WEST POINT – Fundamentals. Or the lack thereof. It’s the lack thereof that is leaving Jeff Monken, to put it mildly, irritated.
“We’re coming off a tough loss, one we felt like we had the opportunity to win,” the Army head coach said of his team’s 24-21 loss to Wake Forest this past Saturday. “We certainly didn’t play a perfect football game and made some mistakes that really cost us. Everybody who watched the game saw those and recognizes those things that were really out in the open – the fumbled ball, missing a kick, not executing on special teams and getting some big plays hit on us. It always comes down to the things we talk about every week and not playing our assignment exactly as we need to every time, and that costs us in some plays that are probably hidden to the people who are just watching the ball game.”
Such plays, Monken said, include things that would appear trivial, like a player not having his feet positioned correctly. Problem with that is such an error could prevent a defender from being in correct position to make a tackle. The kind of things, Monken said, that may even elude his eye until game films are reviewed.
“To us, we see those and see the opportunities that we missed there, and not making the plays, fundamentals – dropping the ball on a pitch play, we had a guy wrapped up in our arms and it turned into a 15-yard touchdown run,” he said. “We need to be able to make those plays. There were a lot of those. If you just change a play or two where we get it turned around and play our assignment how it’s supposed to be played or play with better fundamentals or execution, we may win the game. I think that’s how close we are. There is some encouragement in that, but there’s an awful lot of frustration as well. When you see your team get that close, and we as a team prepared and really felt like we were ready to go and had the game in a position where we could have won the football game and didn’t. Hopefully we’ll learn some lessons from it. There’s a lot that we still need to improve on. If we hope to win those close games and hope to beat the teams that remain on our schedule, we’re going to have to play a lot better.”
In its three games, the Black Knights have fumbled six times, losing five. In contrast, Army has only forced one fumble, which they recovered. They’ve also been penalized 21 times for 182 yards.
Against Wake Forest, Army had a chance to take a 24-14 halftime lead, but a low snap led kicker Dan Grochowski to miss a 39-yarder on the last play of the half.
In the second half, running back Joe Walker missed a pitch from quarterback Angel Santiago at the Wake Forest’s 12. Wake Forest recovered, depriving Army of a scoring attempt. Following a Wake Forest touchdown that gave the Demon Deacons a 24-21 lead, Army moved the ball to the Wake Forest 44, at which time Santiago picked up the first down on a third and 5. However, center Matt Hugenberg was called for a 15-yard chop-block penalty. Santiago fumbled on the next snap, on fourth and 20, with 2:47 left in the game.
Bad snaps. Fumbles. Penalties. Fundamentals all.
“There were specific things all throughout the game, from the first quarter on,” said Monken, whose team will take to the road Saturday against Yale. “There are plays where you recognize had we blocked this correctly on offense, we might have scored. Had we played this correctly on defense, they wouldn’t have converted the third down and been able to sustain a drive that they scored on. In the kicking game, executing a kick the way that we have it designed and have it be a break in the game for us or points on the board. There are plays all throughout the day. Because they scored in the fourth quarter or because they scored in the second half to beat us doesn’t mean there was a complete breakdown. There were things all throughout the day that we didn’t do well, and the fourth quarter wasn’t an exception. It wasn’t because we were out of shape or got tired or them wearing us down didn’t have anything to do with it.”
Whatever the cause, if Army wishes to turn the season around before it gets away, it once again comes down to the little things. Touchdown passes and 50-yard runs look good. An ill-timed penalty or a fumble deep in opposition territory looks worse.
With its modest 13 of 17 completions, Army’s pass percentage of 76.4 percent leads the nation. Asked to comment, Monken said, “We are?”