Rating the Defense
For the Black Knights' defense, their performance against the Duke Blue Devils could best described as the "Game of Jekyll & Hyde". The first half saw the "Swarm Storm" in full effect, where Duke had just 47 yards rushing and 53 yards passing, not to mention the constant pressure on Blue Devils' quarterback, Thaddeus Lewis.
The second half saw a Duke offensive line that made the necessary adjustments, that gave the appearance that the Black Knights defense was one step behind and/or exhausted.
With an Army halftime lead of 10-7, it was the resurrection of the Duke offense lead by red-shirt freshmen quarterback, Sean Renfree replaced Lewis with 8:32 remaining in the 3rd quarter.
GoBlackKnights.com looks at the performances on the defensive side of the ball and unveils our second report card rating of the season.
DEFENSIVE LINE (C-)
Right out of the gate and from his Quick position, Josh McNary appeared to be setting the tone and during the first series of the game, was a major headache for the Duke offense. The junior stymied the Blue Devils as he made three stops which Duke to punt. Through the first 2 quarters and a part of the third, if he was able to provide pressure, the drop McNary's second half drop-off was a barometer of what would be the defense's resume for the day.
At the other end, Brad Marren made his first start of the season and registered 3 tackles and was active throughout the game.
Defensive end Marcus Hilton was active as he sacked Lewis in the first quarter and made a timely recovery of a Lewis fumble, right after Mario Hill's pass interference.
However, on the inside, both Victor Ugenyi and Mike Gann, were quiet throughout most of the contest and finished with one tackle apiece. These two seasoned veterans will have to have more impact in the middle, especially as the Black Knights go deeper into their schedule and face teams with more fire power in their running attack, such as Air Force, Rutgers, and Navy.
From the Whip (Steve Erzinger), Mike (Stephen Anderson) and Rover (Andrew Rodriguez) positions, all three backers were solid from the majority of the game and made critical plays when the defense needed a stop.
With the Black Knights leading 10-0 and 13:38 remaining in the 2nd quarter, Duke had the ball on the Army 30. On 1st down, Rodriguez made the stop on a Blue Devil four yard gain. Then Anderson stepped and in, when stripped the ball from Duke running back Jay Hollingsworth, forcing a fumble in which the junior linebacker also recovered.
In the 1st quarter, both Erzinger and Rodriguez were very active, as A-Rod registered two unassisted tackles and one assisted and Erzinger was in on three unassisted take downs.
For the day, Erzinger lead the team with eight tackles, Rodriguez registered seven tackles and Co-captain Anderson was in on five tackles.
This trio will only continue to get better as a unit, as both Rodriguez and Erzinger are only sophomores, where they have adjusted well to their starting roles. However, this group is lacking depth and will need for others to step up as the season unfolds.
DEFENSIVE BACKS (B-)
We are going to attack the ball and when the ball is in the air, it belongs to us and we are going to treat it that way.
- Head Coach, Rich Ellerson
It was clear from the beginning that the Blue Devils had done their homework, but because their initial passing strategy was to challenge senior cornerback Mario Hill, who struggled two weeks ago versus Eastern Michigan.
But it appeared early on that Hill was up to the challenge. With 6:36 remaining in the first quarter and 1st and 10 from their own 40 yard line, quarterback, Thaddeus Lewis went right after Hill and he was able to step in and breakup the pass.
On the next play, Hilton sacked Lewis, but give credit to the secondary, because Lewis had no where to throw
surely a coverage sack, as both Hill and boundary corner, Antuan Aaron were effective in that series with tight man-to-man.
The flip side of Hill's resurgence is two "questionable" pass interference calls. Hill was redeemed from the first, as Army's defense held strong. However, with 8:32 left in the 2nd quarter and the ball on the Black Knights' 46 yard line, Hill is called for his second infraction and after a series of plays, a Lewis to Conner Vernon pass of 14 yards, caps off a 3:04 58 yard drive that gives Duke their first score and a little momentum.
"We don't get excited about aggressive penalties like that," shared Coach Ellerson. "We are going to attack the ball and when the ball is in the air, it belongs to us and we are going to treat it that way. We don't bat an eye, that's part of the price of doing business."
However, Hill's third "oh-oh" is not the price of doing business and came with on the first play of the 4th quarter. It saw Hill bite on play and Renfree hit a WIDE OPEN Donovan Varner for a 31 yard touchdown, in what appeared be miscommunication in the Army secondary. The Duke 9 play drive was for 78 yards and at that point, Renfree was 6-7 for 100 yards and one touchdown. With no pass pressure, the secondary was having troubles.
Aaron was pretty quiet throughout the contest, because Hill seemed to be the primary focus of the Duke arsenal strategy.
From his free safety spot, Donovan Travis was extremely active and could be seen making his presence felt at the line of scrimmage. In the beginning of the 3rd quarter, he made a vicious hit on a Duke ball carrier and finished the day with seven tackles, which was second on the team.
From the Sam position, both Donnie Dixon and Desmond Lamb were transparent throughout the day.
The challenge for the coaching staff is getting this unit to maintain their intensity for the entire four quarters of the game. However, defensive coaches must be able game day adjust in the manner that offensive coordinators will be attempting to do while playing against the "Swarm Storm" for the first time. Seeing it on film is one thing, playing against it, is something else. Duke's offensive line adjusted well and getting pressure on Renfree became a task for Army.
Although this unit does not have a lot of depth, they do have the players, who will continue to get better each and every week. They believe in this defense, it fits their character and skill level perfectly. However, it is still a matter of trusting in the system and maturing with each element of each scheme, and knowing that the guy next to you feels the same way.
They have shown more so than not, that they can cause havoc, but they now need to do so from the first whistle to the last.
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