After a Donovan Travis interception in the end zone gave the Army offense the ball on their own 20 yard line, the Black Knights marched 78 yards on 17 plays, chewing up almost nine minutes of the first quarter. An Alex Carlton field goal gave Army a 3-0 lead.
The formula worked. Employ the “bend but don’t break” defense, run the ball, control the clock, and come away with points. Mix in a pass here or there to keep the defense honest.
It all went downhill from there.
After Notre Dame knotted the game at 3-3 with 14:50 remaining in the second quarter, an Army three-and-out and a 12 yard punt gave Notre Dame good field position, on the Army 40 yard line.
Notre Dame went to the air, with a 35 yard completion on third and six setting them up on the Army 1 yard line. Robert Hughes punched it in from there, giving Notre Dame a 10-3 lead.
The next few possessions, which proved to be crucial, are where I think the coaching staff for Army faltered.
You have been a running football team the whole season. That is what has gotten you this far, so ride it out. If you are going to get beat, get beat doing what you do best. Run the ball.
Instead Army comes out on first down and throws. Incomplete, putting themselves in a second and long yardage situation. Two running plays did not net the necessary 10 yards, and Army was forced to punt again.
Five plays later, another Notre Dame touchdown was on the board again, 17-3 Irish with 8:01 remaining in the first half.
The team traded punts, then with barely any time remaining the Black Knights found a little success on the ground, picking up a first down before time expired in the second quarter.
Coming out of halftime, down two touchdowns, time to get back to your identity and try to get back in his game. Right?
The team ranked 120th in the country in passing came out gunning.
On first down Jared Hassin picked up 3 yards. Second down and seven yards, time to ride the option and get another solid gain. Or, if you are Army last night, throw for it.
An incomplete pass on second down and an interception returned for a touchdown on third down put the nail in the coffin. A David Ruffer field goal with 5:23 remaining in the third quarter closed out the day’s scoring.
What Went Right: The running game (when they allowed it). Army 3.1 yards per rush. Not setting the world on fire, but against a team like Notre Dame you have to expect that. Just keep pounding the rock. Eventually you will find a seam for a big play. The option was working very well the first drive. Then Army decided to start throwing the ball on the early downs and sabotage their own attack.
What Went Wrong: Play calling. Not to be an armchair coach, but why did Jared Hassin have eight carries in this game? Hassin has been Army’s workhorse all year, and probably the closest thing they have physically to a Notre Dame player other than Stephen Anderson. He averaged 2.9 yards a carry for the game. That’s fine. Give him the ball. He is your best offensive weapon. Use him. And on the first drive of the second half, backs against the wall, when he picks up three yards on first down? Give it to him again. Run the option. Just don’t throw it. There’s a reason you are 120th in the nation in passing.
Play calling was an issue defensively too. Going into the game, I doubt anyone thought it would be a good idea to have the Army defenders in man coverage against the Notre Dame receivers. Well, we sure saw a lot of it last night. I understand you have to play some man to keep the opponent honest. But when you aren’t getting to the quarterback, playing man coverage on superior athletes will be disastrous. And why was there any instance last night where an Army defender was 1-on-1 with Michael Floyd? May as well have handed the Irish 20-plus yards on those plays.
Player of the Game: Notre Dame QB Tommy Rees. Looked good for an 18 year old freshman. Hit the open receivers, did what he needed to do. Moved well in the pocket to avoid the Army pressure.
Final Word: The loss itself doesn’t upset me. Obviously, Notre Dame deserves a lot of credit. I underestimated them. But Army is better than that score. I would not have minded the loss as much if Army had stuck to their guns and done what they are good at. When things get tough, you don’t go to the stuff you don’t practice all the time. Go to what has gotten you this far. Know your identity. Be who you are. If you come up short, at least you got beat at what you do best.
Now, a couple weeks off in preparation for the biggest game of the year, Navy. Army has some work to do before taking on the Midshipmen.
About the Author
Written by Donald Lappe
Senior at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Double Major in Media & Society and United States History. Also writing for TapouT Magazine and MMA Worldwide Magazine.