One of the nice things about coaching football at the United States Military Academy these days is that the prospects of losing a speedy halfback to the draft are nil. In addition, the Spartan life at West Point makes the problem of conditioning a relatively minor one, and exceptional schoolboy athletes who aspire to become officers and gentlemen often do.
Col. Earl II. "Red" Blaik, who send his powerful Cadets against the Crimson at the Stadium this afternoon, realizes all these things but he still is not completely happy. An unusual number of injuries during spring practice set the Cadets back, and consequently Blaik feels his present club may be overrated.
Blaik's attitude notwithstanding, Army still ranks as the number one team in the country and with Notre Damo out of the picture, the Cadets are favored to roll to their third mythical national championship in six seasons. So far this fall, Army has drubbed Colgate, Penn State, and Michigan on consecutive weekends and is a prohibitive favorite today.
Exploiter of the two-platoon system, Blaik will field a squad composed of top athletes from 29 states this afternoon. He is bringing a 44-man squad for the contest and can field two complete offensive and defensive units.
At the start of the season, the former Dartmouth coach had a wealth of backfield material and a seasoned defensive club which he could augment with members of last year's undefeated Plebe squad. His main concern was finding six men to fill out his first string offensive line, which was depleted by graduation.
The biggest problem loomed in the center of the line, since there were no returning guards and centers with appreciable game experience. Blaik was better set for guards last spring, before injuries sidelines his two most likely prospects. Guards are important to the Cadets' T-offense, since Blaik likes to spring trap plays up the middle.
Fortunately for Blaik, if not for Army's opponents, he had a solid base around which he could build the scoring unit's forward wall. The lone returning offensive lineman was Captain Dan Foldberg, a 185-pound end whom Blaik rates the best he has ever coached.
Blaik solved his problems by shifting positions of a number of players who won letters last year. From the Cadets' record to date, the converted players have made the change rather easily.
Teaming with Foldberg at end on the offensive team is al Conway, who was converted from fullback to take advantage of his pass catching ability. The tackles are Lew Zeigler, a 205-pound second year man, and Bruce Ackerson, a six-foot-four, 210-pound giant.
Converted players figure heavily in the center of the Cadets' line. A former end and a one-time tackle are playing the guard positions, flanking 195-pound center Bob Haas, who won his letter as a tackle last fall. At left guard is the former tackle, Bruce Elmblad, a 205-pound senior. His running mate is Dick Roberts, 190 pounds, who made a letter as an end last year.
Army's offensive backfield amounts to a coach's dram come true. Three of its members--fullback Gil Stephenson, right half Frank Fischi, and left half Jim Cain had already established themselves as stars at the start of the season. The fourth, quarterback Bob Blaik (son of the Cadets' coach), has thus far proved himself a competent successor to all American Arnold Galiffa.
Stephenson is the 185-pound speedster who took over for Doc Blanchard when the latter was graduated, and has been the Cadets' main ground threat over since. Good as he is, Stephenson this year is being given a tremendous battle for the starting job by sophomore AI Pollard.
Pollard has shown very well in Army's games to date. The first time the 190-pound back carried the ball against Colgate in the season's opener, he broke away for a 47-yard touchdown run. Pollard is faster than Stephenson, but he lack's the latter's power and game experience. Pollard is also the extra-point kicker, with a record of 13 conversions in 14 attempts so far this season.
Cain made a rather slow start this season, since he was favoring a broken leg suffered in a track meet last spring. He is new approaching top form and was outstanding against Michigan last week. Teamed with speedy Frank Fischi at the other halfback position, Cain gives the Cadets a tremendous threat around the ends.
Almost Tripic Threat
Blaik, who was overshadowed by Galiffa last year, has finally come into his own. He is rated a superior play-caller to Galiffa and a passer of equal ability. Blaik, however, is not the running threat that Galiffa was. In addition to his other duties, Blaik does the punting for Army and boasts the sixth best average in the nation, 42.3 yards per kick.
Army's second string backfield, which will probably see a good deal of action this afternoon, in formidable. In addition to Pollard at fullback, the Cadets have exceptionally speedy halfbacks in Vic Pollock and Jack Martin. Gil Reich, the regular defensive safety man, quarterbacks the second backfield on offense.
When the Cadets go on defense, Blaik inserts an entirely new squad, most of whom are veterans of last year.
Hal Lohlein, 200 pounds, and Bill Rowekamp, 188, go in at ends; Charley Shira, a six-foot-two-, 215-pound veteran and J. D. Kimmel, another 215-pounder, play the tackle positions and a sophomore of exceptional promise, 190-pound Ray Malvasi teams with Jim Cox, 194-pound senior, at guard. Linebackers are veterans Don Bock and Elmer Stout, Hal Schultz and Herb Johnson play the defensive halfbacks and Reich is the safety man.