Quick thoughts: Western Kentucky (updated)

Might have to change the name of this entry to, “Deep thoughts.” Lots to write about after Army’s 21-17 loss to Western Kentucky on Senior Day.

The program’s bottom line, with two games left in Rich Ellerson’s fifth season, is the coach and his staff haven’t taught the players how to be winners or have a winning mentality as I said on KnightCap.¬† Games like Western Kentucky are a painful reminder. Army played hard enough to win. But, teams, that know how to win, don’t fumble the ball on an opponent’s 1-yard line. They don’t have a delay-of-game penalty on a potentially-made field goal. They don’t have a clipping penalty on a touchdown run. And, they take advantage of their opponents’ mistakes.

Western Kentucky was handing the game to Army when senior linebacker Colby Miller recovered Antonio Andrews’ fumble at the Hilltoppers’ 46 with 6:35 left and the Black Knights leading 17-14. A couple of first downs and Army celebrates its fourth win of the season. But, Army was too conservative on its next two plays running the ball up the middle with fullback Matt Giachinta and quarterback Angel Santiago¬† for a total of 5 yards. The Black Knights needed to get the ball on the edge. They tried on third down but Tony Giovannelli was stopped for 1-yard gain and Army punted. How does Terry Baggett, Army’s best player, not touch the ball on those three plays? How does Baggett only get 12 touches in the game? Coaches might say Western Kentucky was taking away counter plays inside to Baggett. Army still could have ran option pitches or toss plays to Baggett. How about sneaking Baggett out into the flat for a short pass? Army has Baggett run wheel routes, which are timing plays, instead.

Army’s offense had become predictable inside an opponent’s 10-yard line. If the ball is at or inside the 3-yard line, quarterback Angel Santiago is keeping the ball. Times Herald-Record columnist Kevin Gleason called a counter play to Terry Baggett from the press box on a 3rd-and-8 from Western Kentucky 9. Baggett gained 1 yard and Army kicked a field goal. Again, get the ball to Baggett on a pitch or toss. A call probably deep in Army’s playbook in that situation would be a fade route. Maybe, the best Army receiver to throw a fade route to is 6-foot-4 freshman Edgar Poe. Poe has been underutilized this season, catching one pass for a 6-yard touchdown against Stanford on a fade route.

Army’s chances of ending Navy’s 11-winning streak on Dec. 14 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia may have took a huge hit when fullback Larry Dixon was injured in the first quarter. Dixon hurt his forearm while blocking on a play. Dixon will miss the rest of the season with a wrist injury.¬† Senior Hayden Tippett, Dixon’s backup, has missed the last three games with an ankle injury. Originally, I had heard Tippett was done for the season but he was in pads on the sideline Saturday. There is some hope that Tippett might be able to play against Navy…

Sophomore Matt Giachinta saw the bulk of the playing time at fullback and carried the ball 11 times for a career-high 34 yards against Western Kentucky. But, Giachinta doesn’t have Dixon’s breakaway speed. Freshman running back Aaron Kemper, a fullback at Army Prep last year, could be moved. Look for freshman PaulAndrew Rhoden, who is from Ewa Beach, Hawaii, to get some snaps at fullback in weeks of practice ahead of Army’s next game at Hawaii on Sept. 30.

Junior running back Tony Giovannelli stepped up and had a career game. Giovannelli, who was replacing the injured Trenton Turrentine, who was starting in place of the injured Raymond Maples, rushed for 82 yards on just six carries and caught two passes on third-down conversions. Giovannelli’s 68-yard gain on his first carry was Army’s fourth-longest run of the season. He credited running back Raymond Maples and wide receiver Anthony Stephens for great blocks on the play. Talking to Giovannelli after the game, he jokingly said Coach Rich Ellerson could have ran through the gap made by Baggett and Stephens.

Army completed a screen pass. Army completed a screen pass. That made Record columnist Kevin Gleason happy. We’ve been talking about Army adding some sort of screen play to its game plan for years. Can’t remember a screen called in coach Ellerson’s five years. This one was designed for wide receiver Patrick Laird. The play gained 4 yards. But, it was well-designed. Guard Steve Shumaker missed a block on a Western Kentucky defensive back which slowed the play down.

For my thoughts on Army calling a timeout with 35 seconds left with a 17-14 lead and Western Kentucky at the Black Knight 2, here’s my blog entry.

OK onto a few more coaching decisions…Coach Ellerson says it’s Army’s mentality to go for it on 4th-and-short near midfield. The Black Knights had a 4th-and-1 from their 44, leading 10-7 with 4:05 left in the third quarter. Western Kentucky called timeout and guess Santiago was going to keep the ball. Santiago did and linebacker Andrew Jackson stopped him for no gain. Of course, there’s second-guessing after the gamble didn’t pay off. But, it was a risky decision considering Army basically was giving Western Kentucky at least three points if it didn’t make it.

What on earth was the Army’s coaching staff thinking when wide receiver Anthony Stephens caught a 4-yard pass at Army’s 28 with 26 seconds left and lateraled to tackle Momo Kime. Kime, a senior captain, couldn’t get a good handle on the ball and Western Kentucy recovered, ending Army’s chances. The lateral was practiced. What is the best-case scenario if Kime does hold onto the pitch. No way Kime was going the distance. Don’t think another lateral was planned. Granted odds are against Army driving 76 yards in 27 seconds but if there is a lateral involved doesn’t it have to go to a running back or freshman receiver Xavier Moss. All the lateral did was leave one of Army’s senior leaders with a terrible memory of his final play at Michie Stadium.

Senior rover Thomas Holloway wasn’t affected by missing nearly a month out with an ankle injury. Holloway led Army with 11 tackles and had the second interception of his career on a pass he tipped twice with his left hand before diving to catch it. The defense may have played its best first half of the season and Holloway was a big reason. He helped keep Antonio Andrews, the nation’s leading rusher, from big runs on the edge by taking away his running alley.

For more on Army football, follow me on Twitter @salinterdonato

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