NEW YORK (AP) – Army is off to its most promising start in more than a decade, and coach Rich Ellerson would rather not talk about it.
“This is not a moment to be sticking our head up and looking around and trying to gauge where we are from a season perspective,” said Ellerson, in his second season at West Point. “I’m not going to engage in that, and I’m praying that our players are not engaging in that. Those are the kinds of discussions, the kind of thoughtful distractions, that will subtract from our chances of winning this week.”
Army (3-2), coming off a disheartening 42-35 loss to Temple at Michie Stadium that stopped a two-game winning streak, travels to Tulane (2-2) on Saturday. It’s the third of a four-game stretch against opponents that defeated the Black Knights last season.
So far, Army is 1-1 in those games with a win at Duke and the loss to Temple — a defeat that really hurt. Army let the game slip away in the fourth quarter after building a 28-13 lead and suffered its first loss under Ellerson when winning the turnover battle, falling to 7-1 in that scenario.
“We took a look at the tape. There were little things and a few big things,” Army defensive tackle Mike Gann said. “Really, it’s the little things we need to get back and focus on. We started gaining momentum and didn’t focus on the little things as much as we should have. We were angry after the Temple game.”
Tulane beat Rutgers 17-14 last week to snap a six-game road losing streak. The Scarlet Knights opened with a 91-yard touchdown run by Mohamad Sanu on the second play of the game, but the Green Wave limited Rutgers’ offense to only 80 yards for the remainder of the half en route to a gritty upset.
“The thing that our team is starting to realize is they’ve learned how to play hard all the time. They’ve overcome adversity,” Tulane coach Bob Toledo said. “The one thing everybody talks about is how our kids play hard until the end, never give up and never quit.”
Tulane, which did not commit a turnover, reached into its deep bag of tricks and took advantage of two short Rutgers punts to score.
The decisive play came early in the third quarter when Joe Kemp, a receiver who started six games at quarterback last season, scored on a 24-yard pass from wide receiver D.J. Banks. Kemp lined up in a wildcat position, took the snap and threw a lateral to Banks standing near the Tulane sideline. Kemp went left and Banks tossed the ball back across the field to him for an easy touchdown and a 17-7 lead.
“Give them credit for the play call, but those are mistakes,” said Ellerson, whose Black Knights were victimized last week by a touchdown pass thrown by Temple wideout Joe Jones. “We don’t have anything designed where you see guys look like they fell out of a helicopter. They’re seducing your eyes to go someplace they don’t belong and then taking advantage of it. It was well-designed and called in a timely fashion. If you think the last opponent was good at that, wait until you see these guys.”
One facet of the game that Ellerson stresses mightily is turnovers, and the Black Knights have responded admirably. For the first time in the modern era of Army football (starting in 1946), the Black Knights have gone three consecutive games without a turnover. As a result, Army is second in the nation in turnover margin (+2.00). And Army and Oregon State are the only FBS teams that have not thrown an interception.
Army also enters the game ranked ninth in the nation in rushing at 266.8 yards per game, and its ground-chewing option attack leads the nation in time of possession at 35 minutes.
“It’s just a combination of everything, and the deception that our offense brings,” said quarterback Trent Steelman, who scored four touchdowns and threw for another in the loss to Temple. “We have been able to expose some defenses with all that we do. It’s hard to prepare (for us) when we bring five guys that can carry for 60 yards a game.”
Two years ago, Army embarrassed the Green Wave 44-13 in New Orleans on homecoming. The Black Knights forced four turnovers, returning a fumble and an interception for touchdowns. They also blocked a punt to set up another touchdown and blocked a field goal.
Saturday’s game is on homecoming weekend again.
“We’ve talked about that,” Toledo said. “It was an embarrassing thing. We were honoring the 1998 team, they’re all back and the alums are there and you don’t want to smell up the place like that when you have a homecoming game.”
“Coming off a big win, we’ve got to win again,” Toledo said. “It’s important to take the next step.”
AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in New Orleans contributed to this report.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.