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1. Someone else's turn
A hard job continues to be hard. It never gets easier, even when you do it well at first.
That's how I led off April's Air Force preview. It goes for football jobs outside of the service academies, sure, but it really goes for the service academies. As college football gets bigger and stronger, Army, Navy, and Air Force athletes, by design, stay basically the same size. And while Navy has some things figured out from a financial standpoint, the Army and Air Force athletic departments have been playing catch-up for a while.
This is terribly, clearly evident from a wins-and-losses standpoint. Army had a winning record for every season from 1941-50 and was .500 or better from 1953-63. There were some more spurts in the following decades: 1966-68, 1971-72, 1977, 1984-86, 1988-90.
But since hall-of-famer Jim Young left in 1990, the pickings have been slim. Army went 6-5 in 1993, 10-2 in 1996, 7-6 in 2010 ... and that's pretty much it. Todd Berry went 5-42 from 2000-03. Bobby Ross went 9-25. Stan Brock went 6-18.
That Rich Ellerson was able to quickly engineer a bowl bid in only his second season was exciting. He found a fun quarterback to run his option offense (Trent Steelman), and his defense, a relative strength in recent years, was still good enough to stay out of the offense's way. But as has been the case with Air Force, a legion of defensive woes did him in. After winning seven games in 2010, Army won only eight from 2011-13.
As Ellerson found ways to put a solid offense on the table -- predictably, using a lot of the same option concepts that have brought success to Air Force and Navy -- his defense just got worse and worse. He basically put the same caliber of team on the field for four of his five seasons. And, of course, he never figured out a way to beat Navy.
That Ellerson lasted five seasons at all in this difficult job is pretty impressive; it's longer than any of his three predecessors. But he's gone, and now it's Jeff Monken's turn.
2. Jeff Monken had a pretty good job
The 47-year-old cousin of Southern Miss head coach Todd Monken, Jeff Monken had spent 13 seasons on Paul Johnson's coaching staffs at Georgia Southern (1997-01), Navy (2002-07), and Georgia Tech (2008-09); he was well-versed in the fundamentals of the triple option, and he used them with aplomb when he took over as Georgia Southern's head coach in 2010.
His Eagles reached the FCS semifinals in each of his first three years on the job (they went 31-12 overall), and despite a series of draining injuries, GS still went 7-4 and upset Florida in 2013. They were making the jump to FBS in 2014, and from a recruiting standpoint, it was looking as if they would be able to compete in the Sun Belt rather quickly.
It takes a certain personality to be drawn to a job like Army; Monken apparently has that personality. After his hire, he told the Times Herald-Record, "There's something absolutely different about an academy. It's a responsibility that goes far beyond the football field and it's an opportunity to be part of something way, way bigger than me or any one player on our team. It's just really something special. ... I just felt like it was a chance of lifetime."
Monken's enthusiasm won athletic director Boo Corrigan over almost immediately, but his ability to modernize, however possible, will be the key to staying in the job more than three to five years. Army will run the option, but Georgia Southern was able to pass a bit from time to time (not so much in 2013).
But beyond that, the Black Knights simply have to figure out a way to make stops while giving up massive size advantages to virtually every offense they face. Army had a top-75 offense (according to Off. F/+) in three of the last four seasons, but after ranking 54th in Def. F/+ in 2009, they fell to 88th, 84th, 124th, and 111th, respectively, over the last four years. One way or another, Monken and defensive coordinator Jay Bateman (Pete Lembo's defensive coordinator for the last three years at Ball State) have to craft a defense with fewer holes. We'll see if that's even possible.
