Confused? Check out the glossary here.
1. If it isn't one thing, it's another
Rich Ellerson has been in charge at Army for four years. He inherited a program that hadn't seen a winning season or a bowl since 1996. Its rival, Navy, had far surpassed it in recent seasons. The Black Knights had put a decent defense on the field in two years (and six wins) under Stan Brock, but its offense was atrocious. He installed an option attack with a freshman quarterback, Trent Steelman, and with each passing year, Army's offense got better. It surged from 116th in Off. F/+ to 74th in 2010, stagnated a bit in 2011, then surged again to 60th in 2012. By the time Steelman finished his eligibility last year, Army was in possession of a decent offense with a truly strong running game.
But after winning seven games in 2010, Army won just five in 2011-12 combined. Why? Because the defense fell off a cliff. The unit ranked 54th in Def. F/+ in 2009, fell to 88th in 2010, and plummeted to 124th, dead last, in 2012. And despite an improved offense, Army fell from 76th in overall F/+ in 2010 to 106th last fall. Its 2-10 record was its worst since the Conference USA days of 2004.
So where does Army go now? Ellerson was able to see his offensive vision come to life with Steelman behind center, but now Steelman's gone, and the defense is undersized and completely ineffective. And if the D manages to improve in 2013, can the offense avoid offsetting it with regression of its own?
2012 Schedule & Results
|Record: 2-10 | Adj. Record: 2-10 | Final F/+ Rk: 106|
|Date||Opponent||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L|
|8-Sep||at San Diego State||7-42||L||22.1 - 37.8||L|
|15-Sep||Northern Illinois||40-41||L||38.9 - 44.3||L|
|22-Sep||at Wake Forest||37-49||L||33.0 - 64.9||L|
|29-Sep||Stony Brook||3-23||L||26.5 - 39.2||L|
|6-Oct||Boston College||34-31||W||38.5 - 42.7||L|
|13-Oct||Kent State||17-31||L||24.3 - 36.7||L|
|20-Oct||at Eastern Michigan||38-48||L||31.0 - 43.3||L|
|27-Oct||Ball State||22-30||L||23.4 - 29.2||L|
|3-Nov||Air Force||41-21||W||27.8 - 24.1||W|
|10-Nov||at Rutgers||7-28||L||30.0 - 29.8||W|
|17-Nov||Temple||32-63||L||34.4 - 62.6||L|
|8-Dec||vs. Navy||13-17||L||22.3 - 26.6||L|
|Points Per Game||25.3||84||37.0||112|
|Adj. Points Per Game||30.0||53||41.3||124|
2. It got better (sort of)
As we'll see below, the defense was an outright horror show in 2012. But it does have one thing going for it: It was quite a bit better for most of the last five games. One data point (the Temple game) skews that, but if you remove that game for a moment, you get this:
Adj. Points Per Game (first 7 games): Opponent 44.1, Army 30.6 (minus-13.5)
Ad. Points Per Game (last 4 games, sans Temple): Opponent 27.4, Army 25.9 (minus-1.5)
The Eastern Michigan game seemed to be a catalyst of sorts. Army allowed an unforgivable 577 yards and 48 points to what was, according to Off. F/+, the No. 105 offense in the country, but it rebounded from that point forward, allowing 413 yards (5.2 per play) to Ball State (49th in Off. F/+), 338 (4.7 per play) to Air Force (82nd), 252 (4.8) to Rutgers (84th), and 297 (4.6) to Navy (87th). Yes, Temple (565 yards, 9.3 per play) destroyed some of that progress, but the trend was a happy one. So that's something.
|Q1 Rk||34||1st Down Rk||32|
|Q2 Rk||77||2nd Down Rk||64|
|Q3 Rk||26||3rd Down Rk||83|
Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|A.J. Schurr||6'0, 185||So.||** (5.3)||8||18||130||44.4%||2||0||1||5.3%||6.8|
|Angel Santiago||5'11, 188||Jr.||** (5.4)|
|Kado Brown||6'0, 180||Fr.||** (5.3)|
3. Rooting for Trent Steelman
Not that this has anything to do with the 2013 team, but let's just say that it's really easy to root for Trent Steelman. He wasn't much of a passer, but the guy could run the option as well as anybody in the country, featured a fantastic first-step burst, and rushed for more than 3,000 yards and 45 touchdowns in his career. For most of his career, he did things like this. But in his final game, he did this. It was gut-wrenching to watch.
Steelman has now graduated, but before he fulfills the rest of his Army commitments, he gets a chance as a slot receiver with the Baltimore Ravens. It's probably fair to say that the vast majority of college football fans will be rooting for him.
