It’s Championship Weekend, and that means there’s just one more week until Army-Navy. Let’s go!
🔊 Live The Legend. pic.twitter.com/JnkKidEdAr
— U.S. Military Academy at West Point (@WestPoint_USMA) December 4, 2019
1. John Loose, the Safeties, and the Defense
I heard from a lot of folks about the defense right after the loss to Hawaii. People were upset, and some were very upset specifically at DC John Loose. I get why that is, but I’m not convinced that the problems were Loose’s fault.
For most of the Hawaii game, Loose had the defense playing back, trying to keep Hawaii’s talented offense from beating them over the top. This would’ve worked fine against a less talented quarterback running a less balanced offense, but Hawaii’s quarterbacks threw quick outs repeatedly, dinking-and-dunking their way all over the field while still taking occasional downfield shots. Worse, with the safeties playing so far off the ball, Hawaii’s running game was good for 5+ yards on every carry, and perhaps more importantly, the Black Knights’ delayed blitzes were coming from so far back that they weren’t getting home — at all.
It wasn’t a great defensive performance.
Things seemed to change late in the game, when — not coincidentally — S Jaylon McClinton came in. Suddenly, Army was able to play up closer to the line-of-scrimmage, stopping the run and getting more pressure on MacDonald.
For better or worse, the safety position in Army’s scheme must be incredibly tough to learn. Sure, the staff would love to just plug in the Next Man Up when someone goes down, but losing both starting safeties has really hurt this Army defense a lot more than we might like to admit.
We’ve seen this before. In 2014, the first year for both HC Jeff Monken and S Rhyan England, Army’s defense was terrible. England started almost all year as a plebe, and he was… at best adequate. By mid-2015, though, things began to change. By 2016, Army’s defense was actively good, and by 2017, they would finish as one of the best defenses in the nation.
Except for at Tulane when England was out. S James Gibson had to fill in, and he played okay, but the team lost on a handful of busted coverage plays that mostly owed to safeties being out of position. The Green Wave ran up something like 190 yards on three plays. Other than that, they barely did anything. It was enough to decide the contest, though.
I was concerned when England graduated, but Gibson slid into the role and led the secondary to legitimate greatness in 2018. He was an extremely talented and durable athlete, and that helped quite a bit. In fact, Army played really well on defense all year… except that one time against Miami (Ohio). Not coincidentally, that was the only game Gibson missed. It was also the only game all season when a team moved the chains consistently with wheel routes out of the backfield. Again, this was not a coincidence.
Army’s scheme puts a lot of decision-making responsibility at the safety position. Jaylon McClinton was supposed to be the guy back there making those calls and the plays associated with them. Maybe we would’ve been okay had Cam Jones been able to stay healthy, but as it is, Army is struggling to play the kind of aggressive, blitzing defense that gets to quarterbacks when McClinton is not on the field. However, this is not McClinton’s fault. It’s been a systemic issue throughout the Monken Era.
Understand what makes West Point unique from Kwabena Bonsu’s perspective and then join the fight and help us #sowtheseeds in support of his relentless pursuit of excellence.
— Army Football (@ArmyWP_Football) December 4, 2019
2. Malcolm Perry can pass?
It’s complicated. On the season, Navy QB Malcolm Perry has gone 43/79 passing (54.4%) for 1,027 yards and 6 touchdowns with just 3 interceptions. He’s also taken a whopping 13 sacks, which means he’s getting sacked on almost 15% of his drop-backs.
Perry has certainly improved as a passer, but he has nowhere near enough accuracy to do what MacDonald did last week. That kind of repeated accuracy in the short passing game is what makes quarterbacks truly elite. Tom Brady and Drew Brees can both do it. Cole MacDonald can apparently do it. By comparison, a guy like Lamar Jackson has occasionally struggled with possession passing, hence the critiques of him saying he’s “not a pocket passer”. This actually has nothing to do with the pocket and everything to do with his ability to throw quick outs. Jackson has been astronomically better this year in every facet of his game, but some of those critiques remain based on his overall body of work.
