West Point, NY: On Monday, Army head coach Rich Ellerson held his weekly press conference at Randall Hall on the West Point campus. Ellerson took time to discuss last Saturday's performance, along with the Black Knights' upcoming contest on the road at Miami (Ohio) on Saturday at 1 p.m.
Head Coach Rich Ellerson's opening comments:
"We have two real challenges this week. The first one is our own. Can we, in a difficult week academically, go on the road to the scene of several crimes, the Midwest, where we have played poorly, and manage our week, manage our enthusiasm, manage our legs, manage our time and get our rest and play well; play well on the road. The other challenge is Miami. Miami hasn't won a game, which is crazy when you look at the video tape. You see an offense and a quarterback and a bunch of receivers who are as talented and efficient and dangerous as any we've seen or any we will see. Their defense has done some tremendous things. They're very active, very aggressive.
They've played some great football. They haven't put enough good football together to get the scoreboard the right way, but in many instances we're going to be lined up against the best guy we've faced this year. It goes back to Dysert and his presence.
Quarterbacks like him, and quarterbacks who probably aren't as good as he is, have really given us fits this year. All kinds of challenges this week. First, managing our preparation, managing this week, taking the Army team on the road. And then dealing with a really gifted opponent that's obviously very gifted and very frustrated, obviously. We hope it's going to be a real hard-fought game, because if it's not it's because we're getting boat-raced again. They're that kind of an outfit. They're going to battle you in every phase of the game and we need to be prepared for something like that on the road."
Building off of the Tulane win
"I think being successful and seeing what correlates with success on the scoreboard, experiencing that, is good for our football team. It's certainly a reminder to our veterans who have been around the block. It validates some things in the minds of our youngsters that that's how you win a football game, that's how you prepare to win a football game, first and foremost. Then, doing the things with the turnover battle and the kicking game, playing hard, playing well in critical in situations and how that can influence the score. That was a hard-fought game against Tulane. It got one-sided late, but there was nothing easy about that. Somebody that thinks a football game is easy because of the score, go back and live it with our guys. Our guys were playing hard and having fun and they were on the edge. They were doing all the things right, but that was a hard football game. The score does not reflect that.
So many of these things we have guys experiencing for the first time and the good news is we have just enough veteran players in juniors and seniors who have been around the block who are really starting to play well and making their presence felt both on and off the field. It's starting to work for us a little bit, and that's going to be important if we're going to keep this thing going."
Preparing & Winning on the road
"A couple of things are a little different. We have the experience of what a Thayer Week can do to you the last time and we didn't handle it very well, so we're going to do some Draconian things in preparation for this contest. Our sophomore class is in an especially difficult week; a challenging week. So, we're going to do whatever we need to to accommodate those guys, so they can get their work done, prepare and at the same time get enough sleep so physically and nutritionally they're going to be ready to go.
Two, we're at that point in the season after five tough games that we have just enough nicks and bruises and sprains that it makes sense to back off a little bit in terms of our physical work this week. If we go out there and we try to have a very traditional, fundamental practice on Tuesday and Wednesday, we'll be practicing with guys who won't be playing in the game because the guys are going to play in the game, we hope, just can't practice that way. They're a little bit banged up. We also have that group of guys that could use that practice that our sophomores, but frankly their time is not going to allow that. We're going to do something that's unique to West Point, we're going to manage our time accordingly."
The LB Combo of Andrew Rodriguez & Nate Combs
"Well, it gives us a little flexibility because those guys can do different things. You can, from call to call, let them swap responsibilities. That mature presence is good for us. There are some things that they do really well physically and there are some things they struggle with physically at times, but they're both veteran competitors and they're very poised competitors and that will help some of those younger guys that are flying around them settle in."
Underestimating an 0-4 Miami
"I know our guys are mature enough to look at the video tape and believe what they see. You can them watch push Missouri around. You can watch them throw the ball against teams that are much better right now defending the pass than we are and have great success moving the football. We don't need to worry about that. Our guys know how hard it is to win. They know how hard it is, especially for us, to win on the road because we haven't come close to doing that. And, finally, we believe what we see. We have a lot of respect for our opponent. You can almost feel the frustration on that football team watching them play because they're doing so many good things and the scoreboard just won't reflect it. They're going to continue to fight.
They're going to watch our tape, conversely, and that's going to be like blood in the water. They're going to say, `Hey, we've got a great chance to get these guys'. I expect it to be a hotly-contested game. When I say that, I'm expecting that we're going to get this week right. We're going to have our preparation right. We're going to have our minds and our feet and everything in the right place when we kick this thing off on Saturday because we haven't done that the last two times on the road."
Freshmen & Sophomores growing up
"Obviously, every time out they're gaining on it, but there is not a lot going to change in terms of their physical maturity during the course of the season. There are some things that happen every week that they've never experienced before. That's going to be the case throughout the season, but every time we play and every time they step out there they're a little more comfortable in their shoes. More of what they're experiencing they've been around the block with before. That's going to be a steep learning curve for them all year long."
