Victory over Northwestern.
Army entered the game against the Big Ten conference Northwestern Wildcats with a 0-2 record and in need of a win. While Northwestern star quarterback Dan Persa did not play, the Wildcats entered the game undefeated behind backup quarterback Kain Colter. Defensive coordinators Payam Saadat and Chris Smeland put together a tremendous game plan. They realized Army was overmatched physically up front heading into the game so they decided to use the athleticism of their flex front to their advantage. They blitzed the A-gaps repeatedly upsetting Northwestern's blocking scheme. In the third quarter Northwestern ran 15 plays and gained zero net yards. Army opened the game with a methodical, 18-play drive for a touchdown. The Black Knights offense dominated the time of possession as they held the ball for 40:19. By the end of the season Northwestern would qualify for the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas. Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter would defeat Nebraska, the No. 10 ranked team in the nation at the time, on the road later in the year. Army's 21-14 victory at Michie Stadium was Army's first win and easily its most impressive victory of the season.
Maples becomes the man
After watching Raymond Maples dominate at USMAPS playing a fullback and following a stellar high school career, I predicted Raymond had a chance to be best Army running back in a long time. As a plebe Maples had a solid year but he sprained his ankle against Hawaii on his first carry of his career. He later broke his hand and never ran with the same power or explosiveness he demonstrated at the prep school. After a quiet first two games this season, Maples impressed with 95 yards in the victory against Northwestern. He then ran for over 100 yards in five of the next six games before missing the Rutgers game with a concussion. Maples has excellent feet, reads blocking well and runs to daylight. He is not a true burner but is able to burst into the open field. He can break tackles and has a good forward body lean to pick up extra yards. Raymond proved to be Army's best offensive threat and ran for 1,066 yards, averaged 7.3 yards per carry and scored four touchdowns. Maples became only the third sophomore and just the 12th player in Army's history to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season.
Triumph over Tulane
Following a blowout road loss to Ball State, the Black Knights returned home and gave up an opening touchdown drive to the Tulane Green Wave. Before fans had a chance to say here we go again, Army scored 45 unanswered points in front of a homecoming crowd of 31,235 at Michie Stadium in a tremendous all round performance. Quarterback Trent Steelman rushed for two touchdowns and threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to Davyd Brooks. Raymond Maples ran for 141 yards and scored a touchdown. It was Army's largest margin of victory over a Division I opponent since beating Boston College 49-7 in 1995.
The Best Rushing Offense
When the Black Knights hired Rich Ellerson the goal was to be once again a productive rushing offense. In his first season at West Point, Army scored just 13 rushing touchdowns. This year they produced 35 rushing touchdowns. The Black Knights led the nation in rushing for the first time since 1998. The 2011 team averaged over 346 yards per game as they ran for a school record 4,158 yards. It was the first time in school history that the team exceeded 4,000 rushing yards in a single season. What was impressive about this accomplishment is that Army achieved this milestone despite so many injuries to many key starters. Army quarterback Trent Steelman missed nearly four full games and missed time in three others. The offensive line suffered a season ending injury to guard Joe Bailey and shuffled multiple starters at center and tackle. No offensive linemen started every game yet the Black Knights never skipped a beat as the rushed for over 228 yards in every game.
Shutout in the snow
It looked like a white Christmas as the game was played in a driving snow storm. Army ran for a season-high 514 yards, its highest total since going for 545 yards versus Lafayette on Sept. 13, 1997. Army dominated the Fordham defense as Raymond Maples ran for a career high 159 yards on just 10 carries. The Black Knights' defense limited Fordham to 86 yards of total offense and just six first downs all day. Army linebacker Nate Combs made the ESPN highlights that night, after scoring a touchdown on a 52-yard fumble return, when he made like a bobsled sliding in the end zone..
The Play of the Plebes
Army gave their fans plenty to hope for better times ahead with the play of the freshman class. Ryan Powis won the starting job at center early in the season and looks to be the best Army center since Pete Bier. Larry Dixon unseated Jared Hassin at fullback. Dixon finished the year with 87 carries for 542 yards, averaged 6.2 yards per carry and scored five touchdowns. Mike linebacker Geoffrey Bacon was one of Army best defenders and has sideline to sideline range. Hayden Pierce started from opening day till being injured against Air Force. He demonstrated excellent instincts and was a good open field tackler. Defensive tackle Jacob Drozd won the starting job late in the year and despite being undersized helped improved the run defense. Quarterback Angel Santiago will enter this spring as Steelman's backup and showed that he has speed and quickness. Running backs Terry Baggett, Trenton Turrentine and Stephen Fraser all have promise.
Plebe Colin Linkul demonstrated quickness as a pass rusher off the edge Lamar Johnson Harris started most of the games at cornerback. In all Army played 19 freshmen this season. That represented the highest total in the nation during the 2011 season. Ten of those19 freshmen started at least one game this season. That could be the silver lining in this disappointing season. The biggest leap in most college players performance is usually between their freshman and sophomore years.