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Army looking to bounce back in home opener

Army coach Jeff Monken wanted to turn his attention to Saturday’s home opener against Delaware State, but it was hard on Tuesday during his weekly press conference to not keep talking about the Black Knights’ stunning loss at Louisiana-Monroe last weekend. 

Contrite but resolute, Monken was clear that the blame for the 17-13 loss to the Warhawks rests on the shoulders of the entire team and the coach staff. Army had a 13-3 lead with less than seven minutes left in the game, but two quick ULM scores gave the Warhawks the win. Army had the ball inside the ULM red zone five times and came away with just two field goals. The Black Knights also turned the ball over five times.

“I’m at a loss,” the 10th year head coach said to the press on Tuesday. “Our guys seemed ready and certainly excited to play. Unfortunately, we did not play as well as I hoped we would or as well as I think we could. Offensively to have the ball on the goal line, first and goal a couple of times, and come away with nothing or be forced to kick a field goal. The turnovers are unforgiveable.”

Even more puzzling was the fact that Army manhandled ULM last year at Michie Stadium, beating the Warhawks 48-24 with a dominating second half performance. 

“Hopefully those mistakes will not happen to us again,” he said about last Saturday’s showing. “Just the inability to be able to run the football like we have in the past. We scored 48 points a year ago against them and scored six on offense this year. I don’t think we are 42 points worse as an offense. But if you compare scores it kind of looks like that.”

As much as Monken was disappointed with the loss, he appears to be equally candid that he expects the team to bounce back quickly in its first home game of the season. It might be hard to find a better opponent than in the lower-level Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) Hornets, who lost their opening game of the season to Division II Bowie State, 22-11. 

“We don t know a lot about them and it is hard to evaluate a team when you don’t have common opponents,” he said. “This game is not about them. The game this Saturday is about us and trying to play better and improving as a football team, improving as an offense and improving as a defense and playing better special teams, coaching better. We got to do those things better so that we can look to move forward and improve as a football team. That is all I am concerned with. To improve and get better and to maximize who we can be.” 

That improvement must start with junior quarterback Bryson Daily, who started his first game last Saturday and had the two picks and one fumble, and Army offensive line, which seemed to have trouble opening holes for the running game. 

“We certainly got to do a better job of coaching our guys to be more careful with the ball and to value it more,” Monken added. “We can help our guys. We work on ball security quite a bit. The two interceptions and the sack fumble had as much to do with the protection breaking down from the back side as maybe not throwing the ball away quicker.”

“I am still very excited about what we are doing and obviously we got to do it better,” Monken said. “We have to play better upfront, block better upfront. We have to take care of the balland be more effective and efficient in distributing the ball and doing that without turning the ball over. We have to get back to work and do better against Delaware State.”

As he said on Saturday moments after the loss, Monken was happy with the play of the Army defense until the late big plays and thinks they will continue to develop as the season goes on. 

“It was agonizing for all of us, for everyone on the team, me personally and for everyone who cares about Army football,” he said. “We have to do something about it and we will. Our guys will respond and they are not pointing fingers and no one turned it into an us versus them. It is all of us. 

“We need to play better and coach better and we are excited to be coming home to play in Michie Stadium. It has been a place where we had a good bit of success over the last several years and we need that to continue. We need a victory in the worse way so hopefully we will play well enough to earn the victory this weekend.”

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