Safeties performance versus Tulane
"Dickson, Holloway and Geoffrey Bacon all played those roles, and they're interchangeable in those roles. In the absence of Trimble, that was a solution that made sense last week. That was our way of throwing something together that we thought would give us a chance to compete in that contest. Frankly, it certainly had its rough edges coming out of the gate the first couple of plays, but the guys settled in as the game went along. It's one thing to put those things in during the practice environment. It's a very different thing when you're keeping score against a gifted opponent. That was the pragmatics of last week. Keep your knees bent. Things will continue to move."
In addition to Tyler Dickson, Thomas Holloway and Geoffrey Bacon, the Army mentor talked about the performance of quarterback Trent Steelman, offensive lineman, Robert Kava and sophomore defensive end, Holt Zalneraitis.
Quarterback, Trent Steelman
"Well, we had the ball on the ground again. He (Steelman) really plays a fine game. He's making good reads, he's distributing the ball. He was much more efficient throwing the ball (against Tulane). He was a very efficient player this last week, but we still have the ball on the ground at least one time and I say that's a needless opportunity we gave our opponent. We need to eliminate that. We're leaning on his experience and his prowess within the offense and that will continue to be the fulcrum for our success."
Offensive lineman, Robert Kava
"He played a lot of reps at guard and Robert knows what he's doing down there, but, frankly, I thought he was probably a more productive tackle than he was at guard just in terms of how he matches up in there physically. The nice thing was he was able to step in there and did our assignments and the execution was very good. But, I think he was more productive, frankly, as a tackle."
Defensive end, Holt Zalneraitis
"Well, he's `undersized' for that position in the classic sense. He is extraordinarily quick. He's very strong, he's very quick. To make him effective, you have to move him. He can rush the passer, but sometimes he gets lost in there because of just the size differential and it can turn into a pile, but he is extraordinarily explosive. He's got rare ability in that regard. Every week he gets a little bit more comfortable in that world. When I talk about the physical immaturity of some of our younger players is an ongoing challenge and it's hard to make any strides in that regard when you're playing every Saturday because just getting your body fresh and healthy is really the focus. He's very productive at some things that we do. There are still some challenges in his game."
Team's focus for this week
"The first thing we said when we got in here yesterday was `Guys, somehow, some way we're going to try to find a way to be 1-0 this week'. That's our plan, that's our focus. It doesn't matter what happened last week. There are things we'll look at throughout the week from last Saturday's game that we think have applications, but there are just a few of those things and we're not going to dwell on that. We're going to try to revisit some of those choices we made during the week in terms of our preparation and how we managed our time and how some of the younger players managed West Point preparing themselves for the contest. Those are things that we carry forward. Those are the things we'll stay focused on. Everything else is somehow we have to slow down Miami's offense and somehow we have to get a first down. That takes up all of our attention and time. The rest of it is background noise."
In addition to Ellerson's press conference, fullback and special teams' coach, Joe Ross chimed in with his thoughts on the performance of the fullback crew of Jared Hassin, Larry Dixon and Hayden Tippett, along with the special teams.
"I thought Hassin, Dixon and Tippett all played extremely well," shares Ross, who pointed out to the continued development of the Dixon and the surprise emergence of Tippett, both who are freshmen.
"For Dixon, this was his best game and Tippett too."
Ross pointed to those qualities that Dixon displayed on Saturday, that are not always detected by the fans, but surely the coaches are aware of these often game changing attributes. "It was everything on Saturday," recalls Ross in discussing his 6-foot-0, 220 pound fullback. "He was 100% assignment wise, he was 94% technique wise, he was effort wise ... just a good all around game for him.
From the time Dixon made his way to the USMAPS, there has been and there is an expectation that he would become a star within the Black Knights' football program.
Needless to say, that same distinction has not been placed on Tippett, but don't tell that to the 5-foot-11, 234 pound native of Tempe (AZ), who took advantage of getting his number called in the 4th quarter versus Tulane.
"It was good to see him (Tippett) perform," Ross says. "He played fast, tough, strong and powerful. Honestly, it was something that I had not seen from him before, so it was good to see that from him."
Having such quality at the B-back position, allows for Ross to keep fresh legs in the lineup, as each player brings their own unique style of running to the offense.
When GBK spoke with Ross two weeks ago, he indicated that punters Chris Bolt and Kolin Walk were neck and neck, whereby they were alternating starts. Well, what a difference a week can make.
"Chris Bolt did great," shares Ross, who like the 31,235 fans on hand saw him launch a 64 yard punt when Army had 4th & 10 from their own 14 yard line.
"I think Chris kind of established himself that game. The way he handles the ball is extremely good right now. And if he can keep it in his targets like he did on the second one it's going to be hard to beat him. Colin still doing extremely well too so I can't say that I wouldn't feel comfortable having Colin in there. But Chris is really taking a step forward.
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