WEST POINT – Football, in case you missed the evening news, is rather physical, a lesson not lost Saturday on Army, when in less than a quarter it lost its two starting running backs. The first to fall was two-time 1,000-yard rusher Raymond Maples, then fullback Larry Dixon. Army head coach Rich Ellerson was non-committal as to their availability for this week’s game against Wake Forest. But there was surely a premium on optimism.
“We don’t know,” he said. “It’s too early in the week to say, other than to say that we’re banged up and we’re going to have to practice judiciously in the early part of the week just to make sure that we’re working with the guys we plan to play with this weekend. We’re going to have to make a call in the next 24 hours on how to practice and who to practice.”
How and who. Oh. And that other age-old question – who’s the quarterback – still need be answered. Against Stanford, it was Angel Santiago, until it wasn’t. Then it was A.J. Schurr. Until it was Santiago again. Then back to A.J. If one of the rationales for the back and forth was to confuse Stanford, it didn’t seem to work, particularly in the second half when Army got its only points of the half on a Schurr touchdown pass with 17 seconds remaining in the game.
Maples and/or Dixon? Santiago and/or Schurr? Ellerson will have to get back to you on that.
“We are going to need both quarterbacks in the course of this season, and we are going to need both quarterbacks to carry the load throughout the course of the season,” he said. “The good news is that because it is so competitive and we do expect to see both guys, the practice environment benefits from that. There is a sense of urgency in the practice environment which is a benefit of that because we need to get better at a lot of things at the position of quarterback.”
In three games, Santiago has completed 9 of 24 passes for 174 yards and one touchdown. Almost a third of those yards came on a 51-yard completion to Xavier Moss. Santiago has also rushed for 211 yards. In two games, Schurr is 8 of 13 passing for one touchdown. He’s rushed for 59 yards. So, once again, who’s getting the ball Saturday?
‘We’re going to go into the week and make that call coming out of Wednesday’s practice,” Ellerson said. “We want it to be competitive out there. We want our guys to feel that there is a real sense of urgency out there to perform and to prepare, especially at the quarterback position. We were able to say going in that we’re going to rotate, and we were able to stick with it. But we’re going to revisit that each week.”
As do most coaches Ellerson perceives every game as winnable and every game as a one-game season. So while he claimed no satisfaction from remaining competitive with the fifth-ranked team in the nation, he did pull some definable good vibes from it.
“I think we raised the bar on where we can be in terms of how hard we can play, how emotional we can be and how we can manage that emotion, instead of being used by it,” he said. “That’s important because this is an emotional game. As I told the players, that’s the worst we’ll play for the rest of the year. That needs to be the way it is. When we turned on the tape and we slowed it down, there were so many instances where if we were just a little bit more present and a little bit more right things could have been different. You don’t have to be any faster, you don’t have to be any stronger, you don’t have to be any better looking. You just have to be more right, and we can scratch some of those points off the board, we can stay on the field a little bit longer, we can get in the end zone one more time. Suddenly, instead of a game we played well in, it’s coming right down to the wire, which is where we need it to be when we’re playing teams like this. That’s going to be the way it is this week. That’s the way it was for them last week, and that’s the way it needs to be for us this week.”
Indeed the 34-20 loss to Stanford was a reversal from the manner in which Army lost the week before to Ball State. In that 40-14 debacle, the Black Knights committed eight penalties and had three turnovers. Against the Cardinal, it was two penalties and only one turnover.
“The ball wasn’t on the ground gratuitously. We were genuinely leaning forward compared to when we were on our heels at Ball State,” Ellerson said. “As I say, I think we used the emotions of the game last week as opposed to being used up by them. It was a step forward. We were leaning forward and we were leaning forward together. The week before we were pressing too far, basically jumping out of our shoes and basically leaving the offense, defense or special teams play to make a play. In this game for the most part we stayed within the system. When we did screw up our systems, our emotions weren’t the cause.”
Army sophomore kicker Daniel Grochowski was named the Football Bowl Subdivision Independent special teams player of the week for his performance against Stanford. Grochowski was responsible for eight of Army’s 20 points, hitting two field goals and two extra points.
His first field goal of the season, a 39-yarder, gave the Black Knights a 3-0 lead with 11:47 left in the first quarter. He followed that with a career-high 48-yard field goal to extend Army’s lead to 6-0 with 3:27 left in the period. Grochowski also made both of his extra-point opportunities.
Grochowski is the second Army player this season to be named an FBS Independent Player of the Week. Junior free safety Geoffery Bacon was the defensive winner following the Black Knights’ opening-night victory over Morgan State.