An hour or so prior to Army hosting North Texas, the skies over West Point were overcast and the proverbial question was, "Where was the sunshine that was forecast throughout the week?"
Although the slow arriving crowd of 24,689 finally made their way into Michie Stadium under partly sunny skies, something happen just before kick-off
The sun found its way over the stadium and a football perfect 65 degrees made for a great combination … or ideal football balance.
Yes, if there was a theme that defined Army's play in the first half of their contest against North Texas, it would be "balance". As the Black Knights deferred to the 2nd half, you could see that the Black Knights were already settled and ready to go.
On offense, the ball was distributed equally and net results were in proportion.
*Patrick Mealy - 46 yards
*Trent Steelman - 28 yards
*Malcolm Brown - 17 yards
*Jared Hassin - 15 yards
*Brian Cobbs - 12 yards
*Jonathan Crucitti - 9 yards
Of course as the game wore on, there was a story line, or actually a few that unfolded with this backfield.
First, Mealy continued his pace of being both consistent and dependable, albeit he went down with an injury prior to the conclusion of the 1st half. The good news is that Coach Ellerson stated that it wasn't serious and it appears at this point that #5 will be in the lineup next Saturday versus Duke.
With Mealy down, this would have been the opportunity for frosh Raymond Maples to lug the rock, but the talented running back is still nursing an ankle injury and so the back-up duties went to another freshman, Jonathan Crucitti.
But let's first start with Cobbs. Like Crucitti, the sophomore from St. Charles (Mo.) is making the best of their transition as a ball carrier. Last year this time, the 5-foot-11, 185 Cobbs was defending (cornerback), but now he is trying to make defenders look bad. And if today is an example of his potential, where he lead the team in rushing with 75 yards on just 7 carries (10.7 avg.), than he becomes another weapon in Offensive Coordinator, Ian Shields' arsenal.
Then there's Crucitti, who finished the game with 13 carries, which was the most of any of Steelman's pitchmen. Although his 31 yards won't make ESPN's Top Plays, his style of running which is more north-south and fullback like, is a change of pace and again, another weapon.
"I'm still developing as a runner," the freshman said after the game, who was initially recruited at Army as a safety and had received reps this week of practice with the 2nd unit. "In high school I was a quarterback and wide receiver. For me, after the first couple of plays I began to see the hole."
On defense, the 1st half balance was as consistent as it was with the offense. Middle linebacker Stephen Anderson had eight tackles, Jordan Trimble, who was all over the field from his strong safety (Sam) position registered 5 tackles. Not to mention his big time drive saving interception in the end zone.
Josh McNary and linebacker Steve Erzinger joined the fun, with 4 tackles each, along with McNary's one sack and customary pass pressure … where he was a first half headache for North Texas. Not to be left out swarm convention was sophomore defensive tackle Jarrett Mackey, who a tremendous bull rush sack for an 8 yard loss on a 2nd & 10 on North Texas' first possession.
This balance attack saw Army's first possession of the game net a 7-0 lead on a drive that took 6 plays, 42 yards and 2:30 off the clock. But this was really Mealy's drive, where the senior rushed for 38 yards on 4 carries and a 9 yard touchdown.
It as also the first time this season that the Black Knights scored first.
However, with 5:42 remaining in the 1st quarter, North Texas made an attempt to derail Army's balance by driving the ball from their own 18 yard line to the Black Knights' 19 and after a 5 yard false start penalty; Derek Thompson had 7 points in mind. But Trimble had other ideas, as he darted from his center field safety spot … across the field to make an outstanding pick in the corner of the end zone, as the 1st quarter concluded.
"That was a play we'd seen before in the past couple of weeks," said the senior defender, who continues to get better and better each week. "We knew we had to be ready for that this game. We did the little things right during practice and did the same during the game. The defensive backs are in position to make a play on that, and I was in position as well."
Things only got worse for Mean Green - with 12:38 remaining in the half, Thompson went down and out for the game and from there the Army defense shifts into another gear and smothers North Texas' offense. With 7:00 remaining, from his linebacker spot, Anderson recovers a fumble on Mean Green's 14 yard line.
With ball in hand and four plays later, the Black Knights hit pay-dirt as slot back Malcolm Brown scampers in from 2-yards out. Credit solid blocking up front, but also impressive blocking on the perimeter by fellow slot back, Crucitti.
It was this level of defensive balance and intensity against the pass and run that slowed down the Mean Green talented running back, Lance Dunbar who rushed for 133 yards in 2009 against Army, but finished the day with just 42 yards (3.2). It didn't help Dunbar that starting quarterback Derek Thompson, who was making his first start as the replacement to injured Nathan Tune, went down with what appears to be a season ending injury.
The 2nd Half
The 2nd half kept pace with the 1st half.
After Army received the kick-off to start the 3rd quarter, both teams exchanged punts on their first series. But with 11:34 on the game clock, the Black Knights marched 11 plays, 79 yards and utilize 5:52 of clock. The series was capped off by impressive 20 yard touchdown run by Steelman and Army controlling the flow of the ball game.
At this point, it was just a matter of getting out of this game injury free … more than what could be said for the visiting North Texas squad, appeared to have a player carried or hobble off the field every quarter.
The Black Knights were able to add on 3-points on Alex Carlton's 4th quarter 23 yard field goal to seal the win, as Army posted their first shutout since 10/22/ 05, when they pitched a 20-0 win against Akron.
"It's hard to win a football game, and it's especially hard to shut a football team out," said Ellerson during his post game conference.
"That was a great day for our defense because our defense hasn't felt great coming off the field the last couple of games. They have such high standards and expectations for themselves. We respect North Texas and the fact that they were banged up. Keeping those guys out of the end zone and getting those takeaways when we needed them was really big in terms of the outcome."
Final score: Army 24 & North Texas 0