ball.  The Black Knights gained 533 yards and 22 first downs.  They won time-of-possession by 6:18.

3. Army's defense has bailed this team out time and again this season, and they came up big when it counted here.  However, North Texas also put together a very good offensive effort.  The Mean Green gained 410 yards and 19 first downs.  If you're Army, that's a lot more offense than you wanted to surrender.

4.  To my eyes, it looked like Army was having trouble getting pressure on North Texas QB Alec Morris.  They hurried him a few times and flushed him from the pocket on a handful of key downs, but I saw NO sacks and exactly ONE quarterback hit.  Morris threw for 301 yards and 3 touchdowns against 1 interception.  When he had time to set and throw, he threw very well.  When he had to move, his game suffered substantially.

via ESPN.
Of course, it's hard to get pressure when the opposing offense is also running the ball effectively, and North Texas ran for 97 yards on 27 carries (3.6 ypc).  That's not excellent, but it was more than enough to allow the Mean Green to keep their offense balanced.  That was critical.  When Army could pin its ears back and rush the passer, they were much more effective getting to Morris.  We saw that on the Overtime drive.

5.  This officiating crew came out of the SEC.  They were comfortable with a lot of post-play dramatics and quite a bit of holding as well.  This game got a little ugly as a result, though the officials did call one critical holding penalty late, and we saw one unsportsmanlike conduct penalty late in the first half.  Nevertheless, the crew was generally willing to let these guys get away with some grab-ass.

6.  Bradshaw has grown so much this season.  He ran the offense perfectly today, and he's even throwing the ball with some authority as he heads into his senior season.  That is HUGE.  He was named Player of the Game, and wow, did he deserve it.  He heads into the offseason as the team's undisputed leader.  I think it's no accident that he chose to wear the 82nd Airborne patch alongside current captain Andrew King in this game.

7. North Texas has a good team.  They're young, and like Army, they've been inconsistent, but they are improving.  QB Mason Fine will be a sophomore next season; RB Jeffery Wilson will be a senior.  Coach Seth Littrell has his program headed in the right direction in only his first year, and his team, which made it to Dallas based on grades, is actually graduating people.  That's awesome.

Army travels to Apogee Stadium in Denton, TX, for their last game before Navy next year.  It'll be the third time these teams have met in two years, and I expect it will not be a gimme game.  It may well be another barn-burner.

8.  This game was plebe CB Elijah Riley's coming out party.  Riley has played reasonably well all season, but with 2 interceptions and four solo tackles, his effort today was clutch.  He adjusted well to the long balls, played his assignments, and limited big plays.

I'm excited to see what next year's secondary looks like.  Riley will be a yearling, and we should get rising cow Marcus Hyatt back to start on the opposite side.  S Xavier Moss is graduating, but rising firstie Rhyan England will be back to lead the defensive backs, and DB James "Gibby" Gibson ought to be able to fill the void left by Moss.  Gibson was one of the top recruits in the Class of 2019 and has seen spot duty since his plebe year.  I expect he'll play well as a full-time starter.

9.  Special teams continues to be an adventure for Army.  We missed an extra point to open the game, and from there, it was clear that Coach Monken flat would not put this game into the hands of his kicker.  For this reason, he went for it on 4th down at the end of the game, and he chased extra points endlessly heading into halftime.  This became critical down the stretch.

I don't fault Coach Monken for going for two after the first missed extra point, but after they failed to convert the first time, I thought they should have gone back to kicking PATs.  To say the least, Army could have used those next two extra points later in the game, and more than that, it can't possibly help to let your kicker know that you have zero faith in his abilities.

Malik MacGue also mishandled a punt, and kickoffs were universally short.  These things hurt badly, repeatedly giving North Texas excellent starting field position and letting them back into the game at a time when Army was ready to head to halftime up by eleven.  This game didn't have to be such a down-to-the-wire shootout.  But at least we won.

Still, Army has some work to do on Special Teams this offseason.  The Black Knights have at least one highly regarded kicking recruit headed to the Academy on R-Day, and I still think some of the guys on the roster may workout if given some time.  Hopefully we can get this kicking thing straightened out before next season.

Frankly, more games like this are gonna shorten my life.  Also: my dog hates it when I yell at the TV like that.

* * *

That's all I've got.  Today and every day...

Go Army!  Beat Navy!!!

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