Army 0-1

Monday, September 3, 2018

On Saturday the Army football team traveled to Durham and lost to the Duke Blue Devils 34-14.

This one may have been more competitive if Army didn't drop 5 fumbles (losing 2 of  5), but there were some big problems with the team's execution that facilitated a road loss. On a significant percentage of Army's offensive plays you could see self inflicted errors, penalties that made for tough situations, missed assignments, or poor play calling.

It was strange seeing the Army team without a whole lot of polish to their game. Inexperience seemed to be a factor. There were penalties for movement on the line which we haven't seen much of in the last two years. There were missed tackles and missed blocks and even some of the schemes looked rusty against Duke.

 Give Duke a ton of credit, they have done well against the option in the last few years. The Blue Devils plugged up the middle, bottling up Army's fullbacks for 46 yards. On offense they were able to sustain significant pressure, even while experiencing some hiccups of their own early in the game.
There were times where I couldn't tell whether First-year starter Kelvin Hopkins was running a designed QB keeper down the line or running veer and making a read on the DE. Either way Duke generated constant backfield pressure at the end of the line and really put Army's rushing attack into a phone booth.

By the 2nd Quarter, Duke had settled in to their schemes and looked a lot more comfortable, particularly on offense. Both teams experienced adversity and, time and again, by luck or by skill, Duke solved the problem and moved the football, while Army had a difficult time generating good fortune.

One thing Army excelled at last year was seizing the day through their physical play and mental preparation. That same resilience wasn't apparent Saturday. There were mistakes and adversity, just as in any game, but Army's response was at best inconsistent and overall fell flat during the game's key moments. It seemed as if segments of the team realized that the game was out of reach at key points of the contest. That's just what it looked like to me. I am willing to bet that no one on the team actually thought that Duke's 10 or 17 point lead was insurmountable, but (again comparing to last year's team) - the 10-3 team was peppered with moments like those, and the 2017 team had the poise to make their own luck. 

Scheme-wise there were some things that didn't work. On defense we saw a couple of schemes that took the linebackers out of the middle - either flat across the line or a designed defensive clearout that left no one home in the event of a run play. Nothing wrong with showing something different on defense, but the one time they tried to drop out - they got zapped by a long run.

A couple of things made this game a little different than Army's recent memorable season openers. Against typical season opening cupcakes Army hasn't needed to go beyond page 4 of their playbook. This year Army showed a jaw-dropping number of plays in their first game. Pass plays, multiple formations, base offense plays, misdirection plays working off those base offensive plays.
If I recall, last year playing Fordham Army put up 64 points and ran something like a 4 play playbook. As the schedule played out - the team ventured deeper into their playlist making for a team that was hard to prepare for week-to-week. It was like they always had something else cooking for the next week.

I want to be clear here, because it may seem like a complaint that Army showed plays that, last year, we didn't see until game 5. This is a coaching staff who are proven champions and have shown that they are capable of coaching winning teams. On Friday, Army's opening night playbook consisted of  16 different run plays - 17 if you saw the Hopkins veer keeper as a designed QB run. The team featured three quarterbacks, multiple formations and a series of pass plays featuring play action, shotgun and unbalanced formations and experimenting with Kell Walker split out wide.

To me, the complexity Army showed on offense coupled with a full season's crop of self inflicted errors made me think that the team had focused on learning the variety of the playbook without mastering the foundation tactics on proverbial playbook pages 1 through 4. The team came in and it looked to me like they were not ready to run 16 plays out of multiple formations. Add in the mixed bag of pass plays and it's clear to see that Army had too many goods to deliver in one night.

That is only focusing on the offense. The defense experienced their own long stretches where they simply couldn't do anything to stop the Blue Devils.

It's tough to play Duke in the season opener. With Army's record in season openers it would seem natural to put a 1-AA team in the opening spot. I know it's tough to schedule out a season as an independent, and Army will have plenty of bites of the cupcake this year, but I think some of the flow is taken from the season when you have to dig 16 and 20 pages deep into the playbook in the first game. I'm definitely not used to seeing Army lose the first game of the year.

It really disturbs me when Duke football looks good.

Army/Duke story, stats, highlights and replay.




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