Quarterback talk

Starting quarterback was a hot topic earlier in the season.

Not so much with two games left in the 2014 campaign.

Senior Angel Santiago has taken over for good, starting the last five games over junior A.J. Schurr.

Santiago’s protected the ball better than quarterbacks in the recent past. He’s been credited with five lost fumbles in 10 games.

Army’s triple-option offense has had its ups and downs like the rest of the team this season. Coach Jeff Monken said there’s plenty of blame to go around for Army’s 3-7 start.

It’s not just the quarterback’s fault.

“We’ve had games where we’ve had our chances to win and others where we probably could have won,” Monken said. “It wasn’t all on him (Santiago),” Monken said. “Partly, it was him but we are all involved. If we are all going to take credit for the victories and say, ‘Hey, we were part of the victory,’ then we all need to say, ‘I’m part of the reason why we got beat.’

“He’s handled it really well. He’s not pointing the finger at anyone else. He always wants to know what he can do better to better help our team. He’s a competitive kid, who wants to win. He feels badly when a mistake falls on his shoulders. He takes it hard. I think that’s good. He’s not pointing fingers. He understands that it’s his responsibility to play the best he can play and be a leader for the rest of the guys at that position.”

Monken was asked if he was second-guessing himself for not sticking with Schurr, who started at Yale on Sept. 27 and against Ball State on Oct. 4.

“Frankly, A.J. has just had trouble getting the snap,” Monken said. “When you line up and you put your hands under center and you can’t get a snap, it’s hard. We’ve had trouble with that even with Angel. I think A.J. is really athletic. I think they are both tough kids. But, we’ve had practices where he’s (Schurr) dropped four or five snaps in one practice. It’s hard to say that he’s going to go out there and be the guy if that’s the case. How do you trust the ball is not going to hit the ground and somebody is going to kick it and the other team is going to get it. We have to maintain possession of the ball. If we are -1 on turnover margin in a game, our chances of winning go way down. If we are -2, we’re probably getting beat for sure. I don’t think there’s any question because of the limited possessions we have. You just can’t give them up.

“I love A.J.  I think he’s a great kid. I think he’s competitive and tough. You want to be sure that you are going to be able to handle the first part (the snap) of it and he knows that. It’s not something that we have hidden from him or said, “Hey,  just hang in there.’ (We’ve said), ‘here’s why’ (you aren’t playing). Angel has a lot of game experience. He turned it over against UConn and we are disappointed he did that but he’s done a decent job of taking care of it.”

Santiago will make his 21st career start on Senior Day against Fordham Saturday at Michie Stadium.

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

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Slotback debate continues

It’s become a weekly question.

Why aren’t senior slotbacks Terry Baggett and Raymond Maples, both 1,000-yard rushers in their Army careers, more involved in the offense?

Baggett has gone from 142 carries in former coach Rich Ellerson’s triple-option offense to 44 carries in first-year coach Jeff Monken’s triple-option system.

Maples, currently the sixth-leading rusher in academy history, has 38 carries as a fifth-year senior. He started the season with 439 career attempts.

Baggett and Maples combined for five carries in a 52-24 loss at Western Kentucky last week.

“It’s not because we’re not trying to get them involved,” Monken said during his Tuesday press conference. “We are doing the best we can within our system to get the guys the ball that give us the best chance to win. I think the things that we are doing are much more option based which makes the quarterback make decisions on every play. Certainly, people can align their defense to say we can take away two of those phases and try to make one guy carry the ball. Our fullback and quarterback have probably carried it more than our slot backs.

“That is typical over the years of us running this offense. The slots have been the guys who have carried it the least, but they have been the guys who have had the largest yards per carry average. I think every program I have been a part of over the years, by the time I left, we had a slot back set a school record for yards per carry for the season and career. We are not getting those numbers right now but I am confident that as we go and we get better at doing it, we will get the numbers that we want.”

Slotbacks in Monken’s offense, which is based on current Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson’s triple option, typically are smaller, faster runners. Baggett (6-foot, 217 pounds) and Maples (6-1, 220) are much bigger, physical backs.

The conversation/debate could go on and on. Are getting the most out of the talent of Baggett and Maples? Should the new coaching staff have adjusted its offense to get more production from its two seniors?

Monken was more in-depth after his press conference.

