Key Matchups: Army vs. Northwestern

Trent Steelman (Mark L Baer- US PRESSWIRE)

The third game of the year matches the Army Black Knights (Sagarin 131, 0-2) and the Big 10 Northwestern Wildcats (Sagarin 52, 2-0.) The Wildcats lead the series 3-1, but Army won the last meeting in 1988, 23-7.

Background

Northwestern looks to start the year 3-0 going into Big 10 play. Army looks to win their first game after losing a very winnable game against the San Diego State Aztecs.

Last Week

At West Point, Army ran for 403 yards and held the ball for 42 minutes, but fumbled 8 times, resulting in 3 turnovers as Army missed a tremendous opportunity to knock off a very good Aztec Team.

The best coaching effort by Ellerson and company to date was diminished by 8 fumbles, 3 turn-overs and a dropped interception. Even though this was the third straight option offense the Aztecs faced, they attempted to defend Army with a 3-4 and played very wide on the edges. This allowed Trent Steelman and Malcolm Brown plenty of room in the middle of the field where they ran for 157 and 77 yards respectively. Other than his two fumbles, Steelman was magnificent. He ran the offense with great precision and threw a couple nice passes as he was 2-4 in the air.

It was a joy to see the Army Offense a step ahead of the SDSU defense. As the Aztecs attempted to adjust, Army simply outmaneuvered them. One blatant negative was Army's lack of break-away speed. Holding the ball for 77 plays and 42 minutes is indicative of Army option football, which is bludgeoning the defense 5 yards at a time.

The defense played well enough to win. The limiting of the Aztecs to 292 yards was more a product of the offense than the defense, but after a rotten first two possessions, the defense put consistent pressure on SDSU. One of the key plays happened in the fourth quarter when Army blitzed on a 3rd and 8 at the 25 and yet had three Cadets around the receiver and Lamar Johnson-Harris dropped an interception at the goal line. On the ensuing play, Abelardo Perez kicked a 42 yard field goal that turned out to be the winner.

We were very impressed with Army's adjustments and scheme on defense. However, as the great Giants coach Bill Parcells once wrote, "there are no medals for trying". Army gets no brownie points for almost winning, and it doesn't matter that they gave it the good ol' college try. They still lost, even though they almost completely dominated this game. After SDSU jumped out to that fast 14-0 lead in the 1st quarter, they played the rest of the game with a level of effort and intensity that could best be described as non-existent. Once Army's offense got into a rhythm and started to click, they took on the look of the team that was the legit top 20 contender, and not SDSU. But as we said last week, penalties, fumbles, etc. will lead to a 1-11 season. Putting the ball on the ground 8 times just simply cannot continue if they are going to win any games.

Also, it was at least the fourth time since RE has been the head coach that we saw absolutely befuddling game and clock management at the end of a tight game that was within their grasp. We saw it against Temple and Tulane two years ago, and against Hawaii last year. With the backup QB in the game, not sure what RE was saving his timeouts for as his offense ran three consecutive bad plays that took them out of game tying field goal range on the last possession, or what took so long to call the final timeout on 4th and long. Maybe we're knit picking, but how come it seems like every time this team is in this kind of tight, late game situation, they look like they have no idea what they are supposed to do? In Evanston, IL, Kain Coulter ran for 109 yards and 3 touchdowns and threw for 104 to lead the Wildcats to a 42-21 victory over Eastern Illinois.

Northwestern had 437 total yards with Coulter providing much of the offense in the spread option offense. He threw 13 passes and completed 10, a 10 yard average per reception. They allowed Eastern Illinois 341 yards in total offense, but forced 2 turnovers.

Who is favored?

Northwestern is favored by 9.5 points.

What to look for

It is hard to know what to look for when you don't know who is going to play. Trent Steelman did not finish the game as he left twice after being hit on the left shoulder. Heisman candidate Dan Persa missed the first two games with a ruptured Achilles tendon. Both Max Jenkins and Kain Colter are adequate replacements, but certainly, each team loses a little on offense with their second stringer.

Northwestern runs the spread option, while they get a lot of yards on the ground, most of these are gained by the quarterback and not behind the tackles. Army has fared very well against such an offense since installing the Double Eagle Flex.

We think Army will effectively move the ball against Northwestern. The key to the game will be if Army can stop putting the ball on the ground so many times and convincingly win the time of possession. Will there be a real commitment to ball security on Army's part starting this week? If so, this might be another game that could be within their grasp at the end.

This should be a terrific game to see if Army can confuse the Northwestern offense. We expect Persa to make his season debut as he should be able to put up big numbers on Army.

Expect a great game and the game to be decided on the last possession.

Final Score – Northwestern 35 Army 31 (predictions 2011 0-2)

Game will be shown on CBSSTV, 3:30PM EST.

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