2013 Army football's 10 things to know: Searching desperately for a defense

Danny Wild-US PRESSWIRE

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. Now, not so much.

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
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
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.

Offense

Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 39 56 42 66
RUSHING 1 15 22 15
PASSING 124 116 120 111
Standard Downs 34 16 42
Passing Downs 111 115 107
Redzone 35 36 39
Q1 Rk 34 1st Down Rk 32
Q2 Rk 77 2nd Down Rk 64
Q3 Rk 26 3rd Down Rk 83
Q4 Rk 102

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards Comp
Rate
TD INT Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Trent Steelman 43 90 667 47.8% 1 2 8 8.2% 6.3
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.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
TD Adj.
POE
Trent Steelman QB 223 1,295 5.6 6.9 17 +14.7
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
Malcolm Brown RB 61 441 7.2 4.8 4 +9.2
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)





Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Yds/
Target
Target
Rate
%SD Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
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
Malcolm Brown RB 8 3 46 37.5% 5.8 7.3% 62.5% 5.6 4.7
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)








Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 119.8 3.56 3.14 43.3% 79.7% 11.1% 67.2 5.6% 10.3%
Rank 5 3 69 21 6 1 110 77 108
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Career Starts/Honors/Notes
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.)

Defense

Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 87 124 120 124
RUSHING 121 122 117 123
PASSING 22 124 121 124
Standard Downs 122 118 123
Passing Downs 123 121 124
Redzone 105 113 90
Q1 Rk 124 1st Down Rk 121
Q2 Rk 124 2nd Down Rk 123
Q3 Rk 107 3rd Down Rk 123
Q4 Rk 124

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.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 90.8 3.26 2.71 43.2% 72.7% 20.8% 114.8 7.4% 5.0%
Rank 105 103 23 111 91 42 39 8 90
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
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
Zach Watts DE 11 31.0 5.1% 2.5 0 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.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
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
Nate Combs BAN 10 47.5 7.8% 12 6 1 4 3 3
Thomas Holloway ROV 5'11, 196 Sr. NR 12 19.0 3.1% 0 0 0 0 0 0
C.J. Shelley MLB 9 5.5 0.9% 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.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
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
Josh Jackson CB 9 20.5 3.4% 0.5 0 0 2 0 0
Ty Shrader FS 8 13.0 2.1% 0 0 0 0 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
Justin Allen CB 12 5.5 0.9% 0 0 0 2 0 0
Waverly Washington CB 4 5.0 0.8% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Kyler Martin DB 11 4.5 0.7% 0 0 0 2 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)






Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Chris Boldt 34 38.1 3 10 7 50.0%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB TB%
Eric Osteen 53 62.8 29 54.7%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2013
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Dan Grochowski 6'2, 205 So. 24-27 7-9 77.8% 3-7 42.9%
Eric Osteen 2-3 2-3 66.7% 1-1 100.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Returns Avg. TD
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
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 85
Net Punting 114
Net Kickoffs 16
Touchback Pct 13
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

2013 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
30-Aug Morgan State NR
7-Sep at Ball State 84
14-Sep Stanford 5
21-Sep Wake Forest 85
28-Sep vs. Louisiana Tech 89
5-Oct at Boston College 71
12-Oct Eastern Michigan 118
19-Oct at Temple 66
2-Nov at Air Force 91
9-Nov Western Kentucky 94
30-Nov at Hawaii 100
14-Dec vs. Navy 95
Five-Year F/+ Rk 104
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 117
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* -8 / -4.1
TO Luck/Game -1.6
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 17 (9, 8)
Yds/Pt Margin** +5.7

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.

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