Thursday, May 30, 2024

Quick Thoughts: One Too Many Mistakes in the Rain

The Black Knights had the ball in plus territory with a four-point lead and about 5:40 left to play in a game in which the team’s offense had arrived lifeless and seemingly stillborn. The Corps and what few wet, bedraggled fans remained in the Michie Stadium stands came alive with excitement. Despite the elements and an almost overwhelming size difference at the line of scrimmage, Army seemed set to complete the comeback and win an extremely tough game in some of the most trying circumstances imaginable. 

Army QB Bryson Daily had willed the team back to life, putting the offense on his back and turning the game’s momentum almost single-handedly. Football is a team sport, so it’s not like Daily did it all himself, but… well, he did most of it. The first half had seen the Black Knights gain a net 59 yards of total offense. They’d gone three-and-out 3 times and been unable to score a touchdown despite getting the ball off an interception at the BC 41 and then moving it deep into the red zone, arriving at 2nd-and-goal from the 6. Now, facing a distinctly makeable 3rd-and-2, Daily had put up some 99 yards rushing by himself on just 14 carries for a net 7.1 yards/carry! He’d also gone 10/11 passing to that point for another 105 yards and a touchdown. He’d personally accounted for four times more offense than the next two leading rushers combined.

Needing just two yards, Daily cut forward and to the left, got the first down, took a hit, and inexplicably lateralled the ball like an old-school Magic Johnson hook-shot to a running back coming free up the sideline. But with his momentum suddenly changed by the tackle’s impact, Daily’s lateral flew forward instead of straight down the line, and although the RB Hayden Reed cruised into the end zone, officials called the play back as an illegal forward pass. Whatever else it was, that lateral in traffic after gaining the first down was a mind-numbingly shocking decision. Officials called the play back, and Army lost both yards and the down. Now facing 4th-and-4, the Black Knights’ ensuing punt went just 14 yards — one of two bad shanks on the day — and that was that.

Boston College completed the comeback. 12 plays, 62 yards, 4:59 off the clock. Final score: BC 27, Army 24.

Thoughts on the Game

Army fans got fully into their feelings after the loss. I don’t agree with those that think the team got out-coached, nor do I think that they necessarily got out-played. They lost by a single play in a game in which they both struggled to find their best stuff and in which they gave up a tremendous amount of size at the line of scrimmage, especially on defense. Take your pick of which play cost them. It was either the dropped tight end pass, the busted forward lateral, either shanked punt, or one of BC QB Thomas Castellanos’s many power runs for a first down on 3rd-and-long.

Despite giving up at least 50 lbs/man along the line of scrimmage, Army’s defense played well enough to win this week. That’s simple reality. I mean, we knew BC was going to score points. They’ve scored on everybody this year, even mighty Florida State. BC’s problems this season haven’t come from a lack of offensive production, they’ve come from mistakes — mostly penalties. But Castellanos has led a successful power running attack all season. And the Eagles have now largely cleaned up their penalty problems. They committed just 5 penalties for negligible yardage in last week’s win over Virginia. This week, they committed just 3 penalties for 25 yards. Had they done the same against FSU, they’d have beaten the Seminoles badly. They moved the ball against FSU whenever they played clean.

Moreover, Army’s defense was on the field for a whopping 70 plays and 34:30 total time-of-possession. That’s gonna happen when your offense does almost nothing for a full half of football. This in a game in which the Black Knights’ defense looked so much smaller than the BC offense that it was like watching a JV team match-up with the varsity for a high school intra school scrimmage — at least until the ball got snapped. Honestly, the defense did well to hold BC to just 4.9 yards/carry on the ground. They forced 3 punts and a turnover on downs when the team really needed it, and they held Castellanos to just 4/9 passing for all of 73 yards with an interception, 2 sacks, and 4 total tackles for loss.

That was enough to win this game.

Unfortunately, Army just doesn’t play well in the rain. At least, they haven’t during the Monken Era. They lost a similarly inexplicable game at home back in 2016 to a North Texas team that they later beat that same year in the First Responders Bowl. They also lost a monsoon game at Duke that same year to then-freshman QB Daniel Jones but would later beat that same team — badly — at Michie Stadium in 2017. They struggled at home against a truly abysmal UTEP Miners team in misty conditions back in 2017 as well.

I’ve been a season ticket holder since 2015, and I can’t remember a time when we got wet and miserable in the stands at Michie but still left happy because Army won. If you can remember a time when Army played well in rainy conditions during the Monken Era, let me know in the comments or on Twitter (@DannoECabeza). This might be a systemic issue overall.

The problem this week was that Army played it way too conservative early. Which makes sense considering the weather but not in context with the flow of the game. Bryson Daily was actually perfect through the air this week. He finished 10/13 passing, but consider his three misses. One bounced off the tight end’s hands as he was walking into the end zone. Two missed in the last 25 seconds of desperation garbage time after BC scored the go ahead touchdown. Other than that, he went 10/10 passing for 105 yards with no sacks and just 1 tackle-for-loss. He was actually perfect through the air this week — in the rain — for 59 minutes and 35 seconds. 

More to the point, Army needs to pass in order to make their new offense work. That’s not a knock, it’s an observation on OC Drew Thatcher’s overall design. The Black Knights are succeeding in getting defenses to bring their safeties down into the box to sell out against the run. When they can also hit a few short to medium passes over the middle or up the sideline, they’re absolutely unstoppable. In fact, Army had the nation’s second-leading offense in terms of production per pass heading into this game because teams are so hyper-committed to stopping this new-look running game. Without those passes, though, this offense has struggled against bigger defenses. Maybe they’ll work that out once they’ve had more time in the new system, but honestly, it’s not really a problem. It’s more of a would-be solution that the team now needs to exploit more consistently.

The Black Knights have to just run their offense and execute regardless of the weather conditions. That’s the reality. When they get too conservative — as they have been wont to do in these rainy, ugly games during the Monken Era — they struggle. That cost them this week, and the Hell of it is that they actually succeeded beyond all expectations once they finally opened things up and just let it rip.

Looking Forward

The Black Knights host a resurgent Troy team this coming Saturday, starting at 3:30 pm on CBS Sports. The good news is that Troy QB Gunnar Watson isn’t nearly the kind of running threat that BC QB Thomas Castellanos was, nor will Troy tower over Army physically the way that Syracuse and Boston College did. I think that might make more of a difference than folks want to admit. The bad news, however, is that Troy is a way better team overall — at least in the context of their particular schedule — and more ominously, long range weather forecasts are already calling for rain.

Can Army win a game in the rain? 

This team’s bowl hopes took a bad hit yesterday, but they still have a chance. However, another loss will turn this into a two-game season. That sucks, too, because there’s a truly great team hiding in there somewhere. They just need to find it and put it on the field for four full quarters.

Cover photo via AFF patron @TwardyMike onTwitter.

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