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Did Army miss out on winning 12 games because of easily-fixed coach mistakes?

Posted by John Reed on

My alma mater Army went 8-5 this year, including winning a bowl game. Yay, Army!
That’s their best record since 1996. Congrats to Coach Monken and his staff as well as to the current Army players.

Coaching mistakes

However, I am a former coach and a football coaching book author, not a fan. So I see and comment on what I believe are coaching mistakes. 

There may be three categories in the case of Army 2016:

• lack of three strings of competent field-goal trios (long snapper, holder, placekicker)

• poor clock management

• more than average turnovers

Loss to Buffalo 23-20 OT

Army’s first loss in 2016 was to Buffalo on 9/24. They lost by a field goal in OT. Furthermore, they led until 3:05 left in the fourth quarter.

They had a chance to break the tie in regulation with a 34-yard FG but missed. They also had a chance to take the lead in OT with a 43-yard field goal which they also missed. Buffalo then kicked a 33-yard field goal to win.

Bad kicks

Missed FGs can be caused by a bad snap, bad hold, or bad kick. I did not see this game so I don’t know the specific reason for each. I did see the Heart of Texas Bowl and the first missed PAT was caused by a bad hold there. 

But in the Buffalo game, might they have won with the same play results but better clock management? They were ahead for most of the game. That means they should have been in a max slow-down. Were they?

Buffalo’s first TD with no PAT made it 10-6 at 10:48 left in the third quarter. Could Army have ended the game with a max slowdown before that? I doubt it.

After Army moved their score to 20, Buffalo scored their second TD plus a PAT kick at 8:25 left in the fourth. That made the score 20-13 Army. Could they have taken, say, 8:40 off the clock with a slow down in the second half? I’ll check that after I look at the game tying score by Buffalo. At this point, Army was still ahead. All they needed to win was to prevent the Buffalo score that tied the game.

Bad clock management

The tying 7-point TD came at 2:26 left in the fourth. Could Army have prevented that by being in a slow down the whole second half? Probably. Let’s check.

The Army possession before Buffalo’s tying TD went from 8:25 down to 6:13: 2 minutes 12 seconds.

1st play was an in-bounds rush. That should have taken :46.

2nd play was an inbounds run that also should have taken :46.

3rd play ditto.

4th play was a punt. That should have taken :07.

That is a total of 145 seconds which is 2 minutes and 25 seconds. And that’s just the one possession. They could have and should have been in a max slow down during the previous part of the whole second half. So, yes, Army could have and should have been in a max slowdown and if they were they would have almost certainly won the game 20-13.

What does max slowdown mean in the context of this drive? Simply wait until the end of the :40 play clock before snapping the ball. Plays take about :06 each, :07 for a punt. The time between the end of one one play and the snap for the next is :40 by rule—unless you do something stupid like snap the ball before the end of the play clock.

That is purely a coach’s failure.

Three strings, get them their reps, recruit the talent

What about the kicking misses? You need three strings of long snapper, holder and place kicker. Monken had three years to recruit them. Many wonder why he cannot get them even from the West Point student body or the Army soccer or rugby teams. I would also think that might work. Maybe they tried and there is no one in the 4,400 Corps of Cadets who could place kick. I find that hard to believe.

They probably have three strings of girls who can kick PATs. Medium- and long-range field goals probably require boys. The 1/9/17 Sports Illustrated has a “Faces in the Crowd” item about Emma Baker a Rancho Christian High School junior in Temecula, CA. She was 8 for 10 on field goals for the season with a long of 41. In the state championship, which her team won, she kicked a 30-yard FG and was 4 for 4 on PATs in the game. I doubt she would be the best for an FBS team, but it shows how wide the placekicker pool is.

Every single cadet has to be somewhat athletic to get into West Point. They make you take a physical aptitude test to get admitted. Fit and athletic does not mean FBS athletic ability, but we are just talking about place kicker here.

Your three strings of LS, H, and PK need to get at least 1,200 reps before the first game of the season and a whole lot more every day in practice. Anyone can long snap if they get the reps. Holders have to be excellent athletes. All-star short stops are good. PKs are PKs. They need leg strength for kickoffs and 60-yard field goals.

Second loss to Duke 13-6

Army never had the lead so no failure to be in a slowdown. After their 2nd quarter TD, Army went for two and failed. It was very windy and rainy for the game—Hurricane Matthew, although that affected both teams.

 There was no more kicking for Army in the game. Nor should there be. They needed 8 points to win.

