***** NCAA Football Preview - Army Black Knights *****
By Gregg Xenakes, Associate College Football Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
2012 SEASON IN REVIEW: Last season was yet another disappointing one for the
Black Knights as they won a total of just two games in 12 opportunities. The
campaign kicked off with a lopsided 42-7 setback at San Diego State, and
continued to spiral out of control from there with three more defeats in the
month of September.
The first victory of 2012 came in a stunner versus Boston College, a 34-31
triumph thanks to a game-winning touchdown run by quarterback Trent Steelman
with just 45 seconds remaining in regulation. Steelman carried Army that day
with 141 yards and three rushing scores, although the team did have a total of
three players who gained at least 100 yards as the group generated a hefty 516
yards on the ground overall. Unfortunately, the excitement of the BC victory
was short-lived because there were setbacks against Kent State, Eastern
Michigan and Ball State during the rest of October.
There was one more high point for the Knights from West Point, a 41-21 romp
over Air Force in the first step towards winning the coveted Commander-in-
Chief's Trophy. Army had a real chance at bringing the trophy back to New York
for the first time since 1996, but the squad squandered a golden opportunity
when it allowed Navy to score a late touchdown and claim a 17-13 decision in
their annual showdown in early December.
Army continued to dominate opponents on the ground last season, racking up a
staggering 369.8 ypg running the ball, the top mark among all of Football Bowl
Subdivision programs. However, with the squad keeping the ball on the ground
as much as it did, it should come as little surprise that Army was the weakest
passing team in the country with only 66.4 ypg. Then again, all of that is by
design and the Black Knights wouldn't have it any other way.
However, what the team does need to put more emphasis into is stopping
opponents from running the ball with reckless abandon as well. Foes generated
232.3 ypg rushing a year ago and you'd think that the defense would be better
prepared for that, given that they have to plan for it in practice against
their own offense every week, but that's just not the case.
With little push at the line of scrimmage, the undersized Knights logged only
4.83 tackles for loss per outing (94th), and 1.25 sacks (106th).
OFFENSE: First and foremost, the Black Knights need to find a replacement for
Steelman at the quarterback position. The new starter has to be someone who is
accustomed to running the type of running attack Army generates, but also
comfortable in dropping back from time to time to actually pass the ball.
A.J. Schurr figures to be part of the transition, particularly since he
appeared in five games a year ago and actually led the squad with two passing
touchdowns. Angel Santiago has been on the team a year longer than Schurr and
is the only returning player to have started a game at quarterback for the
squad, getting the call to battle Rutgers back in 2011.
"It's an ongoing fight," head coach Rich Ellerson says. "Both A.J. and Angel
made some remarkable plays during the course of spring practice. Both of them
improved with respect to the football and the ball security part of the
precision game. We were a little concerned in the early parts of the spring,
but we finished feeling good about both those guys."
Leading the charge for the triple option will be Raymond Maples and Larry
Dixon. The former enters his final campaign at West Point already sixth on the
school's all-time rushing list with 2,489 yards, after leading the way among
running backs with 1,215 yards a season ago. Maples scored only two times on
223 carries in 2012, compared to 17 TDs for Steelman, so expect that number to
grow moving forward.
Dixon accounted for 839 yards and six touchdowns as an integral part of an
Army stable of ball carriers who set a program record with 4,438 yards on the
ground in 12 games.
Giving the nearly non-existent passing attack some legitimacy, Chevaughn
Lawrence comes back at wide receiver after catching 21 balls for 357 yards,
but what he would really like is to get into the end zone this time around.
DEFENSE: Unfortunately, for a unit that had so many problems slowing down the
competition a year ago, the defense for the Black Knights boasts just four
returning starters. One of those would be Geoffery Bacon who led
the team in total tackles in 2012 with 136 stops, 48 more than his closest
However, while Bacon is capable of cooking up big hits, he is making a
position change for the 2013 campaign, moving from linebacker to free safety,
but don't think for a moment that his instincts won't kick in from time to
time and he won't be roaming in familiar territory.
The departure of Nate Combs at linebacker, and the move by Bacon, means
someone else will have to fill the gaps and make up for the 12 tackles for
loss and six sacks Combs produced to lead the squad, not to mention his three
forced fumbles. The coaching staff hopes Alex Meier can handle the brighter
spotlight after making 71 stops a year ago, but he is also coming back from a
new injury that might make him a bit more cautious.
"The secondary is a concern, not because we don't have guys back, but because
those guys weren't able to take reps this spring," Ellerson said.
That lack of practice time could require the players in the secondary to learn
on the job, but assume that Bacon will be comfortable in his new role and
Chris Carnegie, who is a returning starter at cornerback, will try their best
to keep opponents from exploiting them.
Along the defensive line, there is just a single returning starter in Robert
Kough. As good as Kough can be, he finished with 42 total stops and was second
on the unit with 9.5 TFL, he cannot take on entire teams all by himself. There
are some players who were part-time starters (Clayton Keller and Michael
Ugenyi) a year ago and will be expected to be on the field even more moving
SPECIAL TEAMS: Another area that needs to be revamped by the Black Knights is
the kicking game. Gone are kicker Eric Osteen and punter Chris Boldt, the
former hitting on 3-of-4 field goal attempts a season ago and the latter
averaging 38.1 yards per punt.
While Osteen handled kickoffs exclusively for the Knights, he did leave room
for Daniel Grochowski to take on more of the field goal kicking in 2012.
Grochowski connected on 10-of-16 attempts, his longest coming from 46 yards
out, but he also had two kicks blocked.
Second on the depth chart behind Boldt at punter, Alex Tardieu figures to be
the logical option this year, even though he didn't see any game action in
The job of punt returner is still unfilled, but after averaging just 4.8 yards
per return a season ago, ranking them 101st in the nation, the Knights can put
almost anyone back there and it will be an improvement.
OUTLOOK: Installing a new quarterback is never easy for a team and it will be
that much harder for a program like Army that runs an unusual offense
(compared to the rest of the FBS). The transition will be tough enough, but
not as tough as playing eight straight weeks out of the gate.
The Knights kick off against Morgan State at home and then move to Ball
State the first week of September. The Academy will have its hands full with
matchups versus Stanford, Wake Forest and high-powered Louisiana Tech. The
team finishes out the string with meetings at Boston College and Temple,
interrupted by a home matchup with Eastern Michigan.
However, after the battle with the Owls on Oct. 19, Army has four more
opponents, but just as many open dates on a schedule that stretches into the
middle of December, culminating with the celebrated battle against Navy. The
other half of the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy takes place at Air Force the
first week of November, which means the Knights have to be ready for some
potential weather issues in Colorado.
Overall, the Knights will be challenged to match or even exceed their win
total from a year ago, but it can be done.
08/21 13:27:19 ET