CFN Bowl Analysis ... Armed
Army 16 ... Navy 14
What are we learning from this bowl season? You can never, ever, EVER, turn the ball over. Ever.
SMU has more talent, athleticism, and firepower than Army. The Mustangs won the time of possession battle, the defense did a decent job against the Knight ground game, and the offense outgained Army 413 yards to 229.
The Army attack only went on one really strong drive, and that was in the first quarter. The SMU passing game picked up its pace, Kyle Padron got hot, and the team marched up and down the field without too much of a problem late.
But the turnovers …
SMU dug itself a hole early and ended up -3 in turnover margin. Army has an offense built to grind out the clock and to keep a lead, but it had to hang on for dear life. However, SMU lost this game more than Army won it with all the mistakes and uncharacteristic errors. Along with the turnovers, Matt Szymanski, who hit seven of his ten field goal tries on the year and is considered a decent pro prospect because of his leg, missed two field goals that Army never would've been able to overcome.
But it's not like Army is going to give this one back.
Rich Ellerson has done a phenomenal job of taking a bad program and making it relevant again. The goal is to follow the Navy pattern of success and become a yearly bowl participant, and this win sets the foundation to become a regular in the post-season.
It might not have been pretty, and it might not have been the way the coaches might have liked it, but Army went on the road and beat SMU in a home game. Let this be a lesson to the rest of the bowl teams. It doesn't matter how good you are, you can't screw up and win.
- Conference USA needs to send a big balloon bouquet to Tulsa for the 65 it hung on Hawaii. The league has been AWFUL this bowl season with UTEP, Southern Miss, and East Carolina all losing, but the SMU gaffe was particularly galling. This was a home game against a mediocre Army team, and the Mustangs couldn't get it done.
- SMU QB Kyle Padron has been around long enough to be better. It's time to be more accurate and more consistent. This is his team, and he needs to become the franchise.
- Stephen Anderson is a baller. The Army linebacker manages to get in on every play and he's a difference maker. It's not crazy to call him the best defender of the bowl season so far.
- Trent Steelman needs to be a bit more of a passer. The Ellerson offense only really works when the passing game is a part of the equation, and Steelman simply hasn't shown enough touch this year. Two completions for 30 yards aren't normally going to get it done.
Someday, the cadets will be working for the Secretary of Defense. On this day, they simply made him proud.
On an afternoon when the offense struggled to move the ball and score points, the Army D was up to the challenge. It got a 55-yard fumble return for a touchdown out of Josh McNary to open the scoring and stiffened late after nearly squandering a 16-point lead in the second half. What the Black Knights lacked in sheer athleticism compared to SMU, it was able to make up for with sound fundamentals and a little more want-to. For a program that last won a bowl game when Ronald Reagan was in the White House a quarter-century ago, this is a huge achievement. Obviously, it doesn't impact recruiting, but after living in the shadows of Navy and Air Force, a postseason victory will do wonders for returning players and U.S. soldiers across the globe.
- Can someone explain why June Jones didn't go for two late in the third quarter, when SMU narrowed the Army lead to 16-6? That and the decision to allow Matt Szymanski to try a 47-yarder into the wind on fourth-and-5 were two head-scratchers from a coach who's usually rock solid on game day.
- Yeah, the Army D did a nice job today, but Jones and SMU need to go back to the drawing board in the offseason. The run-and-shoot regressed in 2010, despite boasting ample returning talent, scoring no more than 21 points in six of the last nine games.
By Matt Zemek
Study this contest, game-management scholars. Study what this game means for Army football, too.
First, let's realize how much coaching decided this game. June Jones of SMU not only iced his kicker with 4:10 left in regulation; he forfeited an important poker chip worth 45 seconds. Moreover, Jones wasted a timeout earlier in the fourth quarter with roughly 12 minutes left. On first and 10, Jones called timeout. When a pass-first team like SMU has a first down, it should be able to get 15 yards without batting an eyelash. There are times when a five-yard delay-of-game penalty is preferable to using a timeout; early in the fourth quarter is the point in a game when that piece of football calculus most readily emerges. First and 10 is the down-and-distance situation in which coaches must be attuned to the need to preserve a second-half timeout for the endgame stage. SMU's mismanagement of timeouts not only allowed Army to be more aggressive and varied with its play selection; June Jones's horrible performance on the sidelines applied pressure to everyone on his team. Second-half timeouts are supremely precious, but Jones had no idea how to handle them. Army's staff, led by head coach Rich Ellerson and offensive coordinator Ian Shields, took full advantage. Unlike Mike Smith of the Atlanta Falcons last Monday against the New Orleans Saints, Ellerson and Shields actually coached to win the game. Aggressive men win, timid men lose. The wisdom of the ancients holds true once more.
--Speaking of Army's coaching, the play selection in the final minutes from Shields – coupled with terrific execution from quarterback Trent Steelman – perfectly embody the missing ingredient in Army's arsenal over the past few years. As soon as Army can develop a consistent play-action passing game to supplement the triple option and wing looks the Black Knights use, the world of West Point football will become a brighter place. The addition of a credible passing threat and a bootleg/rollout package will make Army's ground game a million times more effective. With a balanced offense that can hit big plays through the air, Army can finally compete with and take down its Commander-In-Chief's Trophy rivals, Navy and Air Force. That game-sealing play pass will linger through the offseason at Michie Stadium and give a renewed program – blessed with its first winning season in 14 years and its first bowl victory in 25 years – real hope for still more improvement under Ellerson. This is a watershed moment for Army – no, not just the bowl win in what was a true road game, but the ability to win a game with aggressive play selection and, even more particularly, the forward pass.
--Here's the biggest play of the game nobody will talk about: Three snaps before SMU's missed field goal near the four-minute mark of regulation, the Mustangs – who were displaying great patience on offense and were finally avoiding the mistakes that plagued them throughout a nightmarish first half – had a first down at the Army 34. SMU quarterback Kyle Padron, who finally played maturely in the fourth quarter after two and a half largely wretched quarters, hit receiver Keenan Holman with a five-yard throw at the 29. Holman dropped the ball. SMU's patient dink-and-dunk passing game was slowly wearing down Army, but when Holman dropped that first-down ball, the calculus changed and the Black Knights found the opening they needed. The Mustangs didn't need to do anything special as they drove down the field on what turned out to be their final possession; they simply needed to continue to make basic plays. Keenan Holman interrupted his team's steady forward progression, and that's why this game was lost by the home team in Dallas.
--Army's secondary has to be included in this game. Everyone on the Black Knights' back line of defense did a phenomenal job of denying the home-run pass to SMU. Army's co-defensive coordinators, Payam Saadat and Chris Smeland, ate June Jones for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In terms of both coaching and execution, Army's defense owned SMU's offense from start to finish. When SMU thrived, it wasn't as though Jones outsmarted Army; the Mustangs' offensive line merely gave Padron enough time to find a check-down.