Thursday, September 19, 2002

Cardinals, Army both looking to turn seasons around

Associated Press Writer

        WEST POINT, N.Y. — The season hasn't started well for either Army or Louisville. Both teams entered the season with high expectations — Army hoping for its first .500 season since 1996 and Louisville, with a star quarterback and a national ranking, looking to make an appearance in a high-profile postseason bowl game.

        That's where the similarities end.

        Despite disappointing losses to Kentucky and Colorado State, Louisville (1-2) is still the two-time defending Conference USA champion with one of the best quarterbacks in the country, left-hander Dave Ragone, leading their high-powered offense.

        Army (0-2) is a perennial conference cellar-dweller with freshman Zac Dahman at quarterback and an offense that has nine turnovers and just 21 points through two games.

        The two teams will meet at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Michie Stadium. It's the conference opener for both teams. The last time the teams played at Michie Stadium, in 1999, Army won a wild double-overtime game 59-52.

        “I knew going into the season that it was going to be an interesting year,” Army coach Todd Berry said. “We are more athletic than we've been in the past but with the youth sometimes that athleticism goes the wrong way in a hurry.”

        So far it's resulted in two demoralizing losses for the Black Knights — first to I-AA Holy Cross at home to open the season and then a 44-0 blowout loss to previously winless Rutgers on the road last week.

        Nearly 65 percent of the players on Army's roster — 77 of the 119 Black Knights — are either freshmen or sophomores and in the season's first two games that's meant plenty of mental mistakes. Besides the turnovers, there has been shoddy special teams play, dropped passes, failure to see open receivers and mistakes on defense that Berry attributes mainly to inexperience.

        “Everybody's mentality is good,” Berry said. “This is a tough group of young men and I think they recognize that there's some talent on this football game and it's just, again, making sure everything starts clicking.”

        Dahman is one of the players the Black Knights need to begin playing well. The freshman replaced starter Reggie Nevels at quarterback in the loss to Holy Cross when Nevels went down with a hamstring injury that will keep him out four to five weeks.

        Against Rutgers, Dahman threw for 109 yards and tossed three interceptions. Berry said Dahman's unfamiliarity with the offense makes it tough to do anything but the simplest things until the quarterback gets a better grasp of the offensive concepts.

        The Cardinals, who began the season ranked No. 17 in the AP Top 25 poll, don't have any of those problems with Ragone. Through three games, Ragone has thrown for 745 yards and four touchdowns.

        “Ragone is the real deal at quarterback,” Berry said. “He has a rocket for an arm and he can take over a ballgame and beat you single-handedly because the ball is in his hand on every play.”

        The problem for the Cardinals comes in his protection. An offensive line with four new starters has created problems on offense for Louisville this season and a defense that returned 10 starters from last year's squad has underperformed, especially in the two losses.

        “We better get things going in the right direction,” Louisville coach John L. Smith said. “It's just one of those things where you lick your wounds and try to get better.”

        Still, the Cardinal offense is averaging more than 355 yards and 30 points per game and the defense, led by star defensive end DeWayne White, will get its chance on Saturday to face an Army offense that is still trying to find itself and is reeling after two sub-par performances.


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