2015 In Sports
2015 In Sports

Analysis of the Army San Diego State Football Game
Gordy Larson
12 Sep 2012
   There seems to be a lot of wrath circulating among Army fans since Saturday.  Some of it's deserved, but I'm not ready to sign any petitions to dump Ellerson, and I don't think our guys were as wimpy as some people would lead you to believe.
    It's a given that there's nothing good about getting beaten 42-7 by anyone, and I was one of those who thought we had a good chance of beating SDSU this past weekend. When the game ended, I was concerned that we might never win a game all season based on my initial impressions of our play, but after I had spent an appropriate time mourning the loss, I went back to the video tape and gave some thought to what had actually transpired.  Our guest contributor has compiled an impressive set of statistics, most of which are accurate and damning, but there are matters in mitigation that should be considered as well. 
    Lets start with the fact that SDSU is a good team with a good coach, who has figured out how to defend against the triple option (TO).  SDSU has compiled a 5-0 record against the three service academies since 2010, and that's in large part due to Rocky Long knowing how to play against the TO.  As we witnessed this past weeken with the AFA/Michigan game, Navy's game against S. Carolina last season, and our game against Northwestern, the triple option can cause defensive coordinators fits if they haven't played against it before.  SDSU plays AFA every year and Rocky Long is a good defensive specialist; so they've learned how to defend it. Long has put together a highly mobile 3-3-5 defense that works well against the TO. His defensive linemen focus on stopping the fullback, while his linebackers focus on stopping the QB keep option.  That leaves the pitchout to his defensive backs to stop, and he has five of them who were very quick at closing on our running backs without sacrificing pass defense. 
    Our guest contributor made some inferences about the fact that our two safeties combined for 16 tackles.  What he failed to observe was that the SDSU safety was also called upon to make 16 tackles.  In fact, 9 of their top 10 tacklers were linebackers or defensive backs suggesting that we were as successful at getting into their defensive backfield as they were in getting into ours. 
    Another set of statistics that our commentator seemed to give undue emphasis was the distribution of rushing yardage among the two halves of the game, noting that we gained only 100 yards rushing in the first half and had 90 yards in the final quarter.  Actually, only 41 of our rush yards were in the 4th quarter.  More importantly, he failed to note that our first drive of the day was a robust 62 yards on 11 carries, which demonstrated our ability to run the ball against the SDSU starting defense when it still mattered a great deal.  The main reason that drive stalled (on the SDSU 29) was that Steelman fumbled on the last series, losing a yard, which was immediately followed by a 5 yard penalty.  Maples got us back to within one yard of a first down with a 9 yard rush on third down, but Steelman failed to convert on fourth down when he chose to keep the ball rather than pitching it to Maples. During that drive, our running backs slipped a number of SDSU tackles, eating up yardage 5+ yards at a crack.  We looked as good as I was expecting on that drive until the bad snap fumble.  The SDSU fans were probably getting concerned about their defenders missing so many tackles. 
    Another fact overlooked in the argument about the paltry 100 yards in the first half is that we had two turnovers in that half, and one of them came on the first play of our second drive.  The second turnover came after we drove 35 yards to the SDSU 47 only to throw an interception.  We had three drives that ended in punts, two on turnovers, and one on downs.  In that same period of time, SDSU had two sustained TD drives of 71 and 80 yards, and a third TD drive of 33 yards set up by our first turnover.  SDSU also had three drives of 6 yards, 9, yards and 13 yards that ended in punts.  We had only one drive that was three and out compared to two for SDSU.  While SDSU clearly outplayed us in the first half, we were able to stop them about half the time, and it was unforced turnovers that made the biggest difference on the scoreboard.