Happy to keep playing, Army seeks rebound vs EMU

The Associated Press

WEST POINT, N.Y. (AP) -- With the partial shutdown of the federal government, Army knows - at the least - it's playing the final two games of October.

Now, all the Black Knights (2-4) have to do is figure out how to win them and get back on track.

''It's a little bit out of character for us to reflect where we are at the halfway point ,'' Army coach Rich Ellerson said. ''All of the smart guys in Las Vegas thought we'd be 1-5, and we're not. We haven't dug ourselves a hole that's surprising or deep, but we haven't distinguished ourselves extraordinarily.''

Coming off a 48-27 loss last week at Boston College, the Black Knights are banged-up as they prepare to host Eastern Michigan (1-4) at Michie Stadium Saturday.

''We've played just well enough,'' Ellerson said, ''and have done enough things right to make you say: 'It doesn't take a lot of imagination to envision a hell of a season.'''

The low-flying Eagles might help that cause. They aren't faring much better than Army, having lost 42-14 at Buffalo a week ago in a Mid-American Conference clash. It was Eastern Michigan's fourth-straight loss after a season-opening win over Howard.

Army has taken steps forward - and back - all season. But the schedule - losses to Stanford and Boston College, for instance - hasn't been easy. Either way, the short-handed Black Knights are striving for some consistency.

''That concerns me in continuing to improve and continuing to get better,'' Ellerson said. ''We need to keep the same people out there a couple weeks in a row. The trainer is playing too big of a roll at this stage of the game.''

Meanwhile, the Eagles have been outscored 166-51 in setbacks against Penn State, Rutgers, Ball State, and Buffalo.

''Right now, confidence is an issue with this team,'' Eastern Michigan coach Ron English said. ''We've done some good things, but not enough to have success. It just makes it so hard for our team to stay competitive when we give up the quick leads. We can't get in big holes like that. It just demoralizes the team.

''We just have to get back to believing in ourselves.''

Five things to ponder when Eastern Michigan visits Army:

PLAY ON: Army's teams are cleared to play for the rest of October as the federal government deals with a partial shutdown that has cast doubt about the schedules at all three service academies. Army plays at Temple next week, then has a bye before a game at Air Force in early November. ''They put a lot of time in and a lot of effort and a huge commitment to our country,'' English said. ''I would hope that all three service academies get to play all the games for the remainder of the season. I really hope that happens for those young men. Those guys deserve to play.''

PUTTING ON THE BLITZ: Thanks in large part to Pat O'Conner, Kalanji Kashama and Hunter Matt, the Eagles have 12 sacks through the first five games. The total, an average of 2.4 per game, ranks 32nd nationally. No. 3 Clemson and Fresno State lead the nation with an average of 3.8 sacks. EMU had only seven sacks in 2012.

LEVERAGE IS EVERYTHING: Army's triple option and its double-eagle flex defense rely on quickness and technique against the behemoths the Black Knights face nearly every week on both sides of the ball. When they get that leverage, they excel, as is evidenced by their rushing average of 325.5 yards per game and their nation-leading 1,953 yards on the ground. When that leverage is missing on defense, as it was last week against Boston College, it's a different story. The Eagles were 11 of 13 for 208 yards passing and rushed for 320 yards on 41 carries, an average of 7.8 yards per carry to Army's 5.4. ''Their ability to translate a good play into a huge play was an issue of leverage,'' Ellerson said. ''If we're going to be successful on defense, we have to play across the ball, and that's a physical challenge.''

TURNOVERS MATTER?: Coaches always stress winning the turnover battle and not getting whistled for infractions, but that doesn't always equal success. Army did not commit a turnover against Boston College and had only one penalty to six for the Eagles and still lost by 21 at BC.

RETURNING TO NOWHERE: Army is struggling in its return game. The Black Knights rank 82nd in kick returns with a 15.9-yard average. Army also has returned just four of its opponents' 21 punts and has an average of 3.5 yards per return compared to 11.6 for the opposition. Against BC, Army returned one kickoff for seven yards and did not return the Eagles' lone punt.