2013 Schedule & Results
|Record: 2-10 | Adj. Record: 1-11 | Final F/+ Rk: 100|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L||5-gm Adj. Avg.|
|30-Aug||Morgan State||N/A||28-12||W||29.2 - 48.3||L|
|7-Sep||at Ball State||57||14-40||L||21.1 - 25.7||L|
|14-Sep||Stanford||3||20-34||L||26.6 - 36.3||L|
|21-Sep||Wake Forest||81||11-25||L||25.4 - 41.7||L|
|28-Sep||vs. Louisiana Tech||112||16-35||L||34.7 - 35.8||L||-10.2|
|5-Oct||at Boston College||65||27-48||L||26.4 - 58.6||L||-12.8|
|12-Oct||Eastern Michigan||124||50-25||W||40.1 - 43.0||L||-12.4|
|19-Oct||at Temple||98||14-33||L||18.8 - 29.0||L||-12.6|
|2-Nov||at Air Force||113||28-42||L||22.1 - 45.2||L||-13.9|
|9-Nov||Western Kentucky||77||17-21||L||29.5 - 23.7||W||-12.5|
|30-Nov||at Hawaii||82||42-49||L||29.4 - 46.3||L||-9.4|
|14-Dec||vs. Navy||58||7-34||L||11.1 - 24.2||L||-11.5|
|Points Per Game||22.8||97||33.2||98|
|Adj. Points Per Game||26.2||84||38.1||120|
3. Matching gains with losses
Things never came together for Army in 2013. The Black Knights showed promise at times, taking advantage of some turnovers and a couple of nice drives to stay close to Stanford, hanging tight against superior Western Kentucky and Hawaii teams, and rather easily handling the two worst teams on the schedule, Morgan State and Eastern Michigan.
But in the other seven games on the schedule, Army lost by an average score of 37-17; the defense got obliterated by Louisiana Tech, Boston College, and Air Force, and the offense showed minimal prowess against Ball State, Wake Forest, and Temple. And after a bit of offensive improvement (which was matched by defensive regression), everything fell apart against Navy. And that was that for the Ellerson era.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||45.2%||40||Succ. Rt. +||91.9||85|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||34.4||125||Def. FP+||91.6||124|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.7||32||Redzone S&P+||105.7||38|
|Q1 Rk||59||1st Down Rk||95|
|Q2 Rk||122||2nd Down Rk||96|
|Q3 Rk||91||3rd Down Rk||99|
Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Angel Santiago||5'11, 188||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||46||93||592||2||2||49.5%||11||10.6%||5.2|
|Kelvin White||6'3, 215||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||15||30||143||1||2||50.0%||3||9.1%||4.2|
|A.J. Schurr||6'0, 185||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||14||25||196||1||0||56.0%||2||7.4%||6.8|
|Marques Avery||6'1, 186||Sr.||NR|
|Matt Kaufmann||5'10, 195||So.||NR|
4. What is this sorcery?
Take a quick gander at the statistics from Army's spring game. You'll find some familiar aspects -- 11 players rushed at least three times, and the two starting quarterbacks combined for 20 carries. Again, Monken is well-versed in the triple option and will certainly use it a good amount.
That said ... Army quarterbacks also attempted 35 passes. Converted receiver Matt Kaufmann completed 13 of 17 for 206 yards, and A.J. Schurr went 9-for-18 for 137.
In five appearances last year, Schurr threw just 25 passes total. And in all of last season, only eight players caught more than one pass; five caught more than one on April 19 alone.
Does this mean anything? Probably not. As the USA Today's Paul Myerberg points out, Monken will almost certainly utilize the pass more than Ellerson -- it's almost impossible to run the ball more than Ellerson -- because of the effect it can have in loosening up the defense. Army just had no hope of catching up once it fell behind schedule last year, and adding at least a little bit of passing ability can only help.
The more passing Monken wants to do, the more it's possible that Schurr or Kaufmann could start the season over last year's starter Angel Santiago. Santiago is decent from an option standpoint, but he barely averaged 5.0 yards per pass attempt and took a lot of sacks. Schurr looked pretty good against Hawaii (5-for-10 for 122 yards, 15 carries for 47 yards and four touchdowns) and finished the spring atop the depth chart.