4. Moving on
For the first time since 2009, Army will be looking for a new starting quarterback. Both sophomore A.J. Schurr and junior Angel Santiago seemed to pass muster in spring practice. Schurr was the top backup in 2012, while Santiago got decent playing time in 2011, and in limited action, the two have produced stat lines that left something to be desired:
Schurr in 2012: 8-for-18 passing for 130 yards, 6.8 yards per pass attempt, 4.4 yards per carry
Santiago in 2011: 7-for-21 passing for 84 yards, 3.2 yards per pass attempt, 4.0 yards per carry
Schurr was more effective in his opportunities and started with the first-string offense in the 2013 spring game, so he is the odds-on favorite. But whoever wins the job will be following in the footsteps of one of Army's best quarterbacks in recent decades.
|Raymond Maples||RB||6'1, 218||Sr.||** (5.1)||223||1,215||5.4||3.5||2||+7.9|
|Larry Dixon||FB||6'0, 238||Jr.||*** (5.5)||140||839||6.0||6.3||6||+18.3|
|Hayden Tippett||FB||5'11, 225||Sr.||** (5.0)||46||234||5.1||3.5||1||-1.0|
|Trenton Turrentine||RB||5'9, 206||Jr.||** (5.4)||29||177||6.1||3.7||1||+2.3|
|Terry Baggett||RB||6'1, 200||Jr.||** (5.2)||16||138||8.6||5.6||1||+4.7|
|A.J. Schurr||QB||6'0, 185||So.||** (5.3)||11||48||4.4||3.2||0||-1.0|
|Stephen Fraser||RB||5'10, 187||Jr.||** (5.2)||10||40||4.0||3.0||0||+0.1|
|Nehemiah Brown||RB||5'9, 172||Fr.||** (5.3)|
|Chevaughn Lawrence||WR||6'3, 195||Jr.||NR||34||21||357||61.8%||10.5||31.2%||74.2%||9.6||32.0|
|Patrick Laird||WR||6'3, 219||Sr.||NR||32||11||127||34.4%||4.0||29.4%||54.8%||4.1||13.0|
|Raymond Maples||RB||6'1, 218||Sr.||** (5.1)||14||6||108||42.9%||7.7||12.8%||61.5%||8.0||10.6|
|Anthony Stephens||WR||6'2, 194||Sr.||NR||6||2||46||33.3%||7.7||5.5%||50.0%||8.5||4.7|
|Scott Williams||WR||5'8, 165||Sr.||** (5.2)||6||1||8||16.7%||1.3||5.5%||83.3%||1.0||0.8|
|Stephen Fraser||RB||5'10, 187||Jr.||** (5.2)||2||2||40||100.0%||20.0||1.9%||100.0%||12.1||4.1|
|Larry Dixon||FB||6'0, 238||Jr.||*** (5.5)||2||2||20||100.0%||10.0||1.9%||50.0%||10.0||2.0|
|Ejay Tucker||WR||5'11, 204||Sr.||** (5.1)||2||1||18||50.0%||9.0||1.9%||100.0%||5.4||1.8|
|Trenton Turrentine||RB||5'9, 206||Jr.||** (5.4)||1||1||24||100.0%||24.0||1.0%||100.0%||14.5||2.5|
|Hayden Tippett||FB||5'11, 225||Sr.||** (5.0)||1||1||3||100.0%||3.0||1.0%||100.0%||1.8||0.3|
|Billy East||WR||5'10, 185||Fr.||** (5.3)|
|Frank Allen||LG||36 career starts|
|Ryan Powls||C||17 career starts|
|Michael Kime||RT||6'2, 243||Sr.||** (5.2)||13 career starts|
|Stephen Shumaker||RG||6'0, 264||Jr.||NR||12 career starts|
|Ben Jebb||LT||8 career starts|
|Will Wilson||RG||7 career starts|
|Derek Bisgard||LT||4 career starts|
|Zach Reichert||RT||6'2, 250||Sr.||NR||1 career start|
|John Szott||LG||6'3, 280||Sr.||NR|
|Dan Whitaker||RT||6'3, 242||Sr.||NR|
|Nick Bennett||LT||6'1, 238||Jr.||** (5.4)|
|Todd McDonald||C||5'11, 239||Jr.||NR|
|Matt Hugenberg||RG||6'3, 285||So.||** (5.2)|
|Justin Gilbert||RT||6'3, 265||So.||** (5.2)|
|Patrick Joseph||OL||6'3, 285||Fr.||** (5.4)|
5. A legitimately strong run game
If you pound away with the option and run as frequently as Army does, you're going to end up with rushing yards whether or not you're particularly good at it. But it bears mentioning that Army was particularly good at it in 2012. Steelman and fullback Larry Dixon both showed strong explosiveness, while Raymond Maples and Malcolm Brown each took advantage of the opportunities they found on the outside. Plus, they ran behind a line that knew what it was doing. Army had to replace six players with starting experience and headed into 2012 with just 36 career starts up front. But after ranking fifth in Adj. Line Yards in 2011, Army ranked fifth again. Plus, the Black Knights were the best in the country at preventing negative plays on the ground. The backups and first-time starters were upperclassmen who had compiled a bit of experience here and there.
