WEST POINT – The most visible piece of equipment in the Army locker room these days is ice packs. The newest entrant on the Black Knights’ ever-expanding disabled list is quarterback Angel Santiago, who suffered a left ankle injury Saturday in the second quarter of Army’s 48-27 loss to Boston College. Army coach Rich Ellerson expects him to return to practice sometime later this week, but trying to accurately predict the healing process is invariably a crapshoot. And Army has certainly been crapping out a lot in its first six games.
The first major loss was to leading rusher Raymond Maples, who suffered what will likely be a season-ending injury against Stanford. The back who had emerged as the team’s leading rusher, fullback Larry Dixon, missed the Black Knights’ game against Wake Forest; he returned two weeks ago and led the team in rushing against Boston College. Then A.J. Schurr, who had been alternating with Santiago, was hurt two weeks ago against Louisiana Tech. His return date remains a mystery. Yes, no sport is more likely to distribute injuries than football. But this is getting ridiculous.
“You’ll see teams who have their starters for game one and then you’ll see the same starters for game five or game six,” Ellerson said.
In contrast, Army, who will host Eastern Michigan Saturday, has suffered injuries that has caused nine of its opening-day starters to miss at least one game; Santiago would be No. 10. The not-sure-who-will-be-available scenario is always injurious to game preparation. That’s certainly even more of a problem when the quarterback’s status is a question mark.
“When I say we have to be a little creative in game week, I don’t let them carried away [Tuesday] in terms of our combativeness,” Ellerson said. “That’s more our Wednesday in full pads and we can go after each other. We had guys who were not part of the active preparation for BC and that showed up. There’s nuance to detail and against a quality opponent it’ll get exposed. We go into this one and we have to look to who we’re going to have on Saturday based on what they can do on Wednesday. It just means we have to be pragmatic on Wednesday and just go with the guys we expect to play with us on Saturday.”
As such, sophomore Kelvin White – who replaced Santiago when he was hurt -- and freshman Tevin Long have been doing some extra game prep, just in case. Against Boston College, White ran for 27 yards and completed 3 of 8 passes for 19 yards; Long ran for 16 yards and did not attempt a pass. With Schurr out and Santiago’s status unsure, Ellerson could be entering a game with no alternative except his No. 3 and 4 quarterbacks. Depth is one thing, but…
“There are things that Kelvin does better [than Santiago],” Ellerson said. “Your opponent tells you a lot of what we’re gonna do on our offense. Kelvin can run our offense. He runs it a little differently. We’re inclined to use his ability to throw the ball a little more. But we’re gonna run the same offense.”
Even with Santiago out for most of the BC game, Army’s offense didn’t sputter, but it was the defense that tanked. The Black Knights actually led 17-14 when Dixon scored the first of his two touchdowns 20 seconds into the second quarter. Boston College took the lead 2 ½ minutes later, the second of running back Andre Williams’ five touchdowns. The closest Army would get came on Dan Grochowski’s 40-yard field goal with 48 seconds left in the first half, making the score 28-20. But in those final seconds, BC was able to move the ball far enough for a field goal of its own. The Eagles then scored 17 of the 24 second-half points for the rout. The 523 yards of total offense was by far the most allowed by Army all season. The loss dropped Army to 2-4.
“Our feelings are a little hurt, but more importantly we’re banged up a little bit,” Ellerson said. “These guys are determined. Their feelings are hurt. They didn’t want to be pretty good, they wanted to be oh-my-goodness good.”
There’s still time.
“All the smart guys in Las Vegas thought we’d be 1-5,” Ellerson said. “If we’re 3-3 or 4-2 at this stage of the game, look out. But we’re not that either. It’s to be determined. We haven’t dug ourselves a big hole, but we haven’t distinguished ourselves either. We’ve played just well enough for you to say, ‘Hey, there’s a lot of football to be played.’ It doesn’t take a whole lot of imagination to see a hell of season.”
As Ellerson said, that’s to be determined