They were not close to such a score in the fourth quarter.

Turnovers

Army turned the ball over three times in this game. According to Football Outsiders, Army was 127 out of 127 in turnovers in 2016. Suffice it to say that is unacceptable. 

You fix it with a gauntlet drill. Monken probably does that, but likely not enough. De La Salle High School, which has the best record of football wins ever, runs the triple option. One of their drills is to have a back on a yard line and another one yard line away, they go back and forth across the field from one side to the other ten times per practice! If the ball ever hits the ground, that round trip does not count. 

It is also a personnel issue. If you have a fumbler, you stop letting him touch the ball—ever.

Base-running practice = better base-running defense

In my baseball coaching books, you will learn that base running is one of the most coachable aspects of that sport. We spent most of practice on base running. Hitting and pitching are more important, but not very coachable.

Many of our base-running drills and practice segments had other players playing the role of the opposing defense. An unexpected, but logical by product of our practicing base running so much, is we became by far the best base running defense team in the league.

Occasionally, opponents would get angry at our base running and tell their players to just keep going to the next base even when it seemed crazy. Our guys not only threw them all out, they had time to exchange “seriously? facial expressions before they made the throw.

My point here is that if Coach Monken emphasizes ball stripping more in practice, it will make his team better at not being stripped. On to Army’s third loss of 2016. 

 

Army got beat by North TX, the same team Army later beat in OT in the Heart of Texas Bowl.


North Texas 38 Army 15

Did they manage the clock poorly or kick badly? Kicking was perfect. They should have been in a hurry-up the whole game, probably were not, but clock management alone would not have changed the outcome of this game. Turnover avoidance, maybe combined with better clock management, probably would have won the game.

The story of this game was the season high seven turnovers by Army. Did they manage the clock poorly or kick badly? Kicking was perfect. They should have been in a hurry-up the whole game, probably were not, but clock management alone would not have changed the outcome of this game. Turnover avoidance, maybe combined with better clock management, probably would have won the game.

Army 12-Air Force 31

I saw this game at Facebook HQ with a bunch of WP and AF grads.

The PAT kick failed after Army’s first touchdown. It was blocked. That is a way of screwing up the kicking game that I did not even mention above. Army needs a special teams coordinator. I believe I had only one PAT blocked in my HS career. One lineman stepped to the outside, as you do on a punt, but which is the opposite of what you do on a field goal. He let a defender through to block the kick. In later years, I eliminated punts altogether. We place-kicked the “punts.” That took care of the possibility of stepping to the outside ever happening again.

http://www.johntreed.com/blogs/john-t-reed-s-football-coaching-blog/68517251-the-place-kick-punt

In other words, getting a PAT blocked is absolute coaching incompetence.

Army also failed a 2-point conversion. With all the practice and game experience they get on going for 2, you would think they might get better at it. Nope.

Army should have been in a hurry-up the whole game, but it would not have mattered. The problem in this game was not getting enough first downs.

Army also turned the ball over three times. in other words, this was not a loss that could easily have been corrected by just fixing clock management, kicking, or turnovers.

Army 6-Notre Dame 44

The only PAT kick missed. And they missed a 33-yard field goal. Unsatisfactory.

Army only had one turnover: a pick.

Clock management should have been hurry-up. Not relevant in this game though.

11-2, not 8-5

So conclusion: if Army coaches were competent at keeping turnovers to the NCAA average or better, managed the clock correctly instead of incompetently or indifferently, and had an average kicking game, their final record would have been 11-2, not 8-5.

The Buffalo, Duke, and North Texas losses would have been wins.  The Air Force and Notre Dame losses were comprehensive failures that involved more than just incompetent kicking, excess turnovers, and clock management.

Although if they had finished the regular season 10-2, they probably would have played a tougher bowl opponent.

Army ended the season 8-5 and was ranked 67 out of 128 teams by CBS. http://www.cbssports.com/collegefootball/rankings/cbs/128

An 11-2 finish would likely have moved them up to about 40 to 48. 9-5 Navy, whom Army beat, was 39th. 10-3 Air Force was 42nd.

Again, Congrats to the coaches and team on the great improvement over prior years. But these coaches lost three games because of very poor coaching in kicking, turnovers, and clock management. They should read my Football Clock Management book and follows its best practices.

Football Clock Management bookThey need a competent special teams coach. And they need to emphasize ball security much more.
• What you demand, you get.
• What you tolerate, you encourage.
• What you emphasize, you achieve.

 


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