“They ran a lot of plays where the quarterback would turn around and hand off the ball (last year),” Monken said. “That’s not us. We’re an option-based football team now. They won three games last year turning around and handing off the them. We won three games this year running our offense. So, there’s not much difference. It’s just what we do and what we believe is going to be important for us to have success as we build the program. It’s the same as we did at Georgia Southern and it’s the same as we did at Georgia Tech, Navy and Hawaii and every place that we’ve run this.”

Sure, Army fans, were hoping to see Baggett and Maples featured more in the team’s final two games. They have to hope the seniors make the most of the touches that they do get. Baggett is averaging 7.5 yards per carry. Maples is at 6.4.

I must admit from watching preseason practices, I thought Baggett would have a larger role in the offense. I predicted Baggett to have a bigger season than his junior year, where he rushed for 1,113 yards and eight touchdowns. Boy, I was wrong.

While we are on the topic of slotbacks, watching senior Trenton Turrentine knock down multiple defenders on a 16-yard run, his only carry against Western Kentucky, brings up another question. Why has Turrentine carried the ball just nine times this season?

Guess, you can revert to the top. Coach Monken has also said earlier this season Turrentine was having some difficulty grabbing the offense.

Here’s some numbers to take in: Army slotbacks Baggett, Maples, Turrentine, Tony Giovannelli and Joe Walker have combined for 134 carries. Fullbacks Larry Dixon, Matt Giachinta and Aaron Kemper have 218 combined carries and quarterbacks Angel Santiago and A.J. Schurr have 197 total carries.

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




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Quick Nov. 18 practice blog

26 degrees during Army’s late afternoon into evening practice. Felt a little colder.

Senior safety Hayden Pierce practiced fully after missing the Western Kentucky game due to injury.

Army definitely could use Pierce’s experience against a Fordham team, which averages 327.3 yards per game.

Senior wide receiver Chevaughn Lawrence made a nice catch, going up to get a pass in between two defenders during skelly.

Junior cornerback Jared Rogers was a ballhawk, picking off a pass in skelly and against the scout team.

Freshman safety Rhyan England had an interception against the scout team.

Angel Santiago hooked up with Edgar Poe on a long pass against the scouts.

Freshman linebacker Bayle Wolf saw snaps with the second-team defense.

Here’s a clip from Coach Monken’s Tuesday press conference:

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


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Dixon to play in East-West Shrine game

Larry Dixon talked about making the most of his last two football games at West Point Monday.

Dixon, a senior fullback and co-captain, will play his final game at Michie Stadium against Fordham Saturday before closing out his Army career against Navy on Dec. 13 at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

Dixon, currently ranked fifth on Army’s career rushing list  (2,940 yards), won’t be hanging up his helmet and shoulder pads after the Navy game. He has excepted an invitation to play in the East-West Shrine Game on Jan. 17, 2015 in St. Petersburg, Fla.

“I’m pretty stoked,” Dixon said. “You dream about playing in those kinds of games. I’m really excited to go. But more importantly, all I want to do is thank everybody who helped me get to where I am. The coaches, the players, the B-backs (fullbacks). So many people in the gym helped me in the offseason, things that people don’t see. I just really want to thank the entire team. That’s all I can think about. It’s just a great opportunity to represent our team and our institution.”

Here’s my story on Dixon.

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

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Lost in loss: Larry Dixon

Correction: A 16-yard carry by Aaron Kemper was incorrectly credit to Larry Dixon in Saturday’s game against Western Kentucky.

Senior fullback Larry Dixon inched closer to becoming the West Point’s fourth career 3,000-yard rusher Saturday.

Dixon ran for the 10th 100-yard (115) game of his career. Only seven Army players have done that. Army’s co-captain stands at 2,940 yards with two games left in his four-year career. Glenn Davis, the 1946 Heisman Trophy winner, had 2,959 yards.

Dixon, who has battled a groin injury during the season, needs 146 yards in his last two games to complete the 19th 1,000-yard rushing season in school history.

Dixon scored the 23rd touchdown of his career on a 58-yard run in the third quarter against Western Kentucky. He is tied with Michael Wallace for eighth on Army’s all-time rushing touchdown list. Seven of Dixon’s 23 touchdowns have been on runs of 23 yards or more. Dixon’s longest touchdown run is 80 yards against Boston College last year.

