Saturday, September 2, 2017

Quick Thoughts: Army 64, Fordham 6

My God, what a game!  I thought Army would win.  I did not think they would romp the Rams 64-6.  In fact, when we met for the group picture at halftime, guys were saying, “Hey, I thought you said these guys were good?”

They are good.  They opened the season ranked 18th in the FCS, they’re expected to make the FCS playoffs, and they’ll likely finish first or second in the Patriot League.  Honestly, I’m (perhaps a bit of a homer for the Rams) picking them to win the division.  Regardless, they have a lot of talent, especially on offense.  QB Kevin Anderson is a very accurate quarterback, and RB Chase Edmonds has more than enough speed to get outside and make things happen in the running game.
So what happened?

The simple answer is that Fordham’s O-Line started sloppy, and by the time they got it corrected, they were down 21-0.  
The Parachute Team was precise last night despite some decent wind
Me and Hannah in Section 10.  I really liked these seats.
Army’s defense was imminently prepared to stop Fordham’s offense.  They played run-first coverage, focused on containing Edmonds and keeping Anderson from moving the chains with his feet.  It looked to me like it was mostly base coverage early, but Army flushed Anderson from the pocket frequently in the early going, and though Anderson ran the read-option some in this game, we quickly learned that he’s a much better pocket passer.  On the rare occasions when he could set his feet and throw, he completed passes down the field.  More often, however, we saw him scrambling away from pressure, and his accuracy broke down on the run.
Really, though, I think the key was Army’s run-contain coverage.  Chase Edmonds has a lot of speed, and on the one play where he got going, he scored a touchdown.  What happened a lot more, though, is that Army’s D-Line and linebackers disrupted the play, and their safeties came up to finish things off.  So then Anderson tried keeping the ball, and he even ran a bit of read option, but the Black Knights smoked it repeatedly.  Even up 35 points, Army was playing run-first, giving up short completions to keep Fordham’s base rushing offense from getting on track.
An early Fordham possession.  It did not go well.
Bradshaw about to pitch.
Over time, we saw the Rams adopt the same offensive gameplan that a lot of teams ran against Army last season.  They ran a lot of three-step drops, threw quick outs, and moved the chains in five to seven yard chunks.  Up by 21 and then 28 and then 35, Army gave that up all night.  Anderson eventually finished 26/38 (68%) for 233 yards with a touchdown and a tipped ball.  Those are objectively good numbers, but as I told Hannah during Fordham’s first real drive:
“Army’s defense is playing this correctly.  No one wants to give up yards, but those quick outs are very hard to stop, and driving the entire length of the field like that is not easy.  You have to execute your offense precisely, over and over again.”
Fordham couldn’t do it, and so despite their having a bunch of good passing plays, they still kept finding themselves in 3rd-and-long.  They turned the ball over on downs, suffered a bad snap, had a pass tipped for an interception, and saw a field goal blocked for a touchdown.  That’s what Army’s defense does to you.
On the other side of the ball, well, I think we all expected that Army was going to move the ball.  I said in my preview that I thought this game would be close to the fourth quarter, when Army’s offense would wear away at Fordham’s defense and pull ahead to finish strong.  
Okay.  A version of that happened.  But it was the version where Army ran roughshod over the Rams from the opening gun, pummeling them relentlessly.  
An early exit & a lot of smiles for Army's captain.
Darnell Woolfolk broke free on Army’s second offensive play, putting the Black Knights up by seven with just 90 seconds off the clock.  From there, the Black Knights dropped the hammer.  Woolfolk finished with 95 yards on just 10 carries for a whopping 9.5 ypc.  Ahmad Bradshaw carried just 9 times but gained 177 yards!
It looked to me like Fordham never got the Fullback Dive stopped, and they compounded the error by overplaying the pitch.  Bradshaw found open field off-tackle twice, and he ran to daylight.  That’s not complicated, but it was intensely satisfying to watch.
This was a good way to start the season.
A few final notes:
1. I think S Gibby Gibson is in something like a “big nickel” role for the Black Knights.  He excels at it.  He’s got a lot of speed, good instincts, and he hits like a truck.  I noted at least one critical stop from Gibson on a long 3rd down.
2. Army’s special teams look much improved.  We opened with three straight touchbacks on kickoffs, had good kick coverage, and saw two blocked kicks.  On the downside, the long snapper botched an extra point.
3.  Army’s passing offense looks like shit.  Three throws, all incomplete.  The first came on the botched extra point.  The next two were down near the goal line, and Bradshaw heaved both passes high.  The receivers didn’t have much in the way of separation, so maybe he was throwing the ball away?  High overthrows are better than turnovers, but this team is really going to miss Edgar Poe’s height and catching radius.  Anyway, this team has something to work on this work for sure.
4.  CB Jaylon McClinton had a Hell of a game.
Last thing I’ll say is that Michie Stadium was pretty empty last night.
The guy I was supposed to go with cancelled at the last minute (long story), so I wound up taking my daughter Hannah.  Which meant we got off late because she had school.  Hannah is in the elite Agriscience program at Trumbull High School, ranked 20th among high schools nationally.  She’s actually a member of the FFA, well on her way to her goal of becoming an Army Veterinarian.  That’s all good.  But she couldn’t afford to miss school.
We left just after three and fought murderous traffic in Connecticut, Westchester County, and especially across the Tappan Zee Bridge.  But we made it to Highland Falls just after five, and amazingly, we drove straight onto post.  Running late like that, I thought we were screwed for sure.  Even parking on Thayer Roof, though, we still made it up the hill and through security in time to catch a full half-hour of the Benny Havens Band pre-game show.
As it turned out, almost no one went to the game.  Sections 11, 12, 13, and 14 were all pretty full, and the Corps of Cadets was out in force--meaning that not a lot of clubs and sports teams were away for early season match-ups--but my own section 10 was a ghost town, and the rest of the stadium was sparsely populated at best.  
I get why they want to play the first game of the season on the Friday before Labor Day, but it’s tough trying to get up to West Point after work on a Friday night, especially when practically everyone in the greater New York City area has plans.  I’m not complaining because actually it was really nice having all that space around us, and the concession lines were really short, but I hope there are more folks in the stands next week for Buffalo.
That’s all I’ve got.
Go Army!  Beat Buffalo!!!

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