The play starts with the snap from center to quarterback. It’s not going anywhere if the quarterback is grasping or fumbling the ball.
So it was puzzling even to Jeff Hugenberg why new Army head coach Jeff Monken stuck with him when he made an experimental move to center in spring drills. Hugenberg, a 6-foot-5, 309-pound junior, had never played center in high school or his first two years at West Point. He was a backup right guard a sophomore in 2013 who appeared in all 12 games.
“I struggled with snapping for a long time,” said Hugenberg. “I had never played center, and it was a pain in the butt (no pun intended) for me to get the snap back.”
Hugenberg said he picked the long snaps quicker than the under-center snaps, but both were a struggle.
“I had to work on it with Angel,” he said of senior quarterback Angel Santiago. “It took a while for me and Angel to get the snaps down. I don’t know why they (the coaches) stuck with me, but I eventually got it.”
The stuck with it because Monken wants a big body in the middle of his offensive line. It’s one difference with the triple-option he wants to run compared to Army’s version in the past with under-sized linemen.
“The new strength staff came in that was biggest priority -- getting everybody big,” Hugenberg said. “We put on 1,450 pounds as a team. I’m ups 40 pounds from last year. I think it definitely helps you get more pop on guys and get that initial movement. I’m a fan of it.”
The triple-option is all about initial movement; the Black Knights don’t have to be bigger than their opponent. They just want to open a crack for the running backs to get through.
But that initial movement must be followed with teamwork so another defender doesn’t fill a hole. Army struggled with continuity in the offense line, but so far Monken has started the same five offensive linemen he hopes will continue to develop.
Junior left tackle Jeff Hennesey checks in a 6-7, 283, senior left guard Stephen Shumaker is 6-0, 282, right guard Stephen Moreau is 6-3, 293 and right tackle Todd McDonald is 6-0, 260.
Army’s running game has been inconsistent as the Black Knights rushed for 341 yards in the 49-37 season-opening win over Buffalo, but they were shut out with 198 yards rushing in a 35-0 loss at Stanford.
Army’s inconsistency showed within the most recent game in the 24-21 loss last week at Wake Forest. The Black Knights rushed for 341 yards for the day, but most of that was in the first half when Army led 21-14. They were shut out in the second half.
“At the beginning of camp we had nine guys playing the positions,” Hugenberg said. “We’ve really come together and know how each other plays and we’re trusting each other’s habits and where we’re supposed to be. But we still have to get a lot better, obviously.”
Monken said the new system also is contributing to the inconsistency, but he’s remaining patient.
“We are teaching the fundamentals here different than they have been taught before,” Monken said. “It is a new offense for a lot of these guys; the terminology is different, the way we teach the fundamentals may be completely different. I know they are in some things that we do and others are very similar. We put a lot more on our guys than maybe they were accustomed to, I don’t know. I am not going to lower my standards for the players.”
Army plays this week at Yale (1-0), an Ivy League school.
“We certainly didn’t play a perfect football game and made some mistakes that really cost us,” Monken said. “Everybody who watched the game saw those and recognizes those things that were really out in the open – the fumbled ball, missing a kick, not executing on special teams and getting some big plays hit on us. It always comes down to the things we talk about every week and not playing our assignment exactly as we need to every time, and that costs us in some plays that are probably hidden to the people who are just watching the ball game.”