Army has an offense. Army has a defense. What Army has not had in any of its nine games is a scenario in which they have gotten quality play on both ends of the ball in the same game.
The Black Knights have lost seven games, and outside the 44-3 clobbering inflicted by Duke, Army has been competitive in the other six. Those games have included a two-point loss to Fordham; a five-point loss to Connecticut; a three-point loss to Wake Forest; a six-point loss to Penn State; and a seven-point loss to Rice. The Black Knights lost to Air Force last week, 20-3. In their 58-36 victory over Eastern Michigan, the offense showed up for duty. In their 21-14 win over Bucknell, an excellent day for the defense, so-so for the offense.
Army plays Tulane Saturday at Michie Stadium. Offense? Defense? Or is both asking for too much?
“We just didn’t make the plays we needed to and didn’t score enough points,” Army head coach Jeff Monken said of the loss to Air Force. “Had some chances with the ball and we just couldn’t keep drives sustained. Defensively, I thought we really did a nice job. Particularly at the beginning of the game, we gave up a couple of big plays. Those hurt us.”
Giving up big plays on defense is particularly injurious when the offense is barely breathing. Tulane comes into this week’s game also 2-7, but unlike Army it has rarely been competitive. The Green Wave has had one close loss, 7-3 last week to UConn. The average score of its other six losses is 43-11. What has hurt the Green Wave the most, head coach Curtis Johnson said, was their move from Conference USA to the American Conference. Last year, its first in the AC, Tulane was 3-9. In its last season in C-USA, it finished 7-6.
“All of a sudden we’re thrust into a new league, and they’re good and they’re fast,” Johnson said. “You’ve got teams like Houston, Memphis State, Navy. It’s taking us a long time, and we’re playing more and more freshmen as guys get injured.”
One key injury Tulane suffered early in the season was to sophomore quarterback Tanner Lee. He suffered a concussion in his team’s loss to Temple; missing the next two games, the Green Wave suffered two of its most-lopsided losses of the season. Having to work in almost nothing but come-from-behind games, he’s thrown for 183 yards per game and eight touchdowns. With the running game stunted due to all those routs, the team’s leading rusher, Dontrell Hilliard, has only 424 yards. Nevertheless, he has caught Monken’s attention.
“They are very talented at the skill positions,” he said. “They’ve got a really good running back, and physically matching up with him won’t be easy. He’s a very talented kid, as well as all their wide receivers. We’re very impressed with all of their skill guys. And they are big up front. For our guys who may not be as much of a match in size, weeding your way through all that stuff and being tough and playing hard isn’t as easy when you’re a 235-pound defensive end going against a guy [Arturo Uzdavinis] that weighs 308 playing offensive tackle. You can’t exactly just out-tough him and bull rush him, you’ve got to come up with some ways to get to the passer, make him get rid of the ball on time and hopefully put some pressure on him.”
Once again, it comes down to whether Army’s offense or defense elects to show up. As for the Green Wave, their play hasn’t made for many pleasantries in the Johnson household.
“My wife’s gonna kill me,” he said. “I’m keeping her up all night.”