October 26, 2010

Ellerson & Black Knights not looking past VMI

Rich Ellerson was lightheartedly asked to grade the performance of the Army football coach, and he didn't hesitate.

"I think he's one ahead of .500, so he's pretty good,'' he offered. "With a 4 and 3 (record) he's pretty good. A couple more wins and he's good; right now he's pretty good.''

The same could be said about his Black Knights, as they return from a week off to host VMI Saturday (noon - College Sports Network).

A couple of more wins and they would be very good, because then they would be bowl-eligible with six wins. Not to mention having a non-losing record for the first time in 14 years.

In fact, a win on Saturday would give the second-year head coach 10 wins over the past two seasons. That's the fastest it's taken a coach to win 10 games at West Point since Tom Cahill came to the hill in 1966.

He won 8 games in both 1966 and 1967.

Perhaps you remember 1966: U.S. forces began firing into Cambodia; the bombing of Hanoi; "A Man for All Seasons'' won the Oscar; the Orioles took out the Dodgers in four straight; the Packers won the Super Bowl; Notre Dame and Michigan State played to a tie and N.D. was voted college football's national champion over the Spartans; Bobby Joe Hill led Texas Western to the NCAA basketball championship.

And 1967: President Johnson met with Soviet Premier Aleksei Kosygin at Glassboro State College in New Jersey; Rod Stieger won an Oscar for the movie, "In the Heat of the Night;'' riots in Newark and Detroit; Bonanza was the most-watched TV show in America for the second straight year; Bob Gibson shut down the Red Sox in the seventh game as St. Louis won the World Series; the ABA began play with a red, white and blue basketball; O.J. Simpson led USC to the national title.

While this team may not be remembered on a national scale 40 years from now, it still has a chance to accomplish great things.

Army is favored to win Saturday over a VMI team that has lost to the likes of Liberty and Stony Brook, though it is coming off a victory over Charleston Southern 34-16.

Army should also be favored to win at Kent State Nov. 13. Should Army win two of three from among Air Force, Notre Dame and Navy, it may have to bring in its own National Guard to protect itself from excessive celebration.

Can you imagine an 8-4 record and, heck, throw in a bowl victory?

Being off for two weeks is allowing Army to, as Ellerson put it, "Reinvest in fundamentals,'' as well as to heal some of the walking wounded.

Sophomore tailback Malcolm Brown remains out with a shoulder injury, so look for a little more time for freshman Jon Crucitti, who will backup Brian Cobbs. Senior center Zach Peterson, who is the anchor of the offensive line, remains day to day, but will likely play.

What he and his teammates will face is a team which, while familiar with what Army does offensively, has, quite by coincidence, allowed an average of 276 yards a game on the ground. Army happens to average 276.43 per game on the ground.

Army is averaging 30 points per game; VMI is allowing 28 per game.

VMI has beaten Army only once in their 14-game series. Army has won the last four, last year's score being 24-17. The schools have met only six times since 1965.

There's that era again.

"Our guys are absolutely zeroed in,'' Ellerson said about the VMI game. "Our guys know what it feels like to play them. If you don't play hard you're not likely to win, and I don't care if it's Notre Dame and I don't care if it's Saint Mary's. VMI teams play especially hard. Part of that is their institutional culture. They, like ourselves, have chosen a more demanding, more disciplined path.''

That hasn't always translated on the field, for both teams, but Ellerson was positive in updating his team's performance as it heads into the final five games of the regular season.

The guys have played well and they continue to play better,'' he said. "It's incremental. We need to find (a way) to finish.

- Head Coach, Rich Ellerson

Intestinal Fortitude

"The guys have played well and they continue to play better,'' he said. "It's incremental. We need to find (a way) to finish.''

That of course refers to losses against Hawaii, Temple and Rutgers, all of which went down to the final minutes - Rutgers into overtime. "I'm rejecting the idea that something heroic has to happen,'' Ellerson said about pulling out wins down the stretch. "There have been a number of guys who stepped up, we've made a number of plays, and our intestinal fortitude, for lack of a better word, and our ability to answer the bell in those situations has really been impressive.

"Defensively we're doing a better job with our eyes. We're managing our selves with our eyes and feet.''

Pass defense? "We need to play the ball better,'' he said.

"We've been getting consistent pressure, but when that pressure is missing we have to play the ball better. There's an attitude back there that when the ball is in the air, our guys think it's theirs. We're not trying to break it up, we're not playing for the incompletion. We want the mind set that that thing belongs to us and go get it.

"As they say, it's less Xs and Os and more jets and joes.''
On offense it's more Trent Steelman and Jared Hassin, and a line that has been doing an excellent job projecting those two names into the headlines.

"I continue to be encouraged,'' Ellerson said about the offense. "We're doing a few things outside the box, so there's still that journey of discovery that goes on. We need to continue with a little bit more confidence, security and effectiveness, and we'll spread the ball where it needs to go.

"We need to do what we do,'' he reiterated, "and we're on that path. We've talked about the kicking game, the things we're doing on the turnover battle, the things we're doing in terms of decisions and execution, and, we just need to continue to grow. There's nothing out of our reach.''

Only 1966 and '67.

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