BOWL-LIKE Atmosphere tonight in El Paso. Truly, it was a great reception. From what I could see the stadium looked packed for a good portion of the game. I can't say enough about UTEP and their support. The fans were there, the administration really dedicated their resources to making this game a spectacle, and it seemed that pretty much everyone was rewarded. Everyone rewarded, that is, except for those Miners players. So great was my experience watching this one online, that I will forever throw my support behind the UTEP miners football program (except in the cases where they may play Army or Pitt). Sure it was 90° and the evening shadows crept onto the field - distinctly different than my recollection of the mid-day Sun Bowl bowl game. Even so, there is no way as an Army fan you can't call this one a Sun Bowl Classic. Well, just one thing was missing...
Really though, such a production. Last week I was wary of the American Sports Network and their online availability, but I found the feed and they didn't at all disappoint. The broadcast team was excitable and fairly knowledgeable about the teams. For one, it made me ponder an ongoing rivalry with UTEP. I feel both teams would be deserving of such an arrangement. Seriously though, how often does Army pack their own house at noon on any given Saturday? West Point Athletics administration and Army fans, it's time to take the UTEP matchup personally.
As for the game - wow. The game was the cherry on top. So many cherries, in fact, that the banana split got lost underneath. To travel home on a Sunday with the win, a healthy lineup, validation of the 3 (plus) years of work you've put into this team and receiving a vote or two in the coaches poll, that makes for a nice little weekend. The 3-0 start will reinforce to the team that they are doing things the right way and will fuel more of the same winning spirit. One can easily see that it is bigger than the offense running and achieving, it's bigger than the yeoman's work being done by the defense. It's complete validation of the decisions made and the moves taken to get to this point. There will be a lot of talk about the potential of this team going forward, and that talk has been earned. The trick for Army is going to be not letting the talk alter the team's focus. I have no doubts about this team and I hope that sort of public sentiment doesn't become a distraction.
The offense got to look at a different defense. The Cadets absolutely dominated the 3-4 Eagle and then worked in Carter, who I will call the backup simply for lack of another term for him. Then by the 4th quarter you get the true backup - 3rd string QB Malik McGue and Malik does more than what was asked by any reasonable expectation. (he's got a nice 529.6 QB rating) You see how it would be easy for us to get ahead of ourselves and look toward prolonged achievement, just considering the things the team has showed through 3 games and considering the personal/emotional investment that Army fans have sunken into recent years. Don't perseverate on it. Army is good. Crack your knuckles and enjoy, because the Cadets are good right now.
So UTEP. I am sure I would have appreciated the game and the reception just the same if UTEP had won the game. I love the Sun Bowl and to see it rocking like that is truly what I am all about. This game will leave a sour taste only if the powers that be don't recognize the game as a great starting point for a rivalry. I likely won't mention it again, but that away game impressed my in almost every aspect. I'll issue the challenge: win or lose, I don't know if West Point athletic department could match the game day experience that Texas Western-El Paso put forth toward this game.
On to the game: UTEP couldn't keep up. Working out of a 3-4 Eagle set they just didn't grasp what they were taking away and what they were receiving in return. With UTEP's offense sputtering, the Miners defense just couldn't handle a little bit of option. You can say "8-9 in the box" all day, just like you can say "crush the fullback every play" but if you come with one scheme, it's going to get exploited. Army was able to utilize a new part of their playbook vs the Eagle defense, but it was A. not at all a challenge and B. again allowed Army to show only what they want to show. There was no need for panic (on Army's part at least). When I look at game tape, I'm going to see Army comfortable against the 3-4 load, with few missed reads in some of the new progressions, but overall: a mess of frustration for the UTEP staff. Sure there are plays you can't run against the 34Eagle, but that's Army's book and it was clear that Army pretty much knew what they would be facing. The Miners brought numbers to the line and the Cadets were able to count, hit their blocks and at the end of the day didn't really show anything we haven't seen in the first two weeks. The 34 Eagle D requires an extra man if you're going to carry the ball inside (in Army's book it's a pulling guard). UTEP hadn't seen Army's remedy for that until Andy Davidson was past anyone who mattered and into the secondary. It is a pretty ideal situation to hit the teeth of your road schedule without showing anything of your playbook. Additionally, I feel that Carter got some needed work (and a passing grade) against a look that maybe he hasn't mastered until today.
So right now through 1/4 of the season Army is schematically way ahead of the game. The defense was outstanding and were the reason why Army's offense spent so much time on the ball. The Army defense was outstanding and the way they get off the field, they should produce some impressive numbers this year even in comparison to Army's NCAA #1 rushing offense. Just look at the ball control stat, 41:40 to 18:20 that is every bit as much the dominance of the defense as it was the will of the offense.
Here's your UTEP/Army story, stats and highlights.
Sunday, September 18, 2016