Any win is a great win, but this particular win felt a lot tougher and more panic-inducing than a lot of Army fans were maybe expecting this week. That might be the fault of unrealistic expectations set up by yours truly. You look at the final stats in this game, and it’s not like they were wholly different from what we were projecting coming in. The only real difference was that we saw Army play most of its starters all four quarters.
The Black Knights finished with 419 yards of total offense and 377 yards rushing on 6.4 yards/carry. They earned 20 first downs, gave up less than 100 yards passing and less than 300 yards of total offense, and won time-of-possession by almost 6 minutes. The Army defense finished with 4 sacks — including two sack-fumbles — plus 9 tackles-for-loss, and 2 interceptions. In fact, LB Andre Carter personally finished with *3* sacks, enough to make him Army’s new all-time single-season sack leader with three games left to play.
We saw all of that, plus the outcome of the game itself was never in doubt.
But. It felt like Army struggled at times against one of the worst teams in all of FBS college football, and on Senior Day no less. Army dressed a ton of players for this game who wound up sitting on the sidelines. This was a 16-point win, but it also felt like a struggle, fairly or unfairly. All other factors aside, Army didn’t play anything like flawless football.
And yet, if you win an FBS college football game by 16 points, at the end of the day, it’s tough to say that it wasn’t a great win. It’s hard to win in college football. This was a would-be trap game against a struggling program as we look ahead to a monster match-up next week at Liberty. Through the middle two quarters of the game, it felt like maybe Army was about to fall into the trap. But they still won by two scores, and save a pair of gruesome injuries, that’s all we could ask.
The Black Knights started off hot. They took a 16-3 lead at the beginning of the second quarter off a long option pitch play to SB Tyrell Robinson and a sack-fumble recovery deep in Army territory that set up a 10-play, 52-yard touchdown drive. However, they struggled to get seperation on the scoreboard after that. Their fourth drive of the game saw a turnover on downs when Riley couldn’t quite turn the corner on a pitch play on 4th-and-2, and then the Black Knights went to the air, first in two-minute offense at the end of the half to net a field goal and later in the 3rd quarter when they were again looking for that elusive separation on the scoreboard.
and… HE’S GONE 👋👋👋pic.twitter.com/NDt6t0XFq1— Army Football (@ArmyWP_Football) November 20, 2021
Alas, Army’s passing game was just not on point yesterday. QB Christian Anderson finished just 2/12 through the air for a whopping 42 yards, plus he took a sack. Maybe it was the newly chilly weather, or maybe the team was just a little off overall, but for whatever reason, a few receivers dropped catchable balls, and Anderson himself was consistently off-target with his throws, even when his receivers were wide open. Army has been very efficient through the air this season, but they weren’t in this particular game, and it cost them. UMass scored 14 points from the end of the 2nd quarter to the beginning of the 4th, eventually bringing them to within just two of Army on the scoreboard. That made it 19-17 at the start of the 4th quarter with the margin owing solely to Head Coach Jeff Monken’s unaccountable decision to go for two twice early in the game, though the Army Team converted both attempts.
Army quit screwing around and started running with authority in the 4th quarter. They put up 138 yards rushing and 14 points in that final period on 18 plays, mostly via the Fullback Dive. Honestly, it looked like the Black Knights were a little shocked to look up and realize that UMass was making it an actual game of it. Once they saw that they needed to get serious, well, then they dropped the hammer and smoked the Minutemen straight up.
Like I said, a win is a win.
TT shows off his wheels— Army Football (@ArmyWP_Football) November 20, 2021
Give UMass credit. They did a great job getting the ball to RB Ellis Merriweather in space. We said before the game that Merriweather was a good player, and he proved it yesterday with 17 carries for 110 yards (6.5 yards/carry). He’s been playing like that all season, but today the Minutemen also managed to get the ball to some other backs, finishing with 199 rushing yards and a touchdown on just 39 carries (5.1 yards/carry). That’s a lot more than Army wanted to give up on the ground, especially to read-option and misdirection running plays.
UMass ran something like a multi-quarterback or wildcat-heavy system, alternating between drop-back passing and misdirection running, and it seemed like the scheme switches challenged Army’s defense quite a bit. Freshman QB Garrett Dzuro finished just 7/13 passing for all of 78 yards with a touchdown plus 2 interceptions, but read-option keepers got the Black Knights several times, and that set up trap plays and outside runs to Merriweather. This plus one deep pass completion plus one ugly touchdown throw super-high all the way back across the field — that probably should have been picked off — kept UMass in the game at the point when Army was struggling to finish drives.
The Black Knights went just 6/15 on 3rd downs and just 3/6 on 4th downs, and this as much as anything explains why the game got as close as it did. Had they hit just one of those big passing plays, that would have completely changed the game’s complexion. Since they missed almost all of them, however, we got a little wackiness, especially through the 3rd quarter.
This was the last home game of the season and thus the last big tailgate for the Class of 1995. As I noted in Friday’s Keys to Victory, I decided to give a toast to mark the occasion. I’ll spare you the actual video but the toast as intended went something like this:
“I would like to make a toast: to the Army Football team and to this august institution, West Point, home of the finest friends that I have ever had. Neither of these institutions are as great as we at times might idealize them to be. But like the country they represent, they aspire to a set of higher ideals even when they fall short. This is why I love this place and all of you. Without Army Football, we would not have a reason to come together like this. I’ve enjoyed Hell out of this season, so thank you very much. Here’s a toast!”
So yeah, I probably should have written that down. But it was awesome catching up with old friends one more time.
Next Up: Liberty
The good news is that despite some flaws in the passing game, Army got a win when they needed one. The bad news is that they now travel to Liberty to face a team that runs the same kinds of offensive plays that gave them so many fits just yesterday. And folks, Liberty is way, way better than UMass.
The Black Knights will need to tighten up against the read-option and run with much more authority between the tackles next week if they want to head into Army-Navy on a winning note and leave open the possibility of a 10-win season.
It should be a good game.
Go Army! Beat Liberty!!!*Cover image via @ArmyWP_Football.