Service Academy Football Update: Week 10

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It will not give the Army Black Knights much solace to be told that their 38-12 loss to the Tulane Green Wave was the closest 26-point loss ever seen. It’s really rather absurd – bordering on impossible – that Army was 26 points worse than Tulane.

NOTE: The Navy-USF game has been postponed.

Hardly anything about Saturday’s game suggested the gulf between these teams was that large.

Yardage was relatively similar. Tulane didn’t even get 400 yards. The Green Wave did not bust loose in any profound sense on offense. They were relatively contained. Army had a five-minute time-of-possession advantage. The game was 14-12 at halftime, with Army dominating the second quarter and pitching a shutout in that 15-minute portion of Saturday’s contest in New Orleans.

In many ways, one blocked extra point – one moment – created a chain reaction of events which caused this game to unravel and get away from the Black Knights’ grasp. Is that a hyperbolic claim? It might seem like it, but it’s not.

Let’s connect the dots from that one blocked PAT after Army’s first touchdown. That miss led Army to go for two after its second touchdown, trailing 14-12. When the Black Knights missed that conversion, Tulane was then able to build a 24-12 lead instead of a 24-14 advantage.

When Army got to the Tulane 10 in the fourth quarter, facing fourth down and eight, the Black Knights had to go for the touchdown instead of settling for a field goal. Trailing by 12, a field goal would have done them absolutely no good – it would have left them trailing by nine points, which is still a two-score deficit.

Had Army been down 24-14, or even 24-13, it probably would have kicked a field goal and trailed by only one score.

Because the Black Knights trailed 24-12, however, they had to go for it on an obvious passing down. This Army team doesn’t pass the ball well. The fourth-down attempt failed and Tulane retained a 12-point lead.

Army, desperate to catch up, had to go for it several minutes later when possessing the ball deep in its own territory. That attempt – also on an obvious passing down – didn’t come close to succeeding. Tulane took over in Army’s red zone. The 24-12 lead – which should have been (would have been) 24-17 if Army had trailed 24-14 and then kicked a field goal – ballooned to 31-12. Then came the viral moment in which Army’s cross-field lateral on a kickoff return was intercepted by Tulane for another tack-on score.

That one blocked PAT did create a prolonged series of events in which Army was inconvenienced just enough that it had to take risks in situations it was not particularly equipped to conquer. What seemed like a seven- or (at worst) 10-point game in terms of the level of competitiveness between the two teams turned into a 26-point final margin. It didn’t reflect how contentious this game was.

If there is a moral to take from this story, it is that Army – who learned how small its margins for error were against Cincinnati, and which was lucky it played a weak Citadel offense in its 14-9 escape – didn’t really learn from those two games. Army knows that if it gives away possessions and points, a modestly good team (better than the Citadel) can make its life miserable. Army promptly squandered a lot of possessions against Tulane, and the Green Wave seized their opportunity.

Army won’t have the juggernaut offense it fielded in 2018. This is a different team with less firepower. The 2020 Black Knights must win by not giving anything away. This team is less inclined to dominate; the path to victory begins with eliminating gift-wrapped donations to opponents.

Army made a lot of donations to Tulane. If the Black Knights are going to learn the right lessons, this has to be the last week of 2020 in which Army donates points and possessions to the other side.

Army will try to fix its flaws this upcoming Saturday against a solid but not imposing Georgia Southern team. Navy, after two weekends without games, will try to handle a reeling South Florida squad which just got crushed by Houston. Air Force, after two straight weeks without games, will take on a winless New Mexico team this upcoming Friday night.