An Opportunity Passes by Army

Tashard Choice (AP Photo/Gregory Smith)

Army's dreams of upsetting an ACC team vanished in the third quarter of Saturday's game at Georgia Tech. But before the Rambling Wreck pulled away, it was a second-quarter play that hurt the Black Knights more than anything else. On one ill-fated red zone snap, Army's hopes of victory quite literally faded.

Everything was proceeding according to plan for Stan Brock's ballclub in the middle stages of the second quarter on a sparkling Saturday afternoon in Atlanta. After allowing an alarming number of downfield passes to a mediocre Tech offense, the Brave Old Army Team buckled down and crept within a field goal of the Yellow Jackets. Trailing 10-7, the Black Knights moved inside Tech's 10-yard line. With star running back Tashard Choice knocked out of the game for the home team, Army had a glorious chance to steal momentum, the lead, and eventually the game. After being stopped on first and goal and then on second and goal, quarterback Carson Williams gathered his offense in preparation for the biggest third down of the contest. A good play and a good read would give the West Pointers a legitimate chance of staying competitive deep into the fourth quarter, if not winning the game outright. When facing a wounded opponent, you have to deliver thunderous punches, and Army had an opportunity to do just that.

It was at this moment that "the big fade" occurred for Army's overall fortunes.

Williams threw a fade pass to the left side of the end zone. The fade is a risky play in the sense that it relies on the receiver to out-jump the defender, but for a growing and learning quarterback such as Williams, it's a safe throw because it's supposed to involve a simple decision-making process. You see a receiver in isolation against a cornerback, and you throw the ball in the air. Not too complicated. When pressed for a big play inside the red zone, the fade route is a fairly common play called by offensive coordinators around the country. One can't fault the play selection from Army's offensive braintrust.

There was just one problem with this play, however: Williams--perhaps too intent on wanting to throw the fade--lofted his pass into double coverage. Given that the side of the end zone acted as something of a third defender, one could say that Army's quarterback challenged triple coverage on the play. This is not the kind of scenario in which you throw a fade. With single coverage, the fade is an excellent read and a smart decision. With double coverage from the defense, the fade is a terrible read and a poor decision.

Williams' fade pass was, of course, intercepted, and after two and a half additional quarters of football, it became painfully apparent that the Black Knights' last, best and only chance to take the lead over Georgia Tech came on that ill-fated fade. Army got the play call it needed, but the good read was lacking. In money situations, you need all facets of an equation to work in your favor; getting merely half of the formula right isn't good enough.

Perhaps the outcome of this game would have been different if the big play of the second half--a controversial Georgia Tech interception that very possibly could have been an Army reception--had been reviewed and then overturned by replay. (Tech's Jahi Word-Daniels seemed to wrestle the ball away from a Black Knight receiver only after hitting the ground. The principle of "simultaneous possession going to the receiver" could have been invoked, thereby enabling Army to keep possession of the ball. The play might have been an interception, but the bottom line is that the episode demanded more replay scrutiny than it ultimately received.) But that controversy aside, the fact still remains that Army had Tech on the ropes in the second quarter, only to allow the Yellow Jackets to rise from the canvas. Once the breaks went against Army in the second half, the Black Knights didn't have any margin for error. Despite playing an opponent whose offense had lost its meal-ticket workhorse, the boys from West Point couldn't take advantage.

Carson Williams and the passing game are better than they were in September, but the fact remains that Stan Brock's air attack is still not making game-changing plays in crucial situations. Kevin Dunn tied the Tulane game with a Hail Mary, but football teams won't compile winning seasons on a wing and a prayer. You have to execute basic plays and make sound reads in major moments. Third and goal from the 8 in a tight game qualifies as a major moment.

Army is still battling and scrapping. This team isn't about to fade away anytime soon. But this team's fortunes won't improve until fade routes--and other plays, of course--are carried out with greater precision at crunch time.

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