By Jim Benton for www.armedforcesbowl.com
West Point, N. Y., December 23 – Army will be making its first bowl appearance in 14 seasons when the Black Knights face SMU December 30 in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl at Gerald J. Ford Stadium.
Coach Rich Ellerson is confident his team will be able to handle the distractions of going to a bowl game.
"Well, we’ll find that we don’t have any institutional memory that way," Ellerson said. "This will be new for a lot of us. It’ll be okay. We’re not going with a lot of work left to do. We’re not going to be meeting into the wee hours because our practice schedules are done, the plan is in place.
"We have to end this bowl adventure the right way by playing well and being succesful on the 30th. We need to remember how much fun this is. This needs to be something we really look forward to as a program."
RUN & PASS – Sophomore Trent Steelman has developed into an ideal option quarterback for the Black Knights.
Steelman is the team’s second leading rusher with 694 yards and 11 touchdowns. And, he’s completed 54.8% of his passes for 965 yards and seven TDs.
If Steelman can pass for 35 yards against SMU, he will become the first Army player to rush for 500 or more yards and throw for 1,000 or more yards in the same season.
"Well, we like to be balanced," said Ellerson who has the nation’s 10th best rushing offense. "We’re not shy about throwing it. One of the biggest differences in Trent’s game, beyond just his experience and familiarity, would be his improvement as a thrower.
"There are a couple reasons you throw the ball. The first, most important reason, we have to throw the ball is to control our opponents’ run support. We can’t let those guys get aggressive out of the secondary, and if they are we have to be able back them off. That’s not new to us. That’s going to continue to evolve and grow and how much it will play a role in the game will depend a little bit on how our opponent is playing us."
IMPORTANT GAME - Army isn’t just happy to finally get an opporunity to play in the postseason. The Black Knights are focused on winning. Army (6-6) wants to secure it’s first winning season since 1996 and needs a victory to deliver a winning campaign.
"I think there is a lot on the table," said Ellerson referring to the Armed Forces Bowl matchup against SMU. "We’ve accomplished some things this year," he continued. "We’ve done some things that are laudable. Our senior class will always look back on being a part of this success formula for Army football as it reemerges.
"Having said that, what’s on the table is significant. When the final ledger goes in, it’s 7-6. That’s big stuff. This is more than just a party and a celebration. There’s a football game with an awful lot on the line for this football team and this senior class. We’re trying to win the game. Everything we’re doing and everything we’re talking about is based on how to end up with more points than SMU."
Jim Benton, a sportswriter for the Rocky Mountain News in Denver for 41 years, will be covering his fourth-straight Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl. He started as a high school beat writer four decades ago, Since then, he has covered a variety of sports including college football, basketball and hockey, professional hockey, football, baseball and basketball, tennis, golf, bowling, soccer, horse racing and NASCAR. Benton is a Denver native and a graduate of the University of Denver.