The Army Black Knights learned where they stood this past weekend. The Cincinnati Bearcats aren’t a college football superpower or a flourishing juggernaut, but they are a solid team, and they showed Army where it didn’t quite measure up.
Cincinnati had the athletes and the defensive scheme needed to contain the Army offense. The Bearcats’ offense wasn’t especially impressive, but Army still did very well to limit UC to 24 points. That kind of performance from Army’s defense will win a lot of games. In truth, Army hasn’t played a bad game yet in 2020 on the defensive side of the ball. There isn’t a whole lot more Jeff Monken can ask.
Entering this weekend’s upcoming game with Abilene Christian, Army’s focus has to be on the team’s other two units.
1 – Airtight special teams
Army’s defense made a goal-line fourth-down stand against Cincinnati this past weekend, following a blocked punt which set up the Bearcats in great position. As Army moves forward with its season, a simple and necessary theme should be to avoid putting its high-quality defense in highly vulnerable situations such as that one. Avoiding punt protection breakdowns and other special teams mistakes must acquire a greater level of urgency in Army’s locker room. Assignment football, tending to details – this is where Army should be strong. The pandemic offseason, and all the limitations it involved in preparation and teaching, certainly seems to have affected special teams in a very negative way. There were lots of punt-protection breakdowns throughout college football this past weekend. Army was part of that reality. The Black Knights have to clean that up against Abilene Christian and maintain a higher standard for the rest of the year.
2 – Turnovers
We don’t need to spend a ton of time on this point, but its importance makes this a necessary game key. The Army offense simply isn’t good enough to beat quality opponents when it turns the ball over multiple times. If fixing the special teams (particularly punt protection) is a habit Army needs to establish, so is the need to avoid giving away the ball. Army needs to get into the pattern of playing very clean offensive football. Let’s see if the Black Knights can reestablish that on the first Saturday of October.
3 – Dropback passing
Army trailed for nearly all of the Cincinnati game, and it was playing catch-up in the fourth quarter, which meant that quarterback Christian Anderson had to throw a lot of passes, 21 to be specific.
Of course Army will focus on reestablishing its ground game against Abilene Christian, and to be honest, we could see a game against the Wildcats in which Army doesn’t throw a single pass. The Black Knights shouldn’t need to throw a pass to win. However, the fact that Anderson threw 21 passes a week earlier means that he has a lot of game film to study in relation to his passing game and how he surveys the field as a passer. It is probably in Army’s best interests to make sure Anderson throws a few passes in this game – certainly not 21, but at least six to eight passes – to make sure his passing skills can be developed. Giving Anderson enough practice as a dropback passer could come in handy against Air Force and Navy. Keeping his skills sharp ought to be one of the points of focus for the coaching staff.