Briefly spoke with Mike Monken as he was walking out of the postgame press conference following a 47-39 victory in his son, Jeff’s debut as Army coach.
“A win is a win,” Mike Monken said.
The Black Knights made it a little too interesting for the coaching staff and Army’s fans.
Definitely thought the game was over after Matt Giachinta’s 4-yard run gave Army a 47-17 with 11:10 left. Was even thinking Army would stop Buffalo and maybe add another touchdown.
But, Army’s failure to recover an onside kick, a lost fumble by quarterback Angel Santiago on a pitch he shouldn’t have made and some prevent defense allowed the game to come down to the final minute and a fourth-down stop by the Black Knights’ defense.
Buffalo’s comeback and 12 penalties give coach Monken and his staff plenty to work on this week in preparation for Saturday’s game at No. 15 Stanford. Stanford is coming off a 13-10 loss to USC. The Cardinal are 30-point favorite over the Black Knights.
Captain Obvious statement: Army can’t play as sloppy as it did in its season opener and expect to compete on the road at Stanford.
Monken called some of Army’s penalties, “foolish.” Including on the laundry list were four defensive personal foul penalties. One each by senior safeties Geoff Bacon and Hayden Pierce, who are both four-year starters.
“You get in those football games and all the fundamentals that we taught sometimes it looks like they’ve gone right out the window,” Monken said after his first win. “The guys get so excited. They get charged up to play. When you get in the heat of battle, you got to play fundamental football and we didn’t do that at times. We made some mistakes and we talked to them about that at halftime and went out there and tried to execute better.”
At least six of Buffalo quarterback Joe Licata’s 18 fourth-quarter completions came on check downs to the running backs. Surprised Army didn’t assign a defender to the back.
Coming into the season, Army’s secondary was thought to be the defense’s and one of the team’s strengths. Cornerbacks Josh Jenkins and Chris Carnegie lived up to that Saturday. If Jenkins continues to progress, the sophomore has all the skills to be an all-American. He just had instincts that can’t be taught at the position. Jenkins also was a physical tackler. Carnegie was steady, had an interception, which set up a late Army touchdown in the first half, and played solid one-on-one coverage on Ron Willoughby, which caused an incomplete deep pass on Buffalo’s second-to-last play of the game.
Sophomore safety Steven Johnson looked pretty good in passing situations. Wonder if Johnson continues to improve, could he start at free safety? Senior free safety Geoff Bacon could move to an outside linebacker spot where his strengths as a tackler and hitter could be used.
Monken’s enthusiasm was interesting to watch from the press box. At one point, a line judge had to politely ask Monken to move back off the playing field. When Monken is pacing the sideline, it almost feels like he’s in the huddle with the team. Monken took senior safety Geoff Bacon immediately out of the game after the senior co-captain swung at a Buffalo offensive lineman for a personal-foul penalty. He gave Bacon a tongue lashing on the sideline. When Bacon thought he was ready to go back into the game, Monken told him to get behind the white line almost if to say, “You’ll go back in when I tell you you can go back in.”
After a shaky start, senior quarterback Angel Santiago kept his composure and ran the offense pretty well. Santiago looked comfortable out of the shotgun and when he had to throw he was accurate. There are still a few times when Santiago keeps the ball instead of pitching it outside but I’ve never heard of any option quarterback, who is 100 percent with his read during the game.
Thought Army’s offensive line play was solid. In his first game at center, Matt Hugenberg didn’t have any issues snapping to Army’s quarterbacks under center or in the shotgun. Hugenberg help negate Buffalo nose guard Kristjen Sokoli, who was limited to one tackle. Guards Steve Shumaker and Stefan Moreau did a good job helping Hugenberg with Sokoli.
Army’s 7-for-7 passing was the product of good play-calling. Twice, Raymond Maples was wide open in the flat. Sophomore Xavier Moss, Army’s leading receiver in 2013, was not targeted in the game. Moss did throw a nice downfield block on a 57-yard run by Larry Dixon.
Liked the way Monken rotated in players especially at the skilled positions on offense. Not one running back, wide receiver or tight end played every snap. Don’t think this was a product of the heat Saturday. Think Monken likes to keep his running backs fresh and rotating will continue this week.
Army’s alignment of three gunners, two on the left side, on its first punt caught me by surprise. The formation worked as Jenkins, one of the gunners, downed the punt at Buffalo’s 1-yard line. Special teams looked improved by 1 billion percent compared to units of the past. Monken is a special-teams guru. It seems like Monken had a wrinkle for almost every kickoff. There were some short kicks, which took tricky hops, and some squibs. Army’s kick-coverage team was more physical than I can remember in a long time. Linebackers Addison Holstein and Justin Fahn each had big hits on tackles. The only downside to the special teams was two extra-point misses by junior Dan Grochowski, who was perfect at PATs going back to 2012.
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