I attended Army’s Black and Gold Game this past Friday night. Friends, this thing was a Hell of a lot of fun.
Like a lot of folks, I wanted to see how Army’s new offense would look. It was weird, though, because this was a scrimmage — Army vs. Army. So for as much as we wanted to see the new offense succeed, it’s not like we necessarily wanted to watch Army’s defense give up a ton of rushing yards.
It’s worth noting, too, that the rules of the scrimmage very much dictated the kinds of plays that could be successful. Quarterbacks wore red non-contact jerseys and were called down as soon the defense touched them. I remember watching QB Ahmad Bradshaw scrimmage with this ruleset, and given that his best thing was running between the tackles, those rules affected him quite a bit. We saw the same thing here, especially in the first half.
With this in mind, we saw probably 300% more throwing on Friday than we’ll see this fall. That’s pretty typical for a Black and Gold Game.
Black vs. Gold
The Black Knights divided into two teams for this game, Black and Gold, but they played three quarterbacks — presumed starter Bryson Daily for Black against rising yearling Dewayne Coleman for Gold with rising firstie Alex Meredith switching from Black to Gold at halftime. We never saw rising yearling Zach Mundell, which was a shame because the staff has talked about him quite a bit in the last few months.
It’s amazing how young the Black Knights’ quarterback room has gotten since last season. Where once we had a logjam of experienced would-be starters, now we’ve got a rising cow with limited gameday experience, a scout team veteran, and a bunch of untested rising yearlings. At least one of these soon-to-be yearlings is liable to start a meaningful game in 2023. This is not necessarily a crisis, but the staff will no doubt be looking to get some of these guys game reps as soon as they can.
In fact, Army rested a ton of experienced guys for the scrimmage, both because of injuries and because I don’t think the coaching staff was necessarily looking to see known quantities perform in expected ways. The few starters that did play were split evenly between the two teams with scout team players filling in all over the place, and everybody getting a look. That meant that this wasn’t a crisp evening of precision football; it was a chance for the staff to evaluate guys in the base offense and defense who don’t normally get those kinds of looks. It therefore mattered a lot, for example, that QB Dewayne Coleman had WR Isaiah Alston catching his passes. Slot Receiver Noah Short, who famously blocked a punt against Navy this past season, also looked really good in this scrimmage.
Offensive Overview: The New Triple Option
Though the Flexbone Triple-Option was infinitely complex in execution, it was conceptually simple to understand for casual fans. The Black Knights ran a wide variety of plays and variations, but the basic idea — Fullback Dive, Quarterback Keep, Option Pitch — remained straightforward for viewers at home. This new version retains those same fundamental components, but it’s now easier to see how some of the various plays differ from one another both in their goals and their executions.
In their base offense, Army lined up in the shotgun with a single running back, a slot receiver, and a wide receiver. At the snap, the quarterback had a give read to the running back. This is the Dive read, which can then become an inside zone run or maybe a trap. If the quarterback keeps, he’ll pivot and — usually — get out of the pocket to set up either a run/pass option on the perimeter or a pitch to the wide receiver. He can also pivot back, setting up either a Quarterback Draw or downfield throw.
That pivot is important because it’s supposed to freeze the defense for at least a heartbeat. This ought to create throwing lanes down the field. We saw Coleman throw a 20-yard touchdown off this concept during the scrimmage, and it looked amazing. I felt for the defense because I thought for sure that Coleman was going to take off when he pivoted, and when he pivoted back, I thought he was headed upfield for a Quarterback Draw. Instead, he threw, finding a wide open receiver.
One thing that stood out Friday was the extent to which this offense is about getting out to the perimeter. Quarterbacks run to the perimeter, they pitch to the perimeter, and they throw quick outs to the perimeter, and all of this sets up both inside runs and quick throws over the middle to the slot receivers. After years of watching Fullback Dive/Midline Option, it was weird to see the Black Knights work the outside like that. I don’t doubt that it can be effective, though, so long as D-Lines can’t get immediate penetration and blow up the mesh point. Certainly, I expect we’ll see opposing linebackers running all over the place for four full quarters.
I should note, too, that there’s a whole crackback blocking scheme associated with this perimeter run/pass option idea, but I forgot to pay attention to it as I was watching on Friday night. You know me; I was just watching the ball. So you’ll have to wait for James’s article this summer to see how that all works.
Final note: Army was in the shotgun all night long, even in short yardage situations. This was very weird. I’d been assuming that they’d keep some under center plays for short yardage considering how successful that’s been historically, but it looks like that’s not what’s going to happen.
This is maybe the most concerning thing I saw on Friday, but as they say, you have to trust the process. That’s gonna be a strange adjustment.
The Black coaching staff and the Gold coaching staff each called the game very differently. Gold mostly kept Coleman in the pocket, alternating between inside handoffs and quick throws, mostly to the perimeter. Given the rules of the scrimmage, this was by far the more successful execution. By contrast, Black had QB Bryson Daily sprinting out of the pocket for what in a real game would have been a series of long runs up the sideline. Instead, though, Daily kept getting touched down on what looked like incidental contact. This was frustrating, but we already know that Daily can run the rock outside; watching him do what we already know he can do was not necessarily the purpose of this scrimmage.
Black adjusted in the second half, and Daily promptly tore the Gold defense apart with his arm. Black went into halftime down 20-7, having scored their only points off a blocked punt. They wound up winning the scrimmage 31-30.
It’s good that the Black staff was able to adjust to what was and wasn’t working, but to be clear, I expect their initial look — with Daily either handing off or sprinting out to the perimeter on damn-near every play — to be much more of what we’ll actually see this fall.
Top shots from an entertaining Spring Game at Michie Stadium under the lights. #GoArmy— Army Football (@ArmyWP_Football) April 22, 2023
Like I said, this new offense was a lot of fun to watch in action. I should confess, though, that I forgot to notice what the tight ends were doing during the scrimmage, which was a bad beat because I expect they’ll be a big part of the game plans this fall.
That was dumb, folks.
Let me know in the comments below if you’ve got any questions.