Sunday, November 12, 2017

Quick Thoughts: Army Beats Duke, Goes 8-2

It’s amazing to me after all this team has been through this season, especially on the defensive side of the ball, that they’ve already matched last season’s win total and have a reasonable chance of winning out.  I thought the losses of Andrew King, Jeremy Timpf, and Xavier Moss would really hurt this team, and especially on defense, and for a while they did.  But the Army Team has battled back and found a way.  They’ve consistently played big in the biggest moments.  If you were around Michie Stadium for the 2015 season, well, the differences are profound.  That’s despite the fact that a lot of the same players are still on the field.  They celebrated Senior Day yesterday, and my God, have they come a long way.

Army hasn't necessarily won pretty this season, but they're winning, and that's what counts.  Yesterday was a perfect example.  The offense didn't even gain 300 yards, they were losing time-of-possession at the end of the first half, and they self-destructed on penalties right at the end of the game when another touchdown would've made it 28-16.  But the defense came through again, and in fact, they look like a legitimate team strength now that we've reached the critical part of the season.  That's huge.

We said before the game that this would be a close contest in which both sides would have trouble sustaining drives.  We also said that a blocked punt might well turn the game.  Finally, we said that Duke needed to run the ball to win the game, that QB Daniel Jones hasn't been playing well enough this season to beat Army with his arm.  All of that played out.

Still, if you're looking at national rankings, I think that last false start penalty probably cost the team at some level.  A 28-16 win might've seen Army reach #25 in the AP or Coach's Poll.  With a 21-16 win, though, I expect that the pollsters will want to see even more.

Sally and I got off a little late yesterday, and with the sold-out game, traffic getting on-post was a little ugly.  We out-flanked most of the cars through the back streets of Highland Falls, but even then, we wound up sitting in traffic, trying to get off of 9W north of town.  Alas, there are always so many drivers coming in through Thayer Gate that have no idea where they're going.  I get that it's confusing, but all the lane switching right at the gate itself slows the process in major way.  Nonetheless, we got onto post by 10:00 and were parked by 10:15.  

Our car's thermometer read 27-degrees!  Holy crap, it was freezing cold!!!

Sally and I both donned all of our snivel gear and headed out.  The wind coming off the river was bitter, but we trudged through it, and thankfully, it abated as we got further away.  We made a brief pit-stop at Grant Hall, infiltrated via the Davis Barracks route, and then hit the far side of Lusk Reservoir, where we met my friend Rick ('96) for what can only be describe as a five-star tailgate.  He and his crew had multiple crock pots of food, Lagunitas IPA, an open pit fire, and a warming tent! 

It was really, really nice.

Good food, good friends, chilly weather.
Rick asked me, "What do think it will take for Army to make it to a New Year's Day bowl?"

"I don't think they can," I replied.  "Not enough strength-of-schedule.  They have a win over Temple, and that's a quality win because it looks like Temple has finally got its shit together, but neither Buffalo nor EMU have turned it around, unfortunately, and Duke may yet miss a bowl game, too.  Even Air Force has kind of gone in the tank.  That doesn't help our cause."

"So that's it?"

"If they beat Duke by 20 and North Texas by the same, they might make it into the Top 25.  Short of that, though, I don't think there are a lot of believers in the national football media."

To be fair, they got closer than I thought they would get.  Really, they were a false start away from a legitimate statement game.  With all of the upset-losses this weekend, it'll be interesting to see how some of the national rankings shake out.

Sally and I started for the stadium a little before 11:30, worked our way around to the back side, and went in through Gate 4.  From there, it was really easy to get to our seats, so we may have to do that again.  The security line was long, but it moved quickly, and we made it in seconds before the Parachute Team jumped from 5000 feet.

I'll bet it was cold coming out of the aircraft!

A couple of the cadets struggled with the wind, but this one hit the bulls eye.
Mule rider
The offense got stuffed on 4th-and-2 to start the game, but after that, I thought they played pretty well.  CB Elijah Riley had a great game.  An interception and a couple of sacks.  FB Andy Davidson also had a really good game.  His quickness to the hole made him the most effective fullback, I thought, and he also got the blocked punt.  When Army went up 21-3, I was thinking that they might actually beat Duke by 20 and get ranked after all.

Davidson was my offensive player of the game.  He had 10 carries for 64 yards (6.4 ypc) and a critical special teams play.  FB Darnell Woolfolk had 16 carries for 51 yards (3.2 ypc).  He had a touchdown and got a few critical first downs late, but with Duke's size advantage, he never quite got to running downhill the way we've seen a few times this season.  QB Ahmad Bradshaw had 20 carries for 96 yards (4.8 ypc) and a touchdown, and he had the one critical completion to SB Kell Walker for 42 yards.  

Still, the offense ran for a total of just 226 yards, and save for that last 10 minute clock-killing drive, I though Duke's defense played really, really well.  With the possible exception of Bradshaw's touchdown run, Duke contested every single yard that the Army offense gained yesterday.

For what it's worth, I thought Duke's offense was at its best using a power-running look with Daniel Jones.  But they got away from it quite a bit, and towards the end of the game, the Army defense was really keying on Jones personally, and they had a lot of trouble moving the ball after that.  Jones is a fine passer when he has time, but Army had 4 sacks yesterday plus an interception and a fumble recovery.  It's hard to sustain offense that way.

I also thought the refs called a lot of ticky-tacky penalties.  They called several really iffy Pass Interference penalties on Army yesterday and one truly egregious Taunting penalty after an Army defensive back knocked down a pass in the first quarter.  Several of those extended Duke drives.  But Army got the same calls when it was on offense, so...  I mean, I think it was even, but if you remember last year's Heart of Dallas Bowl, well, these were definitely not SEC refs.  

Did they think a fight was gonna break out?  Between Army and Duke?  Really?

Honestly, it was a little weird, and at times, unnecessary.  But like Duke, Army got a couple of critical, drive-extending calls, especially when they got behind the chains.

Bradshaw gets them lined up. 
Was hoping to catch a touchdown, but this play didn't really go anywhere.
The Corps of Cadets
Army takes on North Texas next week, and it is going to be the polar opposite of this game.  The Mean Green don't necessarily play a lot of defense, but they have a very potent offense behind QB Mason Fine and a strong power running game.  It should be a terrific contest, but it's on the BeIN Sports Network, alas, which means we're once again stuck with sad Donovan McNabb on color commentary.


Go Army!  Beat North Texas!!! 

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