WEST POINT – Turnovers and penalties. Bad. No turnovers and no penalties. Good.
Lately, Army has been very good.
“It’s through a lot of hard work,” Army coach Rich Ellerson said. “There are some things on tape that we still do not like, as well as how some players react in certain situations. We are going to continue to focus on those things instead of patting ourselves on the back and saying how good we are.”
In the three games the Black Knights have won, they had a collective total of no fumbles, one interception and six penalties; the opposition in those games totaled three lost fumbles, two interceptions and 16 penalties. Conversely, in its four losses, Army lost five fumbles, had one pass intercepted and was called on 24 penalties; the opposition in those games had three lost fumbles, had one pass intercepted and were called on 18 penalties.
The Black Knights’ efficiency in the last three games – two of them victories – is what has really piqued Ellerson’s pride. In that streak, his team has not fumbled, not been intercepted and has been penalized only six times.
‘When you do something exactly right and continue to possess the ball like that, you are fortunate,” he said. “We have to make sure we keep closing the gap on those fragilities that do exist.”
Hanging onto the ball and making sure that whatever you do on the field doesn’t attract the attention of an official is as basic as it comes. A lot of it is just mental, and that gives the Black Knights a decided edge against most teams they play. At the same time, chances are they’re facing teams that are bigger, perhaps faster, and that extra 20 or 30 pounds or tenth of a second or two can mean the difference between forcing a fumble or making an interception or perhaps recovering the ball once it’s on the ground.
Temple, who Army will face Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field, enjoys such an advantage. Its lightest offensive lineman weighs in at a positively gaunt 285 pounds and 11 are 300 or better. In contrast, Army’s biggest starting offensive lineman is right tackle Justin Gilbert, who checks in at 265. But if size was all that mattered, then all a basketball coach would need do is start five 7-footers. No, that probably wouldn’t work out.
“I think what you witnessed is that this team and this group of guys love to play the game and are especially committed to one another,” Ellerson said. “We have talked about all kinds of reasons and excuses to not play well, and they wanted no part of that. They were determined to play well. They were determined to stay together and to compete on the next snap. That is not something that we started last week. That is something that those guys have been working on for four-plus years. A couple of guys have only been working on it for a couple of years but they are all 100 percent committed to this team and its success. They know it’s hard. They love the game and at the same time, they respect the game and they will continue to prepare well.”
A team that’s 0-6 can likely cite a number of reasons why. One thing Temple can blame for such a dismal start to its season is its disproportionate number of turnovers.
The three quarterbacks the Owls have used so far have thrown as many interceptions – five – as they have touchdown passes. They’ve been competitive in only two games. In its 30-29 loss to Fordham, Temple had one fumble and was intercepted once; the Rams had neither. Neither team had a turnover in Temple’s 26-24 loss to Idaho. It’s the only game Temple has not exceeded the opposition in turnovers. For the season, Temple has lost seven fumbles, bringing its turnover total to 12.
However, as always, Ellerson pays no mind to what has already happened. As far as he’s concerned if it’s Tuesday, anything that happened Monday is already sealed in a time capsule. The greatest example of that is his treatment of running back Terry Baggett, who last week against Eastern Michigan ran for a school-record 304 yards.
“Last week is already ancient history,” he said. “We accomplished some things and we reflected on that. Now, we’re not talking about Terry’s yardage, we’re talking about Temple. What do we have to get done this week? Who’s going to step up, because we still have some guys nicked up? Who’s going to manage the roles that are going to be crucial to any chance of success against these guys? We don’t get down on ourselves and stop believing in ourselves when something bad happens, and we’re not going to relax because something good happened.”