Army’s all-time leading rushers
1. Mike Mayweather (1987-90) 4,299
2. Carlton Jones (2002-05) 3,536
3. Trent Steelman (2009-12) 3,320
4. Glenn Davis (1943-46) 2,959
5. Larry Dixon (2011-present) 2.940
6. Raymond Maples (2010-present) 2,855
7. Gerald Walker (1979-82) 2,700
8. Charlie Jarvis (1966-68) 2,334
9. Tory Crawford (1984-87) 2,313
10. Michael Wallace (1998-00) 2,275
20. Terry Baggett (2011-present) 1,630
26. Angel Santiago (2011-present) 1,538

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

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Postgame Western Kentucky: Coach Monken

Here’s my interview with Army coach Jeff Monken following a 52-24 loss at Western Kentucky:

Opening comment: “We didn’t play very well. We didn’t execute. We didn’t block them and we stayed blocked. They just lined up and mashed us. The way they were running the ball, I think they were smart to continue to run the ball.”

On Western Kentucky running back Leon Allen’s 345-yard rushing day: “You have to fit where you are supposed to. It’s not like they are just letting you run to the gap. They are trying to block you and keep you from getting to the gap you are trying to. You got to get off the block and get to your gap and then if you have an opportunity to make a tackle, make a tackle, don’t miss it. Too many times we either didn’t fit it correctly or got blocked and couldn’t get to our gap and get off a block and we missed some tackles too. Credit them, they did a better job of executing than we did.

On the 45-yard Hail Mary pass Western Kentucky quarterback Brandon Doughty completed to end the first half: “We had a rush team on where we are trying to bring pressure. We didn’t execute the rush like we needed to. Basically, we didn’t play it like we were supposed to. It was just very poor technique by the guys with the push up the field. It would have opened up a seam because we had a guy adding to the rush and all he had was other people in front of him. The guy stepped up and made a heck of a throw and when it bounced, we not only have people going for the ball but we have other people accounting for each receiver. We have them way outnumbered down there. When the ball bounced and the guy that tried to go up and get it didn’t catch it, the guy that catch it, our guy that was supposed to be covering him was looking at the ball. He wasn’t looking at his man. That’s just an error. You have to do that. You have play it the way you are taught to play it and we didn’t do that. They got a great bounce right in their hands and we were down 14.”

On play of his special teams: “It was atrocious. Snapping the ball over the punter’s head when they have their defense in the game. It wasn’t like they were trying to rush the punt. They had two guys trying to rush the punt just to make sure he gets it off on time and then missing the field goal, we didn’t have a great snap on the field goal. Letting the ball hit the ground, there’s no reason for that to happen. We work on that three out of the four days of the week, on pooch (kicks) like that. We had one guy call him off and say, ‘Me, me, me.’ As if he was going to take it and he got cold feet, stopped and let the ball hit in front of him. You called it. You better take it. He didn’t do it. That’s again another turnover.”

On cutting Western Kentucky’s lead to 14 twice but not being able to stop the Hilltoppers: “We hit a big play. They would come right back and run the ball for 50 yards or a touchdown. They kicked off. We hit another big play and cut to 14 and they hit another big run. It was comical almost. It was a helpless feeling.”

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


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Pregame blog: Western Kentucky

Junior Cale Brewer will handle kickoffs for the second straight game.

Brewer was told last Saturday morning that he would kick in Army’s 35-21 win over UConn later that day and performed well. He made two tackles on kickoffs.

“To not know you are going to be the starter and step in on the day of the game and kick it good and have the courage to throw your hat in there and make some plays, I thought that was pretty good,” Army coach Jeff Monken said.

Sophomore guard Colby Enegren, who has started three games this season, will miss the game. Enegren was injured in the third quarter last week. Senior running back Stephen Fraser is also not on the dress list. Fraser dressed for his first game last week following a return from ACL surgery.

Army radio said freshman Scott Washle will not play. Washle made his first start at middle linebacker for Andrew King, who missed last week’s game due to injury. King is available to play today as is senior RB Tony Giovannelli.

Freshmen dress list (15): S Rhyan England (starter); LB Scott Washle; DE John Voit; DE Andrew McLean; T Mike Houghton; G Jaryn Villegas; C Bryce Holland; G-T Trey Ratliff; LB Alex Aukerman; RB Nick Shiver; LB Tyler L’Hommedieu; LB Bayle Wolf; LS Clay Barton; P Tim Garner; QB Seth Gonzales

For game updates, follow me on Twitter @salinterdonato

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Pregame nuggets: Western Kentucky

Coach Jeff Monken said earlier this week that the offense wasn’t changed for the UConn game, where Army was able to pitch the ball 14 times against the Huskies.

