Walking off the field at Michie Stadium today, it felt a lot like a year ago when Army’s all-but-sure win over Tulane ended in a sudden, confusing defeat. Army was steadily, slowly marching down the field in the fourth, burning up the clock for a final field goal. A late fumble that was initially recovered and suddenly overturned became a three-point deficit about 30 seconds later.
Army definitely seemed overmatched in the first half, and Hawaii seemed beyond overwhelmed in the second, coughing up the ball, unable to stop Army’s running game, taking penalties. Army’s 28 unanswered points were really stunning; they seemed out of it by the second quarter but adjusted at the half and came out with an edge.
Army’s comeback to tie and then take the lead is proof enough of how drastically improved this team is from 2009, when every touchdown and field goal was a grind — they won in Week 1 with a last-minute drive as well. This was a rough loss, but I think everyone could see the positives coming out of the day.
The murmur in the press box before kickoff was that Hawaii was really going to bring it with a deadly passing game — the fact that Hawaii put up over 450 passing yards against No. 16 USC last week wasn’t encouraging. Someone up there said to me, “You know they’re going to pass and have completions. It’s what we do to stop them after the catch.”
To that end, I think it’s pretty telling Army held this offense and Hawaii quarterback Bryant Moniz to 343 passing yards. Moniz was in the shotgun almost every down and you knew he was looking deep.
I think Max Jenkins did well filling in for Trent Steelman — there’s a reason he won the job over a former starter in Chip Bowden this summer. The fumble was obviously costly, and he did appear a little lost on the final third down.
“Max can run our offense,” head coach Rich Ellerson said. “Max is a bright guy. He knows what we’re trying to do. He can fix plays at the line of scrimmage as well as anybody.”
I went to the postgame press conference, where Ellerson didn’t sound overly concerned with Steelman’s injury. He basically implied he was healthy enough to return but they kept him sidelined as a caution. Steelman was out on the field with Jenkins in the fourth during a timeout.
“He’s banged up, and he’s been injured before,” said Ellerson, perhaps referencing Steelman’s early ’09 ribcage injury. “He’s obviously a tough guy and would have gone back into the game in a heartbeat. The training staff just thought that he may have been in too much jeopardy until they know more about it. My guess is that he’ll battle back.”
Josh McNary looked awesome and the game really turned when he started putting some serious heat on Moniz in the second half. Mike Gann broke through a wall of lineman to nail Moniz in the third and suddenly their passing game wasn’t clicking.
“Just a shift in mindset, we realized we had given up 21 points and it was time to get the ball on the ground and back into the hands of our offense,” McNary said. “It was total execution from our defensive backs, linebackers and defensive linemen. I can’t get back and pressure the quarterback if the defensive backs don’t hold their guys for a certain amount of time, and vice versa.”
Army had a lot of head-scratchers and failed third-down conversions — they had 19 first downs, but were only 5-of-15 on third downs. They connected on all four fourth-down conversions, though — short yardage runs were there, but the big plays were fairly infrequent. FB Jared Hassin led Army with 83 rushing yards.
Weather was perfect, there were over 30,000 at Michie and it was a pretty great game. On to the photos: