These are guys training to be soldiers, which means they each have an undefined edge. But chances are they were playing football before they aspired to the military, which means losing your first three games of the season carries just as undefinable a load. Having worked as an assistant coach at Navy for seven years before taking over as boss at Army last season, Jeff Monken understands the feeling.
“You can worry about a team getting discouraged,” he said. “The good thing is I don’t think our team is packing it in. I think they are handling how you want them to. They are disappointed in the performance, but they are not quitting. They are going to fight and I know they will come back and give a great effort this week. They want more than anything to experience a victory. I think our guys are willing to put the effort toward that and I think they have done that the last three weeks. Our guys have really played hard. I can’t find plays where I say ‘If you have played a lot harder, you would have been able to get there to make that tackle or make that block.’ That is not at all the case. Our guys are playing hard and certainly they have reason to be discouraged and be down in the dumps, but they haven’t done that. They have done a great job taking responsibility for the things that are happening and they are going to find a way to do a better job and perform better.”
The Black Knights have unofficially reached the make-or-break portion of their season. Their next two games – against Eastern Michigan and Penn State – are on the road. This from a team that has already lost two home games. The last time Army lost its first four games was in 2012, a season in which it finished 2-10. Monken’s rationale for continued optimism is the three losses have been by a combined total of only 10 points.
“I’m very hopeful about our team because of the effort that we’re putting in,” he said. “To be behind as we’ve been and be able to come back and tie the game up, like we did on Saturday, I think says a lot about our football team. Our guys are really battling. I think these guys feel a sense of responsibility that they need to do their job the best they can to give our team a chance to win. It’s recognizable when you watch the film that there are things we’re doing better, but there are also things we need to do better.”
The loss Saturday to Wake Forest was certainly the most painful. The game was tied 14-14 in the final seconds, when Army’s Xavier Moss dropped a near-certain interception, which he surely would have run back for the winning touchdown. Instead, Wake Forest retained possession, and on the next play kicked the winning field goal as time expired. After a bad start in its season-opening 37-35 loss to Fordham, the Black Knights’ defense has been steady the last two weeks; the offense has been spotty, with no one player coming to the fore to be perceived as the man who can – will – carry the load.
“I don’t know that a jump start is what we need,” Monken said. “What we need is for our guys to make more plays, to finish blocks and to finish runs. We’ve missed a lot of tackles in each of the first three games. We’re not breaking as many tackles as we’re missing. There aren’t a bunch of other plays that we have hidden away, we threw everything we had at [Wake Forest].”
What the Demon Deacons did do was limit Army’s offense. Only one big Army play – a 31-yard completion from Ahmad Bradshaw to DeAndre Bell – helped lead to a score, a second-quarter touchdown that gave Army a 7-0 lead. In contrast, the key to Wake Forest’s first touchdown drive was a 51-yard pass from Kendall Hinton to K.J. Brent; the second was triggered by a 28-yard pass from Hinton to Cortez Lewis. Its game-winning field-goal drive featured a 13-yard Hinton run and a 22-yard run by Isaiah Robinson. Army’s 240 yards total offense was by far its least of the season.
“We’ve been very successful running this offense and I’m confident that as we continue to get better fundamentally, we’ll do a better job,” Monken said.
Time’s a wastin.
The Indianapolis Colts promoted former Army linebacker Josh McNary to its 53-man roster.
McNary was placed on the Commissioner’s Exempt List in January following a rape charge levied against him. He was found not guilty on all charges and the Colts signed him back to the team’s practice squad following a workout in early September.
He appeared in 10 games for the Colts last season, starting three. He graduated from Army in 2011 and did two years of service before signing with the Colts as a free agent in 2013. McNary finished his Army career as its all-time leader in sacks (28) and tackles for loss (49). As a senior in 2010, McNary capped off his career by returning a fumble 55 yards for a touchdown in the Black Knights’ 16–14 victory over SMU in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl. Following his senior year, McNary was honored with the 2011 East-West Shrine Game Pat Tillman Award, given to the player who best exemplifies character, intelligence, sportsmanship and service.