It's the same story in 2013. Of the eight players who finished 2012 with starting experience, five are gone, and Army returns just 26 career starts. But of the nine returnees listed above, four are seniors, and three are juniors. Throw in a pair of interesting sophomores (Matt Hugenberg and Justin Gilbert), both of whom have decent size and started with the first-stringers in the spring game, and you've got a unit that is a little bit less experienced than last year's line, but with a little bit more potential down the road.
(And no, we're not going to spend much time talking about the Army passing game here. It's not very good, but Army never passes. If the Black Knights fall into passing downs, the drive's probably over. But we knew that already.)
|Q1 Rk||124||1st Down Rk||121|
|Q2 Rk||124||2nd Down Rk||123|
|Q3 Rk||107||3rd Down Rk||123|
6. What do you do?
How do you go about fixing a defense that was this bad a year ago? Where do you start? For Ellerson, he didn't do anything drastic. Army has the same co-coordinators it did last year (Payam Saadat and Chris Smeland), and it appears it will be running mostly the same scheme. Steadiness works as often as the "freak out and change everything" approach, but wow, would it be tempting to change everything.
Despite what the stats above suggest, Army was actually pretty good at slicing into the opposing backfield. The Black Knights ranked 42nd in Stuff Rate (negative plays on the ground) and 39th in Adj. Sack Rate. Aggression did good things for them at times. But they pretty much had to be aggressive because if they weren't making a play, they were getting pushed around and dominated. There was, again, improvement at the end of the year, but for the season as a whole, the numbers were atrocious: 124th in Passing S&P+, 123rd in Passing Downs S&P+, 122nd in Standard Downs S&P+, 122nd in Rushing S&P+. Yuck.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Robert Kough||DT||6'3, 239||Jr.||NR||12||32.0||5.2%||9.5||1.5||0||0||0||0|
|Richard Glover||DT||6'0, 247||Jr.||NR||10||18.5||3.0%||7.5||2||0||0||0||1|
|Jarrett Mackey||DE||6'1, 235||Sr.||NR||7||17.0||2.8%||1.5||0||0||0||0||0|
|James Kelly||DE||6'3, 220||Jr.||** (5.4)||11||10.5||1.7%||1.5||0||0||0||1||0|
|Michael Ugenyi||DT||6'3, 257||Jr.||NR||11||10.0||1.6%||0||0||0||0||0||1|
|Holt Zalneraitis||DE||6'2, 224||Sr.||NR||7||8.0||1.3%||1.5||0.5||0||0||0||0|
|Clayton Keller||DE||6'1, 230||Sr||NR||5||6.5||1.1%||3.5||1||0||0||0||0|
|Joe Drummond||DT||6'3, 228||Jr.||NR||10||6.5||1.1%||2||0.5||0||0||0||0|
|T.J. Atimalala||DT||5'11, 260||So.||** (5.3)||9||4.5||0.7%||2||0||0||0||0||0|
|Kyle Maxwell||DE||6'5, 231||Sr.||NR||11||3.5||0.6%||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Dalton Mendenhall||DE||6'3, 225||So.||** (5.3)||12||2.0||0.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Derek Sanchez||DE||6'3, 206||Jr.||** (5.3)||5||1.0||0.2%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Shane Finnane||DT||5'10, 238||Sr.||NR|
|Ryan Alexander||DE||6'1, 232||So.||*** (5.5)|
|Andrew McLean||DE||6'3, 240||Fr.||*** (5.5)|
7. A tricky pass rush
Army's 58 tackles for loss really was a nice total for such a bad defense. And while star linebacker Nate Combs is gone, Army does return two interesting players up front: Robert Kough and Richard Glover. Now, to say the least, having two defensive tackles who average 243 pounds has plenty of built-in disadvantages. But the two can slice through the line at times, and sophomore end Ryan Alexander, a first-stringer this spring, brings some three-star upside to the table as well. This is a tiny, tiny line, but it wasn't Army's biggest problem last year, and it won't be this year.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Alex Meier||ROV||6'2, 200||So.||NR||12||58.0||9.5%||2||1||1||2||0||2|
|Thomas Holloway||ROV||5'11, 196||Sr.||NR||12||19.0||3.1%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Zachary Williams||LB||5'11, 202||Sr.||NR||12||4.0||0.7%||0||0||0||0||1||0|
|Colin Linkul||BAN||6'0, 188||Jr.||NR||11||2.5||0.4%||1.5||1.5||0||0||0||0|