|Angel Santiago||QB||5'11, 188||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||160||643||10||4.0||4.7||29.4%|
|Terry Baggett||RB||6'1, 200||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||141||1113||8||7.9||6.4||58.2%|
|Larry Dixon||RB||6'0, 238||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||112||699||6||6.2||6.3||41.1%|
|Trenton Turrentine||RB||5'9, 206||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||56||376||1||6.7||3.9||58.9%|
|A.J. Schurr||QB||6'0, 185||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||31||114||4||3.7||7.7||29.0%|
|Tony Giovannelli||RB||6'0, 192||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||30||223||0||7.4||6.3||53.3%|
|Matt Giachinta||FB||6'1, 210||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||27||112||2||4.1||2.3||25.9%|
|Stephen Fraser||RB||5'10, 187||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)|
|Jared Rogers||RB||5'8, 185||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Elijah St. Hilaire||RB||5'10, 185||So.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Joe Walker||RB||5'10, 181||So.||NR|
5. Plenty of potential in the backfield
When Army was able to avoid negative plays at the quarterback position, the running backs mostly did their job. Terry Baggett and Larry Dixon both showed pretty strong explosiveness with big bodies, and Tony Giovannelli showed some potential as well. It appears Dixon will play more of the fullback role this year (at 6'0, 238 pounds, that makes sense), and three-star sophomore Elijah St. Hilaire was involved a bit this spring. There are options for the option, and even if Army passes a bit more this fall, there should still be more than enough carries to go around.
|Xavier Moss||WR||6'2, 175||So.||NR||60||35||463||58.3%||43.8%||57.7%||7.7||17||8.1||48.0|
|Chevaughn Lawrence||WR||6'3, 195||Sr.||NR||22||10||105||45.5%||16.1%||57.1%||4.8||-42||5.1||10.9|
|Terry Baggett||RB||6'1, 200||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||10||6||123||60.0%||7.3%||80.0%||12.3||48||15.0||12.7|
|Tony Giovannelli||RB||6'0, 192||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||5||2||29||40.0%||3.6%||0.0%||5.8||-3||6.4||3.0|
|Matt Giachinta||RB||6'1, 210||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||3||2||17||66.7%||2.2%||66.7%||5.7||-7||6.2||1.8|
|Larry Dixon||RB||6'0, 238||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||3||3||48||100.0%||2.2%||0.0%||16.0||18||8.4||5.0|
|Edgar Poe||WR||6'3, 185||So.||NR||2||1||6||50.0%||1.5%||N/A||3.0||-8||0.0||0.6|
|Justin Newman||WR||6'3, 192||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)|
|Kelvin White||WR||6'3, 215||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Mike Parros||WR||6'0, 190||Jr.||NR|
|Stephen Shumaker||LG||6'0, 264||Sr.||NR||24|
|Ryan Powis||LT||6'0, 248||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||12|
|Justin Gilbert||RT||6'3, 265||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||12|
|Matt Hugenberg||C||6'3, 285||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0|
|Todd McDonald||C||5'11, 239||Sr.||NR||0|
|Nikolos Schillaci||LT||6'3, 249||Sr.||NR||0|
|Corey Hobbs||RT||6'0, 230||Jr.||NR||0|
|Stefan Moreau||RG||6'3, 270||So.||NR||0|
|O.J. Hall||LG||6'4, 260||So.||NR||0|
|Colby Enegren||RG||6'3, 265||So.||NR||0|
6. Recruiting rankings tell a story
Of the eight running backs listed above, seven were listed in the Rivals.com recruiting database. A couple (Dixon, St. Hilaire) were three-star recruits. Santiago was a high-two at quarterback.
Meanwhile, of the six returning receivers above, two had recruiting rankings, and those two combined to catch zero passes last year.
More telling: of the 20 offensive and defensive linemen listed here, six had recruiting rankings. Five were low- to mid-two-stars.
You can find some solid running back prospects, and you can almost certainly find a high-school option quarterback. But you can't really find many big guys. The conditioning requirements of cadets makes that pretty much impossible. On offense, you can account for that with zone- and cut-blocking; you can use the opposing defense's size against it to some degree.
