Saturday, December 4, 2004


"There's no question that the running game has opened up a few things, and we have been able to take what the defense gives us."

Aaron Polanco
Navy quarterback

Army out to limit options

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. » This may not be as storied as the original "Mr. Inside" and "Mr. Outside," but the results are just as favorable.

No, the current Navy offense does not possess the glory and glamour of Army's famed pair of Doc Blanchard (Mr. Inside) and Glenn Davis (Mr. Outside) of the 1940s, but the way Mids coach Paul Johnson has drawn up the X's and O's, it's almost lethal to any opponent. Coming from the offensive side of the ball, Johnson favors an option attack and intelligently populates his design with effective skill players. Some argue Johnson ultimately fuses role players into situations where they can be productive.

At any rate, expect Johnson, a former offensive coordinator at the University of Hawaii, and the Mids (8-2) to give Army (2-8) all it can handle in the 105th meeting of this historic rivalry today at Lincoln Financial Field (KGMB, 9:30 a.m. Hawaii time).

With a power inside running game from senior Kyle Eckel and speed to the outside with Eric Roberts, Frank Divis and Marco Nelson, Johnson puts his team in a position to strike from almost any angle. Throw in an effective passing game from quarterback Aaron Polanco and this represents a formidable task for Army.

"The option is a very deceptive offense," Army head coach Bobby Ross said. "This forces you to define responsibility and then be disciplined in your responsibilities. To stop an option, it takes great discipline. The key down is first, because if you stop it there, a long-yardage situation takes things away an option can do."

It's no secret that Johnson has been winning -- often winning big -- with this operation. His key is to recruit a plethora of high school quarterbacks and use their skills in an option offense.

For the past two seasons, Johnson relied on then-quarterback Greg Candeto to power his option. Candeto responded by scoring six touchdowns in the 2002 Army game and proceeded to lead the Mids to a 34-6 win over Army in last year's encounter.

This time, Johnson added diversity to his offense by employing speed to the outside in the fleet Roberts, a 5-foot-10, 194-pound senior from Miami. Roberts has averaged 7.8 yards per carry (47 carries for 365 yards), and Divis, a senior out of Avon, Ohio, averages 8.8 yards (42 carries for 370 yards). Roberts is also second on the team in receiving with 13 catches for 247 yards and a team-leading two touchdown receptions.

Eckel, a 240-pound inside power runner (185 carries, 883 yards and 10 TDs) gives Johnson an effective inside-outside game

"The coaches do a great job of getting us ready," said Polanco, the Navy quarterback. "Everyone knows what's expected, and we each give it our all. Sure, our running game is pretty good, but the passing attack really helps out. There's no question that the running game has opened up a few things, and we have been able to take what the defense gives us."

If Army's defense has a formidable assignment in stopping the Navy offense, the responsibility for the Mids' defense appears just as commanding. That's because the Black Knights' offense, under Ross, has made dramatic improvements.

A year ago, Army's running game averaged just 63.5 yards per game. Carlton Jones, Army's leading ball carrier last season, gained 699 yards in 11 games as a starter. This season, under Ross and a much-improved offensive line, Jones is a 1,000-yard rusher (1,171 yards on 188 carries), and the first Army ball carrier to pick up 1,000 yards in a season since Michael Wallace gained 1,157 yards in 2000.

"Coach Ross has been the difference," said Joel Glover, a 6-5, 285-pound offensive tackle and an anchor on the Army line.

"He created the power running game and gave us the fundamentals and confidence to get the job done. He's also instilled discipline and started a development program which has paid off."

If Jones remains the main threat inside, quarterback Zac Dalman has emerged as an effective passer. The junior from Fort Worth, Texas, is quietly putting up some impressive numbers. After taking over for starter Reggie Nevels in the fourth game of the season, Dalman has hit on 125 of 226 passes for 1,604 yards and seven touchdowns.

He is second in Army history in passing attempts and yards, and is third in school history in touchdown passes. He is also second all-time in total offense, and needs 918 passing yards to become the school's career leader.

In Army's last game, a 20-14 loss to Alabama-Birmingham on Nov. 20th, Dalman completed 25 of 43 passes for 264 yards.

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