You could sense something different about this team from the very start of the season. The 2016 edition of Army Football has never been the most precise football team in the history of college sports, but man, they do play with a lot of heart. In the end, this was what mattered.
Some thoughts, in no particular order.
1. "He whom the gods would destroy, they first make proud."
Navy's show of hubris coming into this game was simply overwhelming. We had to listen to a full week's worth of bullshit about the Cotton Bowl and Navy's "unstoppable offense" before they shot it down their legs at home against a Temple team that had already lost in its own building to the Army Black Knights. Navy Athletics made a deliberate decision to de-emphasize the Army-Navy Game in favor of the American Conference and their post-season play, and for that, they got punished Old School. This, by the way, is exactly how Army lost its footing twenty years ago.
So yeah, it was joyous to watch Navy finally catch grief for their acts of folly.
Navy Athletics is all about talking shit. Last year it was Keenan Reynolds and the Heisman. Then he played like crap in the Army-Navy game, almost losing to a 3rd string plebe quarterback who was in his second start ever. This year, it was the Cotton Bowl, and let me tell you, folks, Navy was not quite as close as they would like you to believe. Anybody who was ready for their triple-option gave them the beat-down straight-up.
2. I can't take any more of those turnovers. Eeek! To review:
-- Ahmad Bradshaw threw a terrible pass into double coverage. Navy saw it coming a mile away.
-- Andy Davidson put the ball on the ground via bad exchange. I can't kill him for that, but it was a terrible play in an important spot.
-- Bradshaw bumps his own blocker and puts the ball on the ground on his own 25. Ugh. That one hurt.
-- Davidson gets stripped, allowing Navy to score 17 unanswered points despite its offense doing relatively little all night long.
Save for the turnovers, Army was dominant on both sides of the ball. They owned the first half, putting up more first downs than Navy ran plays. The defense was terrific. They gave up one long run and a few screen passes, but that was pretty much it. Yet, Army let Navy hang around because of sloppy offense.
First, this must be an obvious point of emphasis next year. Second, I won't be surprised if we learn that Davidson has to have shoulder surgery after the season. He ran very hard last night, but the fumbling is a relatively new issue, starting basically around the time he got banged up at Buffalo.
Also, it must be said that Bradshaw and company never lost their composure. True, they should have dominated last night, but after fourteen years, I'll take the win however it comes. It was never going to be easy.
3. Navy had a terrible game plan. You have a 53% completion percentage quarterback and perhaps the best running offensive line in all of college football, and so you open the game by throwing two interceptions in the first half? WHY?!?!?!
That is madness.
First, Abey is a decent short-range passer, and he's got a good screen game, but his downfield throws are even worse than Bradshaw's. I mean, he sucks ass with that long ball. Like, he should never do that again. Accept it and move on. Meanwhile, Navy fullbacks were getting decent push, and except for the one fumble to start the game, I thought they played pretty well. Moreover, FB Chris High came into this game averaging 6.5 yards/carry. Why go away from that?
I get that with Will Worth under center, Navy has an excellent power running game off-tackle. Worth wasn't in the game, however, so now you have to use your best assets to their best abilities... Navy did not do that. At all. Instead, they tried to throw it all over the yard. Okay, their screen game looked good in the 3rd quarter, but once Army (finally) made the adjustment, Navy's offense was--again--dead in the water. Navy ceded the initiative by going away from the fullback dive, and as a result, their sophomore quarterback spent most of the game running for his life. This was sheer stupidity.
4. Army's linebackers... Whew! They are a well-oiled machine. Navy's O-Line is truly exceptional, but they did next to nothing last night. Had Bradshaw not fumbled deep in his own territory to start the second half, this game would not have been particularly close.
Army's really got something on defense. King and Timpf are graduating, but Aukerman is a cow, and Brinson is only a yearling. Aukerman and Brinson both came into their own this season. Army needs to re-load in the middle, but I expect this defense to be a force for years to come.
5. Things look even better for Army on the back end. Safety Xavier Moss is graduating--and he played very well last night and was named Player of the Game--but Rhyan England is a cow, and both starting corners are plebes. Elijah Riley doesn't quite have the same ball-sense that Brandon Jackson had--let's be honest, Jackson was a truly special player--but Riley is good. Army's got some work to do in its secondary over the offseason, but they've also got a good core to build around.
Powerful words from a great woman.— Army WP Football (@ArmyWP_Football) December 11, 2016
Morna Davis, Brandon Jackson's mother, addressed the team following a great night. #Forever28 pic.twitter.com/WkuIVZ1bET
6. Donald Trump telling America, "It's maybe not the greatest football..." was totally uncalled-for.
Yeah, you know, these kids are not headed to the NFL. That is the whole point of this game.
Trump may be the president-elect, but he is still a complete asshole.
7. I'd like to talk a bit more about next season, but now we're on to North Texas and the Heart of Dallas Bowl. I will say that I am beyond pleased to see Army qualify for a bowl outright. I was fine with them backing in via grades, but at 7-5, this team has a real chance to accomplish something. Army hasn't beaten Navy and won a bowl game since 1984 (h/t: Sal Interdonato). I've been an Old Grad for more than twenty years, and even *I* have never seen that happen.
How do you change a program? This is how.
Go Army! Beat North Texas!!!