“It’s the same calls,” Monken said. “When you run the triple (option), you got the dive, the quarterback and the pitch. It’s whatever they take. In theory, one of them should be carrying the ball and if we get our blocks ought to be able to get yards. We have two guys over there that we don’t block, the read key and pitch key. On defense, they have a decision on whether they are going to player A or player B and we just make our decisions off of that. Not every play we ran was the triple option but we ran the triple a lot. Probably more than in week’s past.”

Monken said tackles Ryan Alexander and Drew Hennessy getting out and making blocks on the perimeter were one of keys for success on pitches. Army slotbacks Terry Baggett, Raymond Maples and Trenton Turrentine have good blocks on the outside on Army’s first three plays of the second half, Monken said.

Former Army quarterback Trent Steelman, who grew up in Bowling Green, Ky., will be in attendance for the game. Steelman tweeted earlier this week that he wished he could have played at Western Kentucky during his Army career.

Steelman, who ranks third on Army’s all-time rushing list, led the Black Knights to a victory in the 2010 Armed Forces Bowl and its first winning season since 1996.

Follow me on Twitter @salinterdonato for game updates of Army and Western Kentucky. Kickoff at noon.



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Prediction time: Western Kentucky

Army is a 10-point road underdog at 4-5 Western Kentucky.

Western Kentucky isn’t the easiest team to figure out. The Hilltoppers have scored 47 or more points three times and allowed 42 or more in five games.

Western Kentucky’s Brandon Doughty, the nation’s No. 3 passer, presents the biggest challenge for Army’s defense this season.

Will be interesting to see how Army lines up or matches up against Western Kentucky’s three or four-wide receiver sets. Army has used sophomore Tevin Long as nickel back during the season. There are going to be times when linebacker Steve Ricciardi could be matched up on a receiver.

Army is ranked No. 5 in rushing offense, averaging 298 yards per game. Western Kentucky allowed 228 rushing yards per game.

It took three-quarters of the season but it was able to get a true triple-option offense rolling against UConn last week. Slotbacks Terry Baggett, Raymond Maples, Joe Walker and Trenton Turrentine need to be active Saturday.

Army was a 6.5-point home underdog to Western Kentucky and was defeated 21-17.

Sal Interdonato, Times Herald-Record Army football beat writer: Western Kentucky 38, Army 35. Have a feeling Army will play competitive on the road this week and follow the blueprint for the UConn win with some long, time-consuming drives. Think this game will be decided late in the fourth quarter.
Chad Bishop, Western Kentucky beat writer for the Bowling Green Daily News: Western Kentucky 38, Army 20. I do not believe the Knights can stop WKU’s passing attack and don’t believe Army’s option is much of a threat.

Predictions from around the college football universe
Brian Pedersen (Bleacher Report): Western Kentucky 43, Army 38

Tweet your prediction to @salinterdonato

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Who played on defense: UConn

Freshmen Rhyan England and Scott Washle were two of six Army defenders to play all 61 snaps of a 35-21 win over UConn Saturday at Yankee Stadium.

England, a safety, was making his third start. Washle, a linebacker, made his first college start, playing for the injured Andrew King.

Cornerbacks Josh Jenkins and Chris Carnegie and linebackers James Kelly and Jeremy Timpf all went the distance for the Black Knights.

Sophomore safety Steven Johnson played the entire second half in place of senior Hayden Pierce, who was injured in the first half.

Freshman defensive end John Voit ended up playing more snaps (36) than starter Joe Drummond (30).

Sophomore defensive end Jordan Smith also received extended snaps (30) in a reserve role.

Here’s a breakdown of the snaps on defense:
*CB Chris Carnegie 61 snaps
*S Rhyan England 61 snaps
*CB Josh Jenkins 61 snaps
*LB James Kelly 61 snaps
*LB Jeremy Timpf 61 snaps
*LB Scott Washle 61 snaps
*NT Richard Glover 52 snaps
*LB Steve Ricciardi 44 snaps
DE John Voit 36 snaps
S Steven Johnson 35 snaps
*DE Mike Ugenyi 31 snaps
*DE Joe Drummond 30 snaps
DE Jordan Smith 30 snaps
*S Hayden Pierce 25 snaps
Nickel Tevin Long 16 snaps
NT T.J. Atimalala 7 snaps
NT Bobby Kough 2 snaps
LB Addison Holstein 1 snap
DE Andrew McLean 1 snap

* – starter

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

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    Award-winning writer Sal Interdonato has been on the Army football beat since 2007. He'll take you inside the huddle and into the lives of the Black Knights. Read Full
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