Well folks, that might’ve been the best I’ve ever seen Army’s defense play. Unfortunately, it came against a team that itself played even stouter on defense, and the result was a frustrating loss — albeit to one of the very best teams in all of college football. What stinks is that this loss brought back memories of last year’s offensive struggles, and yeah, that might not be fair all things considered. Even so, it was still extremely tough to watch. The Black Knights were just one play away throughout most of this game, but they never quite made that play.
Look, I can accept that my team dropped a game on the road against the #13 team in the nation. Army played competitively, and if they’ve got some obvious issues to correct this week, especially in the offense, they at least acquitted themselves with honor. The Black Knights couldn’t get consistent push at the point of attack, and worse, whenever they did make something happen on that side of the ball, a penalty brought it back with interest pretty much every time. They never found any rhythm. Sure, there were mistakes, but also, I thought Cincinnati’s D-Line was clearly the best unit on the field.
I mean, that’s life. Sometimes the other man is just the better player.
What stinks is that with the loss of the BYU game coupled to the reemergence of the Big 10, the Mountain West, and the Pac-12, these Black Knights now face an extremely tough fight to stay relevant in the national college football conversation. And why? Power 5 teams routinely struggle to run the ball against Cincinnati. However, Army’s defense looks truly elite, and I think their offense will probably get itself back on track. But with the way the pandemic schedule has resolved itself, it’ll be hard for these guys to finish ranked and stay in the national media window… pretty much no matter what else happens.
Make no mistake, even in defeat this Army team showed real flashes of brilliance yesterday. They held one of the best rushing offenses in college football to just 69 yards on 35 carries (2.0 yards/carry) and 14 total first downs. They forced two turnovers, scored on defense, and stopped the Bearcats cold at the 1-yard line going in. They even got QB Desmond Ridder rattled, especially early. Ridder wound up with 258 yards passing, and that was the difference in the ballgame, but he still went just 18/33 overall (54.5%).
Nobody’s bragging about completing 54% of their passes.
— Army Football (@ArmyWP_Football) September 26, 2020
Jabari Moore is the first Army player to have a INT, forced fumble and a fumble recovery in a single game since Jaylon McClinton did it against Liberty in 2018.
— Army Football (@ArmyWP_Football) September 26, 2020
Really, Army played an outstanding ballgame yesterday in a lot of facets. If we focus on the positive, there is a lot here to like. The key is to build on the positive and not get off-track with what could have been.
We still have a lot of football left to play.
Alas, I don’t think the unforced bye week helped this new offense’s chemistry. Committing 10 penalties repeatedly killed their momentum, and as I said, Cincinnati’s interior D-Line was clearly superior to Army’s interior O-Line. QB Christian Anderson carried 22 times yesterday for 81 yards (3.7 yards/carry), with a couple of real miracles in long-yardage situations. SB Artice Hobbs had 5 carries for 42 yards (8.4 yards/carry), mostly on Rocket Sweeps, though he also had one beautiful run on an interior trap up the middle. SB Tyrell Robinson had 1 for 7 that I think also came on a Sweep. Overall, pretty much all of Army success came outside or off-tackle against Cincinnati’s vaunted secondary. But it wasn’t consistent success because Army never managed to establish the Fullback Dive. FBs Sandon McCoy and Jakobi Buchanan collectively carried 11 times for 22 yards (2 yards/carry). With the success of their interior defense, Cincinnati was able to pursue hard to the edges, forcing almost as many negative plays outside as Army had positive plays.
The refs right now pic.twitter.com/Cs1zRhBXDY
— As For Football (@asforfootball) September 26, 2020
We said that Army needed to block well on the perimeter to have a chance to win this game, and for the most part, they did. However, this offense always struggles when they can’t consistently get yards up the middle, and that was as true yesterday as ever.
A lot of folks didn’t like the passing, but let’s be honest — they had to do it. Otherwise the Bearcats were gonna load the box and shut the triple-option down completely. They had to pass to back that secondary up a little. Also, Army needed its receivers to catch the balls that came their way, especially early in the game. QB Christian Anderson went 9/24 passing overall, and some of that was on him certainly, but he also had a few receivers drop some balls that they needed to catch. In general, I thought the quick outs were a good idea, especially since Cincinnati was doing such a good job stringing out the pitch plays. Those served to keep Army’s slotbacks involved. However, none of that made up for the lack of push in the middle of the field.
That was your ballgame.
Jeff Monken putting Cincinnati loss in perspective: "There's nothing wrong with our football team. They beat us. Let's remember they beat 22 teams over last 2 years. They won lot of football games. We are not the only one. We're getting in line with whole bunch of other people."
— Sal Interdonato (@salinterdonato) September 27, 2020
So. Army hosts FCS Abilene Christian next week, followed by the Citadel, followed by a road trip to 3-0 UT-San Antonio, followed by the FCS Mercer Bears at Michie Stadium. It looks like bowl eligibility requirements are gonna get waived this year, but even if they’re not, the Black Knight already have two wins in hand, and because of the pandemic, they’ll be able to count at least two FCS wins as well. If UTSA keeps winning, then maybe that’s a game that draws a little national interest. From where we are now, however, it’s a little more likely that the Black Knights fly under the radar until the Air Force game.
Anyway, Army’s bowl tie-in is with the Independence Bowl, and that looks good. As I said, though, finishing in the Top 25 is now a hard uphill climb given the remainder of the schedule. We’ll see what Air Force and Navy look like next week, but the As For Football crew thinks the Black Knights are about to go on a run. Hopefully, America will be watching.