Photo: Cole Christiansen
The last time we saw Army coach Jeff Monken on TV was two weeks ago in a halftime sideline interview with CBS’s Tina Cervasio. He was angry over Black Knights’ play and said he planned to let them know it in the locker room.
It was as if the ghost of World War II hero Gen. George S. Patton had left his statue on the West Point campus and was speaking through Monken, although Army had rebounded from a 14-7 deficit by then to lead 24-14 at intermission en route to a 52-21 victory.
There was no slapping incident – even football coaches can no longer get away with that in the 21st century – but there was a chewing out worthy of Patton, not to mention Vince Lombardi, the Army assistant coach prior to his NFL days. There is no statue of Lombardi on campus or his ghost might have tackled Patton’s spirit to gain position overtaking Monken’s coaching soul.
“We definitely got ripped up pretty good at halftime and later after the game – and rightfully so,” said Army senior linebacker Cole Christiansen, a second-year team captain. “We didn’t play well. We should have done better. We’ve made a lot of improvement the last two weeks.”
That Army eventually overwhelmed their Football Championship Subdivision opponent didn’t matter to Monken. He saw a performance that won’t beat future opponents, especially with Tulane up next after a bye week.
Tulane’s start has it considered a surprise contender for the AAC West title. The Green Wave (3-1) visits Army (3-1) at noon Saturday for homecoming at Michie Stadium.
“Tulane is a fantastic team and it will take a great effort to beat them,” Christiansen said. “We lost to them two years ago and they’re a better team this year. They’re bigger and faster. They’re more disciplined that most teams and don’t make mistakes. Their quarterback (senior Justin McMillan, an LSU transfer) is athletic and will be good test for us.”
Christiansen says the team spent the bye week stressing fundamentals. He acknowledged the players missed tackles and blocks, but he won’t accept the Black Knights lacked focus. That excuse certainly would have been typical of human nature.
In the previous two games, both on the road, Army had nearly upset Michigan, ranked No. 7 at the time, until falling in double-overtime, 24-21. The following week the Black Knights played UT San Antonio without injured quarterback Kelvin Hopkins, but they managed a 31-13 victory.
“I don’t think it was a lack of focus at all,” Christiansen said. “They just busted some plays on us. I don’t know what it was, but they played well and caught us off guard.”
For the cadets, admitting taking an opponent lightly cuts to the core of their primary West Point mission -- training to be a future officer prepared at all times for adversity.
Monken, like a good general or coach re-drawing plans, had tempered his comments 10 days later when he met with the media on Tuesday for his weekly session.
“Last game out, give credit to Morgan State,” Monken said. “They came in here prepared to play, and I don’t think we looked as well prepared, and that’s my job.”
Christiansen, a 6-foot-2, 225-pound from Suffolk, Va., leads the Black Knights in tackles, highlighted by 12 tackles and a forced fumble against Michigan. He had nine tackles and a forced fumble at UTSA and 11 against Morgan State.
He has picked up where he left off a year ago, leading the team with 39 tackles despite losing his sidekicks to graduation, Jack Nachtigal and Kennenth Brinson. The trio liked to say they knew each other so well they didn’t have to say anything while adjusting to plays to be in proper position.
Nachtigal, playing inside with Christiansen, led the team in tackles with 103 and Christiansen was second at 83. Brinson, playing the outside “Rush” position, was seventh with 38.
This year, sophomore Arik Smith (6-0, 235) has stepped into Nachtigal’s role and is third in tackles with 24. Amedeo West started the first three games on the outside and was sixth in tackles before missing the Morgan State victory. Jeremy Lowery and Donovan Lynch are listed at “Rush” on the depth chart for the Tulane game.
“It hasn’t been that much of adjustment,” Christiansen. “I thought it might be, but the guys have stepped in and they’re doing a great job. If anything is different, it’s me being more vocal than last year. I had veteran guys with me last year that communicated well. The guys in there now at this point of the season have good knowledge of defense; I just have to have bigger voice. I’m comfortable playing with them, and I think they’re comfortable to me. It’s not a huge change.”
The better the Black Knights play together this week, the more the ghost of Gen. Patton can remain with his statue.
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