Anatomy of a Drive: Army’s Improbable Game Tying Score

Welcome to our second installment of “Anatomy of a Drive.” The working title of this episode is “For real, Temple?”

We analyze the inner workings of what makes a drive work or not, and this week we take a gander at Army’s game-tying drive against Temple from last Saturday.

Spoiler alert, Army won in overtime and even accepted a bowl-bid after the game. It’s mid-October, but whatever, Army now has plans for December, good for them.

A little background; Temple has just scored to take the lead over the Black Knights, 28-21. Army has all of one timeout left and a minute thirty-one to equalize.

Do you ever have to do something that you’re not comfortable with, try brushing your teeth with your off hand. It’s something you do every day, but it feels foreign.

That’s what the time specifications and distance do to Army. With a minute thirty-one seconds and 79 yards to navigate, Army isn’t comfortable.

Before Saturday, the option-centric Black Knights had played three games in which they didn’t complete a pass. They won two of those games.

Until Saturday Army had yet to attempt more than eight passes in any single game; they aren’t a passing team, they run an efficient, run-based offense.

Compound things with a backup quarterback and things are uncomfortable on the banks of the Hudson. Sophomore Kelvin Hopkins Jr. completed just one pass before Saturday, one pass in six attempts. Somehow the Black Knights navigated 79 yards in ninety seconds with one timeout to move to 6-2 on the season. Here’s how they did it.

3rd and 10, 21-yard line, 1:19 to play.

After two incompletions (neither were close) it’s desperation time. Army is facing a third and ten from their own 21-yard line.

When we talk about two-minute drives, often the most important play is the first one. You just have to get the drive moving, back the car out of the driveway as it were.

Army is stuck in neutral. This is a great play call from Jeff Monken and his staff, a quarterback draw. This play call gets Hopkins doing something he’s comfortable with and against a defense that is not designed to stop it.

Temple is playing cover 2 “sticks” meaning the Owls are lining their corners and linebackers up ten yards deep at the first down marker or sticks line.

The working orders for Temple are to keep everything in front, be sound tacklers, and make Army bleed clock. Monken calls a quarterback draw and Hopkins gets the car out of the driveway and onto the road. First down, Army is rolling. Sort of.

After an incomplete pass, it’s 2nd and 10 with 1:00 to play from the Army 32.

This play is significant for a couple of reasons; one, it’s the first sack the Black Knights have allowed this season. Second, the sack forces Army to call its final timeout. With 53 seconds left, the Black Knights have traveled a total of six yards. Time is now firmly in the Owl’s corner.

Army is behind schedule, having wasted almost 40 seconds for six yards of real estate. With no timeouts, on third down, the Black Knights is confined to the sidelines and beyond the first down marker to operate.

3rd and 15, Army 27 yard line, 53 seconds.

This play is critical for the Black Knights. Monken max protects, cuts the field in half for Hopkins and runs a combo with the field side receivers.

The key here is to get beyond the first down marker above all else. The slot does so, but just barely. The referees initially marked it short, but on review, marked it correctly and put five seconds back on the clock. As two-minute drives go, this one lacks pizazz or efficiency, but that would change.

1st and 10, Army 42, 48 seconds.

Here’s where luck overcomes a near-disastrous sequence for Army. The Black Knights again are trying to catch Temple playing softly with a run play.

Under normal circumstances, six yards on first down is a success, but in this scenario, it can get you beat. The clock is running, and Army has to get lined up and back at it quickly. They run off just over seven seconds, not terrible considering the situation, then complete an out route for the first down and more importantly get out of bounds.

Here might be a good time to talk about Temple’s defensive philosophy during the drive. There are a few underlying philosophies, play to win the game or play not to get beat. Those are oversimplifications, but those are the options.

What you don’t want to see is a team change their identity entirely, based on the end of game situation. If you blitz or have good man personnel, and you trust the scheme or players for 58 minutes, there’s no reason to depart from that philosophy. In this game, it’s a bit different because Temple is caught defending an Army team that must throw but doesn’t and often can’t.

The Owls appear to make a decision early in the drive to keep Hopkins in the pocket, where he’s not comfortable, and flood throwing lanes.

There is a line of demarcation, however, where Temple will need to make a shift; that line is coming, but for now, they seem content to sit back and see if Hopkins can make throws. Hopkins completes five of eleven passes on the drive, so it’s not a bad idea on paper.

3rd and 10, Temple 46, 19 seconds.

This might be the play of the game. After a minute and twelve seconds Army is only at midfield and facing another third down, gotta have it, situation.

Temple is sticking with cover two sticks, playing soft. Hopkins hasn’t demonstrated he can make throws with enough consistency for them to fold their ideology.

Here, the slot runs a post, into the middle of the field and soft part of the zone. This is a big play, the longest of the drive so far.

The Owls help matters by not actively covering in their zone concept. The linebacker doesn’t get into an athletic position until the threat, Army’s slot receiver, is already past him. His head doesn’t move, and he’s not locating danger.

The zone should be amoeba-like with all defenders moving in concert. Zone defenders need to be active, with their head on a swivel, escorting receivers through their defensive responsibility.

The Owls leave fifteen yards between the linebacker drop and the safety drop for a gigantic hole. Everyone closes but it’s too late, Army has eleven seconds to go and 25 yards to the goal line.

After an incomplete pass and a nine-yard completion out of bounds, the Black Knights have sixteen yards to negotiate and six seconds to do it.

3rd and 1, Temple 16, 6 seconds.

If you’re a Temple fan this one is going to hurt, look away if you have to, we’re not here to judge.

A couple of things happen that surprised us; first, Temple calls a timeout. Surprising because Army looked discombobulated trying to get their play in, and Temple did the Black Knights a favor in trying to set up their defense. And yet this is the defense they set up.

Temple’s corners and safety are lined up twelve yards off the ball. The Owls will blitz from the edge, bringing six for the first time in the series. Instead of playing a standard man coverage, the corners are literally on their heels.

Army runs what appears to be a pre-determined back shoulder throw to the boundary wideout. The boundary slot’s post looks more open, but we bet Hopkins isn’t reading here, he’s throwing a route.

Again, the defensive philosophy appears to void the aggressiveness out of Temple’s defensive backs. The back shoulder isn’t a particularly well-thrown ball, but the Owl defenders are slow to respond, slow because they aren’t playing in a typical backpedal or break. They stand and wait, which is foreign and uncomfortable.

From the All-22, and what a beautiful camera angle this is, you can see how unengaged Temples defenders are and how out of position the boundary corner is to make a play on the ball. All this is to Army’s advantage, and the Black Knights capitalize.

Temple knocked Army out of its comfort zone, forcing the Black Knights to navigate 79 yards through the air. With smart play calling, execution, and a little luck, Army secured a win and a bowl bid anyway, and handed the Owls their fifth loss of the season.

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