|Corey Watts||LB||5'11, 205||Sr.||NR||3||2.0||0.3%||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Stephen Ricciardi||LB||6'0, 196||Jr.||NR||8||1.0||0.2%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Colby Miller||MLB||6'1, 209||Sr.||NR|
|Tyler McLees||MLB||5'11, 215||So.||** (5.2)|
|Scott Washie||LB||6'1, 220||Fr.||** (5.4)|
8. Replacing the lone play-maker
The linebacking corps and secondary were almost totally bereft of play-makers in 2012. Linebacker-turned-safety Geoffery Bacon was asked to make far too many tackles but did make a few behind the line; but for the most part, the end-all, be-all on the Army defense was bandit linebacker Nate Combs, who made almost three times as many tackles for loss and sacks (12 and six, respectively) as the rest of the linebackers combined (4.5 and 2.5). He led the team in those categories, forced fumbles, and fumble recoveries, and he was second in passes defensed, and now he's gone. Plus, Bacon has moved to safety, leaving behind a linebacking corps that has no proven play-makers and wasn't very good even with Combs and Bacon.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Geoffery Bacon||FS||6'0, 207||Jr.||** (5.2)||12||100.5||16.4%||4.5||1||1||1||1||0|
|Brandon Fusilier-Jeffires||FS||6'1, 185||So.||NR||11||66.5||10.9%||1||0||1||2||0||0|
|Chris Carnegie||CB||6'0, 180||So.||** (5.2)||12||43.0||7.0%||1||0||0||3||0||0|
|Justin Trimble||SAM||5'11, 204||Sr.||** (5.0)||11||23.5||3.8%||0||0||2||3||0||0|
|Marques Avery||DB||6'1, 186||Jr.||NR||7||11.5||1.9%||0||0||0||6||0||0|
|Hayden Pierce||SAM||6'3, 187||Jr.||** (5.2)||6||10.5||1.7%||1||0||0||1||0||0|
|Tyler Dickson||DB||5'11, 195||Sr.||NR||9||4.5||0.7%||0||0||1||1||0||0|
|Lyle Beloney||DB||5'11, 197||Sr.||** (5.1)||6||4.0||0.7%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Lamar Johnson-Harris||CB||5'9, 173||Jr.||NR|
|Shaquille Tolbert||CB||5'9, 180||So.||** (5.4)|
|Kale Youtzy||DB||6'1, 195||Fr.||** (5.4)|
|Dan Grochowski||6'2, 205||So.||24-27||7-9||77.8%||3-7||42.9%|
|Julian Crockett||KR||5'8, 164||Sr.||26||19.2||0|
|Stephen Fraser||KR||5'10, 187||Jr.||12||20.8||0|
|Larry Dixon||KR||6'0, 238||Jr.||3||25.3||0|
|Jon Crucitti||PR||5'11, 195||Sr.||6||2.3||0|
|Special Teams F/+||85|
|Field Goal Pct||84|
|Kick Returns Avg||87|
|Punt Returns Avg||105|
9. Eric Osteen had a cannon
Aside from Combs, Army's best defensive weapon was probably kicker Eric Osteen, who consistently forced opponents to start from the 25-yard line. He's gone, too. I'm just not sure how the defense improves this year, even though it almost literally cannot regress any further.
2013 Schedule & Projection Factors
|7-Sep||at Ball State||84|
|28-Sep||vs. Louisiana Tech||89|
|5-Oct||at Boston College||71|
|2-Nov||at Air Force||91|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||104|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||117|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||-8 / -4.1|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||17 (9, 8)|
10. Try, try again
Army went 6-4 in one-possession games, and 12-13 overall, in Rich Ellerson's first two seasons at West Point. In the last two seasons, thanks mostly to the collapse of the defense, the Black Knights have gone just 2-6 in one-possession games and 5-19 overall. And now its four-year starting quarterback is gone.
And the 2013 schedule isn't amazingly forgiving, with just three teams projected 100th or worse. (Granted, six others are projected no better than 84th, but Army probably isn't going to rank 84th, so it needs all the help it can get.) The run game should be fine again, but unless some position changes and newcomers to the defensive rotation -- end Ryan Alexander, corner Shaq Tolbert, linebacker Tyler McLees -- can raise the upside considerably, I don't have much hope in this team.
Two years ago, it looked like Army had turned a corner in its long battle to catch back up with Navy and simply provide sustained competence on the football field. But the Black Knights lost major ground in 2011 and 2012, and I'm not sure how they get it back.