Army got behind early and despite coming to life later in the game, the Ball State Cardinals’ early lead was enough to keep them ahead of the Black Knights. 28-16 was the final score Saturday as Army lost its first game of the 2021 season.
This loss is especially painful considering how there was discussion leading up to the game about Army being ranked if they moved to 5-0 ahead of their matchup with Wisconsin. Unless the Black Knights can work some magic and come away with wins against the Badgers as well as a ranked Wake Forest team, a top 25 slot may be out of the question.
Here are some of the key takeaways in the wake of Army’s first loss of the season.
Special teams miscues are back
The Black Knights had already allowed one kickoff to be returned for a touchdown this season against UConn. While never a good thing, it wasn’t a big deal considering Army was up 49-7 late in the third quarter when it happened.
It’s a completely different story when you allow a much better team to do it on the opening kickoff to take an immediate 7-0 lead. Justin Hall took the ball 99 yards for a touchdown before the Black Knights even knew what hit them. And that momentum carried Ball State through the first quarter, and all but sealed the game.
Deep passes are still the bane of Army’s defense
Deep pass plays have long been troublesome for the Army defense, some years more than others. After allowing the kickoff return TD, the Black Knights stalled out on their first drive, moving just 20 yards on seven plays. What does Ball State do on it’s actual first play from scrimmage (already up 7-0)?
Cardinals QB Drew Plitt nails a 44-yard touchdown pass to put Ball State up 14-0 in just the first five minutes of the first quarter.
Later on, in the fourth quarter, Plitt would find Yo’Heinz Tyler for a 27-yard completion followed by an 18-yard touchdown reception, effectively putting the game on ice with a 28-14 lead.
The Bottom Line
Despite being a massively improved team under Jeff Monken, Army’s style of offense has never been built to play from behind. If you remove the first five minutes, it’s an entirely different game. But sadly, that’s not how it works.
It would’ve been hard enough to overcome a 14-0 early deficit, but the Black Knights found themselves 21-0 by the end of the first quarter. Army did manage to find a groove in the second quarter, narrowing the gap to 21-14, but that’s as close as they got to evening the score, ultimately falling 28-16.
QB Christian Anderson, out after being injured against Miami (OH), was incredibly missed. Hopefully he’ll be healed up to return against Wisconsin, and even more hopefully, the Black Knights can tighten up their miscues and put on a better performance against the Badgers.
What’s Next: Wisconsin
Where: Camp Randall Stadium – Madison, WI
Kickoff: 8 p.m. (EST) on Saturday, October 16th