Quick Thoughts: Army Gets Too Cute & Loses the Liberty Bowl
Well friends, it’s been a great season in spite of today’s outcome. We got a win over Navy, and we got a win over Air Force to bring home the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy. We finished 9-3 overall. That’s all good. This year’s Army Team fielded a huge number of young, talented players, so much so that I can’t really remember another time when the future looked brighter for the program as a whole. I also really thought Army was gonna win this bowl game heading into halftime up four points off a long, grinding drive.
Alas, sometimes life just doesn’t bounce your way.
Fought until the very end.
— Army Football (@ArmyWP_Football) January 1, 2021
Pondering that Ending
Honestly, I really don’t know what to think about the last ten minutes or so of this game. As they have all season, Army’s defense came up big. But the offense just couldn’t move the ball consistently without a real threat from the option pitch, and unfortunately, West Virginia sniffed out the reality that starting QB Tyhier Tyler wasn’t gonna pitch or throw the ball under any circumstances midway through the 3rd quarter. Even so, Army put together a few killer long drives off their staple Midline plays early, and they stuffed the Mountaineers’ running game repeatedly. For a while, it looked like they might make it work despite everything. But they just couldn’t run inside with enough consistency down the stretch, and for whatever reason, the coaching staff chose not to play the quarterback who was having the most success outside the tackle box. I don’t know how to explain that, but we all saw it, maddening though it was.
Honestly, it’s hard to argue that Army deserved to win overall. They forced a couple of key turnovers early against West Virginia QB Jarret Doege, but once WVU made the switch under center, the Mountaineers’ offense settled. Even then, the Black Knights had every chance, but they just couldn’t seem to make the right moves down the stretch. They finally put QB Christian Anderson into the game down five with about five minutes left to play, and Anderson moved the ball well by distributing it to his playmakers and hitting one clutch pass to TE Chris Cameron. But then they got cute, pulled Anderson, and watched helplessly as the offense stalled in exactly the same ways it had stalled on the three previous drives.
The Black Knights finished with 182 yards rushing on 3.1 yards/carry, went 5/13 on 3rd downs, and just 1/3 on 4th downs. They held the ball for not quite 34:00 minutes total time-of-possession. They were good — even great — in spots, but overall, this wasn’t the epic performance they needed to get it done against a smart, athletic team that had long since decided not to beat itself.
Kudos to West Virginia for showing up and legitimately wanting to play.
To be fair, Army missed a lot of starters. I’m not sure how much that really affected them, but it couldn’t possibly have helped. It’s hard to replace a guy like LB Jon Rhattigan, a second-team All-American, in the middle of your defense. He was just one of many.
Junior linebacker Arik Smith was named #ArmyFootball defensive MVP for the Liberty Bowl. Smith made team-high 7 tackles.
📸 Army Athletics pic.twitter.com/AuckLtol1m
— Sal Interdonato (@salinterdonato) January 1, 2021
Even so, it’s not like the Black Knights’ defense was the reason they couldn’t get a first down in the 4th quarter. These guys had every chance. However, this was a game where they really needed to stretch the field using the entire playbook, and personnel-wise, it felt like they really just wanted to run Quarterback Power at a pair of All-American defensive tackles. That’s a great move if you can get away with it, but most people don’t try it because it doesn’t usually work. Hell, just saying it out loud sounds kind of silly.
So. I know someday the Army team is going to get that elusive statement victory over a storied Power 5 opponent, but at least this week, the Mountaineers played intelligent, aggressive football. This ensured that they weren’t the ones to give us our eventual keynote win. We’ve seen plenty of teams self-destruct in the face of Army’s slow-death rushing attack, but to their credit, WVU never folded. I didn’t like it, but I did admire their tenacity.
2020 Army West Point Football
• CIC Champions
• BEAT navy
• BEAT air force
• 9 wins
• Bowl bid
• Winningest Sr. class in Army history
• Undefeated at Michie Stadium
• Leadership, respect & love that few have ever seen
— Matt Drinkall (@DrinkallCoach) January 1, 2021
Looking Forward to 2021
It’s a new year, and here we are, coming off what was actually a pretty spectacular season. In time, I’m sure we’ll celebrate all the triumphs and tribulations of what has really been a great campaign overall.
Thank you 2020. See y’all in 2021.✌🏾 pic.twitter.com/9CCtG47T9B
— Anthony Adkins (@yeah_antt) January 1, 2021
Right now, however, I still find last night’s loss damned frustrating.
Honestly, I’m glad I don’t have to sit in that locker room and stew on this one for the next six months. Personally, I’ve lost any number of close races where I felt like I left it all out there, and when you come up short like that after having bought in all the way… That’s not a feeling I’d wish on anyone. It always left me burning with a kind of furious, obsessive passion that in retrospect felt like a kind of mental illness.
This Army team has one Hell of a lot of talent, and I do believe they’ll come back in 2021 as hungry and as highly motivated as ever. I guess we’ll see, but I personally would find this one hard to live with.
Not tolerating no slander about my coaches or teammates 💯 Time to get back to work #DefendTheCIC
— T2 (@TyhierT2) January 1, 2021
With all of that said, we here at As For Football have had a great year! I’d like to close out this final piece with a shout-out to the guys who’ve supported our little operation through the highest highs and the lowest lows, the AFF Firstie Club. Guys, your insight and enthusiasm have added immeasurably to the experience of my personal fandom. The Firstie Club itself has become a super-fun part of game day. We’re all die-hards, but man, sometimes it is a little easier to die-hard together.
I love you guys. Happy New Year! Here’s to a great one in 2021.
Happy new year to everyone. Except for Air Force, West Virginia, and Daniel Jones.
— Brave Old Army Blog (@BraveOlArmyBlog) January 1, 2021
Go Army! Beat Navy!!!
Cover image via @ArmyWP_Football.