Sunday, December 10, 2017

Quick Thoughts: Army-Navy

That was some game, folks.  Maybe not Army's best game of the season, but the defense did just enough to keep the team in it, and then the offense -- finally -- managed to string some drives together in the second half to not only put points on the board but also rest that defense for the final push.  Then mistakes caught up to the Midshipmen for a change, and that was your ballgame.

I wouldn't say that the game went as advertised, exactly, but if you read this week's preview, I think a lot of this game came as expected.

Played out as expected: 

1. Navy's offense IS its quarterback. That's been true all season, and it was most certainly true yesterday. QB Malcolm Perry had 30 carries for 250 yards. QB Zack Abey completed one pass for 2 yards. As a team, the entire Midshipmen offense gained just 296 yards.  Perry carried 65% of Navy's snaps himself and gained 84.5% of the team's total yardage. 

That's good if you're the Mids because they came out with a look for which Army was unprepared, and they drove the length of the field twice, putting 10 points on the board, before Army adjusted. But it's bad because it put the entire game in the hands of a relatively inexperienced sophomore quarterback, and he made mistakes on that final drive. Also, once Army started keying on Perry, Navy's offense was much, much less effective. 

2. We said that Perry would be the game's most important x-factor.  He most certainly was.

3. We said that Army needed to be able to cover downfield to prevent any big passing plays. We actually saw this as well, though it didn't play out quite as favorably for Army as we might've hoped. 

Perry dropped back to pass just a couple of times and either didn't see anyone or didn't have enough protection to get good looks down the field.  However, he was almost always able to scramble out of those busted plays and make something happen for his team. This has been an issue for Army all season.

4.  Army's kicking game.  Ugh.  I mean, my God, what a disaster.  If Army makes that field goal early in the 4th quarter, this is a 4-point game heading into Navy's final drive, and I think we see a lot more desperation from the Navy offense.

Being an Army fan is never easy.  It is a constant test of faith and resiliency.  I can only imagine what it was like on the field.

Some things that I did not see coming:

1.   The snow and its effects on the game.  Save for Army's first drive and most but not all of its last two, it looked to me like the team was having trouble keeping its footing.  I was excited when I heard that this was gonna be a snow game because I thought that was on-theme with Army's uniforms.  In reality, though, the Black Knights struggled to keep their cleats clean a lot more than did the Midshipmen.

For example, SB John Trainor slips here twice.  It's still an outstanding run, but the guys chasing him don't seem to be having the same problem, and that first slip is probably the only thing that kept him out of the end zone.

SB Kell Walker also slipped a couple of times with the ball in his hands.  I don't know that those runs were necessarily going anywhere regardless, but especially on the end around, he never gets up to speed, and he's never able to plant, cut, or lower his shoulder.  Bradshaw wasn't cutting very effectively, either, especially early, and it hurt his game quite a bit.

2.  Coach N. surprised me by starting Perry at quarterback.  It's hard to say that this was a mistake considering the way that the game unfolded, but let's stop and realize that Perry wasn't really running Navy's offense in any meaningful way.  He was basically just keeping the ball himself on every play, trying to use his superior athleticism to make plays.

Contrast that to what we used to see from Keenan Reynolds.  Reynolds would have won yesterday's game, particularly once he realized that Army was keying on him personally.  But Perry's not there yet, and I question whether or not he can get big enough to take the pounding that it would take for him to get enough game experience at quarterback to run the offense correctly without losing his breakaway speed.

As I've said, I don't love Zack Abey's game.  Clearly, Coach N. doesn't either.  However, these guys barely even attempted to get anyone else involved, and I think that was a mistake once Army's defense had made its adjustments.

Perry is elusive, and he is very fast.  He was not, however, getting a lot of yards after contact.  Once Army started keeping contain, they started putting hits on him.  As the game wore on, Perry's best runs came on busted plays, when Army broke contain because something unexpected happened.  That actually happened a lot.  And yeah, it's exciting to watch Perry running around out there, but all that play outside of structure made Navy's offensive line nervous, and that's when you saw the mistakes that ultimately cost the Mids the game.

3.  Finally, Navy's interior D-Line played much, much better than I expected.  They whipped Army's vaunted O-Line for much of the game.  I think at least part of this was on the cleats, honestly, because the issue cleared up as the field itself got chewed up--and maybe a bit less snowy.  Regardless, it took a downfield pass to FB Calen Holt to open things up, and even then, it's not like the O-Line's push was consistent.

Army finally made it work, gaining 221 yards on 49 attempts (4.5 yards/play) and 15 first downs to Navy's 12.  Still, the Middie defense was much more effective than I thought they would be.

A win is a win, especially when it's played in the snow.  Army finishes the regular season 9-3, wins the Commander-in-Chief's trophy for the first time in a very long time, and sets up a potential date with destiny in Houston against San Diego State.  That is an outstanding bowl match-up for this Army team, but it may also feature some tough sledding against yet another good rushing defense.

I confess that I am getting really curious to see how this team will shake out next season as well.  Army's senior class has provided the program with a lot of leadership, overseeing a turnaround for the ages.  But Jeff Monken has been recruiting increasingly big, athletic classes over the past few years, such that I think this year's Army-Navy game might well be the last in a while in which the Mids have an obvious size and speed advantage.

For now, it's time to bask in glory, let the cadets get back to Term End Exams, and get prepped for the premier of Star Wars: The Last Jedi.  We will, of course, have a preview of the bowl game here on the blog, but for this week, I'll be switching it up, trying to do some different things, though they may interest only me.

This has been a great season, folks.  Thanks for sharing it with me.

Go Army!  Beat San Diego State!!!


  1. No, Dan, thanks for sharing it with US. You've been a great dispassionate chronicler who has immensely improved my understand of the team.