Quick thoughts: UConn

Remember when Army’s offense owned time of possession.

Remember when the triple option would run close to 90 plays per game.

Army may have lost more than it won but the distribution among the offense was fun to follow. The Black Knights are far removed from the nation’s leading rushing teams in 2011 and 2012.

The offense sunk to one of its lowest points in my nine years on beat in a 22-17 loss at UConn.

The numbers were ugly.

Nine first downs – two on UConn penalties and two on big touchdown plays by quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw and running back Joe Walker. Quick math: five first downs on Army’s remaining 39 plays.

Army ran just 41 plays and none from inside UConn’s 20.

Went back and did some research, the 41 plays are the fewest since Army snapped the ball 44 times against Rutgers on Nov. 9, 2007. That wet Friday night when Ray Rice ran Army for 243 yards at Michie Stadium. Army managed just six first downs in that game.

Army’s triple option isn’t working. Quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw has accounted for 272 of Army’s 436 rushing yards. Army’s next highest rusher is freshman Jordan Asberry with 62 yards and he had two touches against UConn. Fullbacks Aaron Kemper, Matt Giachinta and Drue Harris have combined for 65 yards in the first two games and 28 of those yards came on one carry by Kemper against Fordham. The fullbacks’ production is a sign of doom for the triple-option offense.

Sure, the offense is predicated on what part of the option – the dive, keep or pitch – that the defense decides to take away.

But, there’s a way to open up the dive play. Throw the football. Yes, the infamous short passing game. Sneak tight end Kelvin White (like Army did late against UConn) or slotback Joe Walker into the flat. A high-percentage pass or two may soften defenses.  Bradshaw attempted just three passes in the 22-17 loss to UConn Saturday. One of those completions was a shuffle pass to Gianchinta.

Throwing the football is a tricky subject around some triple-option coaches. Talking to Army coach Jeff Monken at last Tuesday’s press conference, he said, “We try to respond based on what the defenses are allowing us to do. That’s the way we have to run our offense. We are not just looking for way to throw the ball or saying, ‘It would be fun to throw the ball on this down. We look at the defense and try to find a way to run the football and use formations to do that and when there are opportunity to throw the ball, then we thrown the ball.”

Monken continued, “When we throw the ball a lot of more than we normally do, it’s usually not good for us. It’s when we are able to dictate when we throw the ball is when we are at our best. We got to run the ball effectively.

Monken said in 2013 at Georgia Southern, his team won both games in which it did not complete a pass. One of those games was at The Swamp against Florida. At that point, Georgia Southern was 9-0 in games when it did not complete a pass.

“Somebody asked me what I thought about that and I said, ‘I think we should never throw the ball again,'” Monken said. “When we ran the ball, we were able to win and I believe that about our football team here. If we run the ball effectively, we’ll be able to win.”

Other observations: Army couldn’t change field position after it started on its own 48 following a fumble recovery by Andrew King on UConn’s first drive. The Black Knights’ average start on their final nine possessions was their own 20. Army began three of those drives inside its own 11. Freshman Marcus Hyatt had nowhere to run on his three first-half kickoff returns, which netted a total of 38 yards. Hyatt did break off a 35-yard return to open the third quarter, giving Army its best field position since the fumble recovery at its own 35.

Thought Army’s defensive line of Jordan Smith, T.J. Atimalala and John Voit held their own despite being outweighed by 50 pounds per man and gave the team a chance to win the game. Smith, a junior defensive end, shined with eight tackles, a forced fumble and an extra point.

Tackling in open space continues to be an issue for Army’s defense. Twice, UConn receivers picked up 15 or more yards in one-on-one situations against cornerbacks.

The reverse pass called on 4th-and-5 from UConn’s 32 wasn’t the moment for a trick play. Army trailed 12-10 on its opening third-quarter drive looking to win for the first time in 20 games at opponent’s stadium. If the wind was too strong to try a 49-yard field goal, why not take a delay-of-game penalty and punt the ball inside UConn’s 10.

The old football adage is a team shows its most improvement between its first and second games. Sophomore safety Rhyan England showed major improvement from Week 1 against Fordham. He played hard from the start and finished with a career-high 13 tackles.

For more on Army football, follow me on Twitter, Periscope or Instagram @salinterdonato

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