But you can't really do the same on your own defense.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||48.5%||115||Succ. Rt. +||84.1||113|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||26.3||117||Off. FP+||92.6||118|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.7||105||Redzone S&P+||85.0||104|
|Q1 Rk||122||1st Down Rk||116|
|Q2 Rk||111||2nd Down Rk||118|
|Q3 Rk||123||3rd Down Rk||110|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Mike Ugenyi||DE||6'3, 257||Sr.||NR||12||30.5||4.9%||6.5||1.0||0||0||3||0|
|Robert Kough||DE||6'3, 239||Sr.||NR||11||27.0||4.3%||8.0||3.0||0||1||0||0|
|Richard Glover||NT||6'0, 247||Sr.||NR||12||27.0||4.3%||5.0||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Malcolm Hudson||DE||5'10, 230||So.||NR||10||12.5||2.0%||3.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Joe Drummond||DE||6'3, 228||Sr.||NR||9||12.0||1.9%||2.0||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Colin Linkul||DL||6'0, 188||Sr.||NR||11||3.0||0.5%||2.0||2.0||0||0||0||0|
|Ryan Alexander||DL||6'1, 232||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||6||2.0||0.3%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|T.J. Atimalala||NT||5'11, 260||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||12||2.0||0.3%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Jordan Smith||DE||6'3, 235||So.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Shawn Lemoto||DE||6'2, 240||So.||NR|
7. More play-makers, please
Honestly, Army's line stats weren't as bad as they could have been last year. The Black Knights ranked in the double digits in both Adj. Line Yards and Adj. Sack Rate. They held up reasonably well (all things considered) in short-yardage rushing situations, and on the rare occasion that they were able to force passing downs, they got to the quarterback more than 10 percent of the time. Four linemen logged at least five tackles for loss, and three linebackers registered at least four. These aren't great numbers, but they aren't atrocious either.
So how and where did Army's defense fail in 2013? When they could commit extra defenders to one thing -- stopping short-yardage rushing, getting to the quarterback on third-and-8 -- they were alright. But without that extra man-power, they were simply outmanned. They made some stops behind the line, sure, but 43 percent of opponent rushes gained at least five yards. On standard-down pass attempts, Army's pass rush was non-existent. And perhaps most damning, there was almost no play-making ability beyond the line of scrimmage.
If there's one thing the new staff could potentially fix, it comes with that last point. A defense like Army's is certain to be drastically undersized. But size isn't as much of a concern in the defensive backfield or, for the most part, at linebacker. You can potentially find play-makers who are 6'3, 220, or 5'11, 185 (case in point: Army's rather well-touted unit of running backs), and Ellerson just couldn't. Monken is probably going to have to make do with 250-pound defensive tackles for a good portion of his tenure, but he should expect more from the back seven or eight of the defense.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Julian Holloway||LB||6'2, 200||Sr.||NR||8||35.0||5.6%||4.5||1.0||0||0||1||0|
|James Kelly||OLB||6'3, 220||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||12||19.5||3.1%||1.0||0.0||0||0||1||0|
|Marcus Poling||ILB||5'11, 185||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||10||17.5||2.8%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Dalton Mendenhall||OLB||6'3, 225||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||8||10.0||1.6%||1.0||1.0||0||0||1||0|
|Stephen Ricciardi||LB||6'0, 196||Sr.||NR||11||5.5||0.9%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Chasen Brown||OLB||5'10, 195||So.||NR||8||4.0||0.6%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Sean McBryde||LB||6'2, 200||So.||NR||8||3.0||0.5%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Andrew King||ILB||6'0, 225||So.||NR||2||3.0||0.5%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Jim Forgrave||ILB||5'10, 218||Sr.||NR|
|Derek Sanchez||OLB||6'3, 206||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Justin Fahn||ILB||6'2, 200||Jr.||NR|
|Jeremy Timpf||ILB||6'3, 210||So.||NR|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Geoffery Bacon||FS||6'0, 207||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||8||49.0||7.9%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Chris Carnegie||CB||6'0, 180||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||11||41.5||6.7%||1.5||0||1||1||0||0|
|Hayden Pierce||BS||6'3, 187||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||11||32.0||5.1%||0||0||0||2||0||0|
|Josh Jenkins||CB||6'0, 175||So.||NR||12||32.0||5.1%||1||0||2||6||1||1|
|Steven Johnson||FS||6'0, 190||So.||NR||9||4.5||0.7%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Lamar Johnson-Harris||CB||5'9, 173||Sr.||NR|
|Michael McFadden||CB||6'1, 182||Jr.||NR|
|Jared Vallner||CB||6'1, 190||So.||NR|
|Gervon Simon||BS||5'10, 200||So.||NR|
8. Hello, Josh Jenkins
Five Army defensive backs recorded at least 5.0 tackles in 2013. Four of them combined for eight passes defensed; the fifth, Josh Jenkins, recorded eight by himself.
The Army secondary was and is perilously thin, but in Jenkins, now a sophomore, the Black Knights might actually have a play-maker. Easily one of the best athletes on the team, he will basically be guarding every opponent's best receiver for the next three years.
