Everyone knew the emerging storyline about the 2007 edition of the Brave Old Army Team: great defense, precious little offense. And as the timeless football truism says, "You are what you are." Identities don't change overnight on both sides of the ball, especially when the middle third of the season approaches and early-season tendencies solidify into legitimate personality traits for a football club. When September fades and October nears, a gridiron group needs to learn how to make do with what it has.
The young men of West Point earned an A-plus for resourcefulness on Saturday afternoon on the banks of the Hudson River.
Upon returning home after that grueling ACC road swing, it was clear that the Black Knights--battle-tested and newly educated--had found their winning formula for this season. Without having to go up against a coach such as Wake Forest's Jim Grobe, and without having to face a quarterback on the order of Boston College's Matt Ryan, the boys in the black shirts pounced on their opportunity to wreak havoc on defense, while also making some noise on special teams. The Black Knights used their learning experiences in North Carolina and New England to punish a team that lacked the same speed on the edges possessed by Wake and BC. Army's new points of emphasis made all the difference in a victory over Temple that was quite literally a runaway, as Jeremy Trimble could attest.
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If you merely saw the final score, you would have thought that Carson Williams might have turned into Matt Ryan. But no, that wasn't the case. The Black Knights directly scored 21 of their 37 points on either defense or special teams, while setting up three more points on defense as well. A fourth touchdown came when Trimble--the man who met, matched and made the moment in a decisive second half display of gridiron excellence--hauled in a simple flat pass and turned it into 69 yards of magic. When all was said and done, 30 of Army's 37 points came from sources other than sustained touchdown marches by an offensive unit that converted just 3 of 14 third downs. Some would look at that and be frustrated, but when you win--and moreover, when you play to your strengths to get a win--a special feeling of elation has to fill a sideline and lift up a locker room. The way Army won against Temple was perfect, because it's the way this team will need to win for the rest of the season.
Against a much more manageable opponent from a physical standpoint, Army's defense did what it needed to do: force turnovers. The Black Knights were able to get the Owls to cough up the pill on five separate occasions, rendering the Owls' inflated point and yard totals a bit deceiving. Since Army scored so quickly whenever it did score, Temple wound up with a majority of offensive snaps. Despite once again having to carry the load, the West Point defense was more than up to the task.
The other advantage of playing an opponent without the perimeter speed of Wake or Boston College came on special teams. In this third phase of football--the one that separates winners from losers in closely-matched contests--Army played with a sense of urgency that translated into supreme resourcefulness and opportunism. Corey Anderson's 88-yard kickoff return set an early tone that would carry through the rest of the game, and Trimble--with his 85-yard punt return in the second half--gave the Black Knights the lead for good. The template is pretty clear for this team, now and until the Army-Navy Game: avoid mistakes on offense, pounce on turnovers on defense, and exploit every small advantage to generate big plays on special teams. This formula led to 37 points against a manageable and physically modest opponent.
When the Black Knights don't have to play a top 10 team (Boston College is now No. 7 in the United States) or a squad from the middle division of a power conference, they now know they can rely even more on their strengths while masking their weaknesses. They also know they can make huge plays in the kicking game to tilt the competitive balance in their favor.
It's great to see a team learning how to win. Saturday, the West Pointers aced their test with flying colors. The opponent was a bunch of Owls, but Stan Brock's group proved to be the wise ones.