Army Head Coach Rich Ellerson Talks Rutgers

By Matt Sugam

Army (2-7) head coach Rich Ellerson held his weekly telecronfence today and the Black Knights prepare to take on No. 23 Rutgers (7-1, 4-0 Big East) on Saturday. Here’s what the head coach had to say:

Opening statement

“I think everybody knows how accomplished Rutgers is. They’re having a great season. That slight advantage that we have some weeks because of what we do is mitigated by the fact that they had two weeks to prepare for us. Frankly, we don’t match-up especially well with them. I’m thinking about our guys on the defensive side of the ball. Rutgers has a nightmare of a running back who has made some really good defenses look bad. They also have some guys at receiver who are hard to cover and are hard to tackle if they catch it. Defensively, again, they’re as good as there is in the country. This is an outfit that we’ve seen a lot of. These are a lot of the same guys we’ve had a hard time moving the ball against the last couple of years. They’re just that much better, that much more mature and playing very, very well. The thing we have going for us is we’re feeling pretty good about ourselves after last week. We continue to practice well, and we’re excited to play. The last couple of times we’ve played Rutgers, we haven’t been on the right side of the scoreboard at the end, but we’ve battled them and competed well with these guys. We have a team that’s anxious to play and looking forward to preparing well.”

 

Preparing today coming off a win
“There’s no doubt that everybody is a little bit lighter in their step. Throughout the season, I’m really proud of the way our guys have come to work refocused. This morning was no exception. We had a very good hour and 45 minute fundamental, make sure you ran to the next opponent-type of practice. Everybody came to work. In years past, because of the physical nature of the game, guys might have taken a knee and not taken as many reps. They were getting as much and as far ahead as they could. Again, we like ourselves, our team and like to play the game. They can’t wait to get to Saturday.”

How you defend Rutgers’ pass and run game
“If you don’t control the run game, or if we can’t make their quarterback’s arm carry the load, it’ll be hard. They’ve hit up their offense in fits and starts. People have played them well on defense at different times, but you can’t play them for 60 minutes well. They get some really gifted people touching the ball. They get a little bit ahead of you, and their defense keeps giving them opportunities. Their defense creates field position and opportunities for their offense. There are some guys there that you can do everything right against and still come up holding air.”

What can be taken away from Rutgers’ loss to Kent State
“What Kent State did was they took the ball away. If you can win the turnover battle, you’re going to have a great chance in most football games. This will be no exception.”

Importance of building off the Air Force win)
“This is an opportunity. All of the hard work and the things our guys have been improving on were validated on a great afternoon. They feel like `Aha; this can work and will work.’ It’s confidence in who we are and what we’re doing. The internal voice and culture survived some tough weeks and had a chance to be reinforced. That’s in our rearview mirror, however. Certainly, you carry something with you. We feel better about ourselves and about the guys around us, but we still understand we have to keep going and improve fundamentally. We have to focus our attention on this next opponent, which is an absolute nightmare and very different than what we faced last week. There was a very workman-like attitude on the practice field.”

Challenge of taking on Rutgers
“We play these guys every year and have a relationship with them. We’ve been very frustrated the last couple of times we’ve played them. We’ve played them well and not come up with a W. They’re a nationally recognized program and playing as well as anybody right now on the east coast. It’s a chance for us to go out there and measure up.”

Rutgers’ improvement from last year)
“They’ve improved a bit defensively. They’re a lot of the same guys. They’re a year better, a year stronger, a year more experienced. Obviously, we haven’t seen them play against anybody remotely like us in terms of style of play, so how it will feel on Saturday is problematic. Then you watch them offensively, and I do feel like they are better. They’re hating themselves a little bit because of the turnovers last week, but they have been very good in that regard. They have some big-play potential. They’ve done that in the pass game and have some wonderful run-after-catch guys. The running back, both as a runner and a receiver, you can hold him and hold him – and blink they’re in the end zone. They do some things and have some people offensively that have frustrated us to no end. Their style of play and some of the people they have has presented some real challenges for us. Having said that, we’ve improved incrementally every time when up against it. We just need to make sure we’re taking another giant step forward.

Concerns of the team looking ahead to the Army-Navy contest now that it has added significance)
“I don’t see that. It’s something to look forward to. The fact that there are some things that are alive and kicking within a season is encouraging. With our record, some folks would die to have what we have hanging out there for us. The guys are still growing and looking forward to playing. There are still all kinds of stuff on the table for them. First and foremost, we just like to play. We have a game this week against a nationally recognized opponent against somebody we play every year. There’s so much out there that I did not notice that anybody is distracted or looking ahead. Everybody is in the moment. We know what’s coming on Saturday. It’s as big a challenge we have faced or will face.”

The biggest challenge Rutgers presents)
“They’re a big, physical, accomplished football team. Their defense is a physically mature outfit. Those physical match-ups will be interesting with our offense against their defense. There will be some preplanned collisions and how we’ll match-up with that will be different. We think that Kent State has a really good defense, but they don’t bring the physical presence that Rutgers does. Rutgers has some of those same players in a bigger package.”

Injury status of senior running back Malcolm Brown
“Malcolm (Brown) is better today, and I think he’ll be fine by the end of the week.”

Assessment of Army’s passing game after the Air Force win
“We’re always looking for those opportunities. I don’t know that we threw it that much more effectively against Air Force. There was some play action stuff. When the safeties are down low, you have to back them up a little bit and take some shots. We’re still throwing the ball in front of people. As aggressive as the secondary is playing, we need to be able to get behind them some. It’s a product of an on-going dialog we’re having offensively.”

Rutgers’ head coach Kyle Flood)
“I think the smart thing they’ve done has to do with continuity. Their style of play offensively and defensively, there has been tremendous continuity. His personality is I’m sure having an impact. The fact that he was able to step off where Greg (Schiano) left, the thing that you really appreciate about them is they have a relatively veteran football team that was able to leverage that experience and take it a step further. They had a good football coach who they very much respected. He embraced what was in place and added his own personality and direction to it.”

Maturation of freshman defensive back Alez Meier
“Alex (Meier) was a very accomplished player at the prep school last year. He’d been around a version of our defense. He falls under one of those key adjusting positions. Not only is he playing a lot of football for a young guy at this level, being a young guy at West Point is a little more daunting than most other place in the world. He also falls into a position that has a lot of the adjustment responsibilities that are associated with our defense. He’s had a full plate and is one of those guys in practice that gets frustrated. To his credit, he is hyper-competitive and does not like being wrong. He comes to work every day. He’s taken some lumps out there on Saturday, but gotten back up and a got a little bit better. What I’m seeing from him is a remarkable resilience. He’s a long way from the finished product, but he’s growing every week.”

Ssenior quarterback Trent Steelman’s performance against Air Force)
“To play that many snaps and be that productive against an outfit that really knows what they’re looking at is remarkable. The ball didn’t touch the ground, which is the standard that we set for ourselves. It’s not easy to do. With his ability to make plays both with his arm and his legs, along with making all of those reads, showed his fundamental competence with the ball. If he’s not having a good day with the football, nobody can.”

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