Of course, he needs help. A lot of it. Until we see how well Monken recruits to this area of need, the Army defense isn't going to improve much. But when you're starved for play-makers, having one seems significantly better than having zero.
|Alex Tardieu||6'4, 190||Jr.||51||37.3||2||17||11||54.9%|
|Daniel Grochowski||6'2, 205||Jr.||48||58.2||14||1||29.2%|
|Cale Brewer||6'0, 175||Jr.||8||51.4||0||1||0.0%|
|Daniel Grochowski||6'2, 205||Jr.||36-36||6-8||75.0%||2-3||66.7%|
|Cale Brewer||6'0, 175||Jr.||1-1||0-0||N/A||0-0||N/A|
|Larry Dixon||KR||6'0, 238||Sr.||5||18.4||0|
|Special Teams F/+||98|
|Field Goal Efficiency||57|
|Punt Return Efficiency||64|
|Kick Return Efficiency||120|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||113|
9. Find a return man
When you're outclassed from an athleticism standpoint, it bleeds over into special teams. You either have to put your starters and your best athletes on the field and risk injury and fatigue, or you have to put what are probably far inferior backups out there.
From this standpoint, Army's special teams unit really wasn't that bad in 2013. Kickoff coverage wasn't amazing, but the Black Knights were at least decent from a punt coverage standpoint, and Daniel Grochowski is a decent place-kicker. The return game, however, was awful. Abysmal. Inexcusable.
Army's longest kick return in 2013 was 26 yards; three FBS teams averaged better than 26 yards per return (Florida State, Stanford, TCU).
Army's longest punt return in 2013 was 12 yards; 22 FBS teams averaged better than 12 yards per return, including another athletically inferior team, UMass.
There is simply no excuse for this, and it must improve. With an efficient offense and perhaps a few more plays from a defense that includes a good cornerback and decent pass rush, Army is set up to do alright -- at least, not stink -- from a field position standpoint; the return game can't give away all of those gains if Army is going to improve in 2014.
2014 Schedule & Projection Factors
|20-Sep||at Wake Forest||89|
|18-Oct||at Kent State||102|
|15-Nov||at Western Kentucky||91|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||-15.8% (104)|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||104|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||0 / 0.1|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||17 (9, 8)|
10. A pretty neat schedule
Army has faced a bit of an identity crisis in recent years. The Black Knights apparently had a miserable experience in joining Conference USA from 1998-2004 and chose to remain independent over the past decade.
Independence means you have a chance to craft your own path as a program, and in addition to the service academies, Army has attempted to balance its schedule between other Northeast programs (Boston College, Stony Brook, Rutgers, Temple), MAC programs it could conceivably beat (but barely has) from time to time (Ball State, EMU, Northern Illinois, Kent State, Miami (Ohio)), smart-kid schools (Stanford, Northwestern, Wake Forest, Vanderbilt), and a smattering of other mid-majors (Western Kentucky, San Diego State, North Texas). This has brought neither wins nor major fan interest to the table.
In terms of pure identity, interest, and uniqueness, I just love Army's 2014 schedule. The Black Knights play at Yale on September 27 to celebrate the 100th birthday of the Yale Bowl. They play UConn at Yankee Stadium in November. They host two New York schools (Buffalo, Fordham). They get the requisite smart-school (Stanford, Wake Forest, Rice ... and, yes, Yale) and MAC (Buffalo, Ball State, Kent State) games. The MAC ties don't do anything for me, but in terms of pure aesthetics and/or geography, there are a lot of interesting games on this schedule.
This is exactly what Army should be attempting to craft ... though if the Black Knights wanted to replace MAC ties with Sun Belt ties -- getting exposed to a few more kids from Georgia and Florida along the way -- that might not be the worst idea in the world.
Monken could very well engineer a top-100 product this fall, and if he can do that, up to six or eight games are winnable. That doesn't mean the Black Knights will win all six to eight, of course, but if he can open up the offense a bit, and if players like Josh Jenkins and end Robert Kough can make a few more plays, Army could at least get back to 4-8 or 5-7.
We'll set the bar at three wins and let them surprise, but with a new coaching staff comes some new hope ... at least until we all get a reminder of how hard this job is.