Perry has been better, too, but as a passer, he reminds me a lot of Vince Young. He’s fine on the deep ball when his receivers have time to adjust, and he gets away with throwing a lot of those kinds of deep shots because defenses have to play up close to the line-of-scrimmage to counter his running threat. Like Young, Perry is a truly elite runner. However, both guys have mediocre throwing mechanics, which means their receivers frequently have to go up for balls thrown well over their heads, especially on quick sideline routes.
Navy’s receivers made at least five amazing catches against Southern Methodist. As much as anything, then, it’s the improvement of Navy’s receivers that’s been the secret to the Mids’ passing game revival.
3. Speed at the Quarterback Position
As Army’s offense was struggling to run the ball inside, the Black Knights turned to QB Jabari Laws in order to get more speed on the edges. We saw this again in the second half against Hawaii. When Christian Anderson came in, his speed getting outside made a huge difference.
QB Kelvin Hopkins runs hard inside, and when he’s healthy, he has more than enough speed to get the job done outside as well. His throwing also helped quite a bit last year. However, the current Army team is a little more reliant on speed at the quarterback position than past teams were, and it’s unclear how this is going to play out in the last game of the season — especially if Anderson can’t go because of that shot he took to the hip last weekend.
I know you guys don’t like hearing that injuries are the story of the season, but you lose three quarterbacks and most of your offensive line, and it’s going to take a toll. Nothing you can do about it. Have we forgotten 2015? We thought we’d have A.J. Schurr or maybe Ahmad Bradshaw as a yearling, and by Navy, we were down to plebe Chris Carter and a bunch of his classmates. We’d had no consistent whatsoever. However, Schurr and the actual starters almost beat Penn State when they all finally got on the field together.
Instead, that team won two games.
It was impressive enough that the Black Knights got it together with their reserve quarterback and their reserve offensive line, but we got all the way down to our fourth string on Saturday. That’s tough for anybody. Seriously, am I the only one who saw what happened to Alabama when they lost their starting quarterback? I mean, yeah, QB Mac Jones threw for 300+ yards, but he also threw two pick-sixes!
Injuries matter, folks. They disrupt team chemistry, and even with just five wins, Army’s done well at times just to stay productive. Having some speed at the quarterback position has really helped a lot with that.
— Coy Wire (@CoyWire) December 1, 2019
4. Best Conference Championships
They’re all great, of course, but my Top 5 are as follows.
5. Pac-12 Championship: #6 Utah at #14 Oregon
I want to see Utah win, and then I want to see them get a bid to the College Football Playoff (CFP). This shouldn’t be complicated. Just take the top four conference champions. That makes it easy and removes half the strength-of-schedule arguments at least.
How can a team claim to be the best in the nation if they aren’t the best in their conference?
4. Big 12 Championship: #9 Baylor at #7 Oklahoma
I don’t have a legit rooting interest, but I love watching QB Jalen Hurts and Oklahoma’s offense. On the other hand, it would be really interesting if a bunch of higher-ranked teams lost and Baylor got a shot at the CFP.
3. Mountain West Championship: Hawaii at #20 Boise State
Hawaii has a chance. I don’t know if it’s a great chance, but they have really cut down on the turnovers in the latter half of the season, and they’ve always been able to move the ball on offense. I’m totally rooting for the Rainbows.
2. Conference USA Championship: Alabama-Birmingham at Florida Atlantic
Forget rankings. This is just a fascinating match-up. When they’re on, no team is more interesting than FAU. It’s a soap opera/reality TV show that also plays good football. I love it!
1. SEC Championship: #4 Georgia at #2 LSU
Chapter 4: One Of Us pic.twitter.com/30UEpXeIzj
— LSU Football (@LSUfootball) December 4, 2019
My picks for the CFP: Ohio State, LSU, Clemson, Utah.
I’ll take OSU vs LSU in the final, and LSU to win the title.
That’s all folks.
Go Army! Beat Navy!!!
* Cover image via West Point Flickr