(Jerry Lai-US PRESSWIRE)
Coach Rich Ellerson really couldn't have been happier after Saturday's upset of Northwestern.
“That's as good of a win that we've had here since I've been here,” Ellerson, in his third season at Army, said after Saturday's big 21-14 upset of Northwestern at Michie Stadium.
The Black Knights moved to just 1-2 with the win, but when you consider they had already lost to Northern Illinois, on the road, and San Diego State at home, 1-2 wasn't such a bad place to be.
"We talked about that if we were going to have the season we want, not that we're going to, but we have a chance now,” Ellerson said. “We needed one of these three.
“We've grown each week, and they've been able to stay together. We got our nose bloodied a couple times, and we struggled doing some things, but we stayed together and we believed in ourselves. We were fortunate. Make no mistake -- that was a hard-fought game. There are 10,000 plays out there that could have gone either way. We just got one more than they did. That's all that it came down to.”
The Black Knights visit Ball State (2-1 after beating Buffalo in overtime Saturday night) Saturday.
Quarterback Trent Steelman, the steely rock of the Army option attack, ran for three touchdowns for a second straight week to propel the Knights, whose defense limited Northwestern, a 2-0 team, to 309 yards of total offense.
Steelman set a career high with 28 rushes and ran for 108 yards, while slot back Raymond Maples set career highs with 17 carries and 95 yards, including a 33-yarder.
"Trent continues to be hugely productive, which he needs to be as the quarterback in this offense,” said Ellerson. “We want more. He's doing a great job. He's making plays, but he's not satisfied and we're not satisfied. There is still more there. We're going to keep finding that next play."
Rover Steve Erzinger led the defense with nine tackles, including six solos.
--Army rebounded from an 0-2 start, which included a close home loss to San Diego State, with a 23-14 victory over a 2-0 Northwestern team Saturday. Northwestern already has a road win at Boston College.
--The Black Knights ran for 381 yards in the win and are averaging 362.3 yards per game over the first three games, second in the country to only Georgia Tech and one spot ahead of Navy.
"Our main goal for this game was to come out strong and make a statement about the attack offense,” said quarterback Trent Steelman, who ran for 108 yards and three touchdowns. “That's what we did. These guys, (backup but starting center) Will Wilson and the entire offensive line, the skill backs and wide receivers, they played their butts off all game. They blocked until they couldn't block anymore.”
--The Knights, who fumbled the ball away three times in each of the first two games, cut that down to one in the win. Meanwhile, the defense played very well but went a second straight week without a takeaway, the first time the D has gone two straight without one under Rich Ellerson.
--The victory was the 650th all-time for Army.
--Army scored first and led for the first time this season.
--The win gave Army a win over a BCS-conference team for the third straight year. The Black Knights beat Vanderbilt (SEC) in 2009 and Duke (2010) last season.
--The Black Knights have two straight wins over Northwestern, but the other one was way back in 1988.
--Army is contracted to the Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco this year, the Military Bowl in Washington D.C. in 2012 and the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego in '13.
KEEP AN EYE ON: QB Trent Steelman -- The leader of this offense has started every game since he's been at West Point, but he had a career-high 28 carries in Saturday's win. That, of course, doesn't count the hits he takes on late pitches. The kid's a rock, but he's human.
LOOKING GOOD: The option attack got it going against a good team Saturday, but the defense was the real story in this game. That's a good offense the Knights held to 309 yards in that game, 115 on the ground. "It wasn't just the D-line. It's the linebackers,” said coach Rich Ellerson. “We're firing strong safeties. We've got our free safety locked down. When you try to defend an offense that uses their quarterback's legs as aggressively as they do, we need to play with all 11 guys. We don't have anyone playing center field a lot of that game. I thought it was a masterful job by our coaches of managing that game as we went along. We gave them just enough to keep them off balance. They got us once, but we were on the edge. That's what it was going to take to slow that bunch down."
STILL NEEDS WORK: You would like to think the presence of a wide receiver like freshman Jared McFarlin, would allow the Knights to pass more than just a little, but Steelman was just 1-for-7 Saturday. K Alex Carlton had nailed 11 straight field goals before missing from 47 and 25 yards.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “You watched us go. I was telling somebody before that I was almost in tears after that last touchdown just because of the amount of hard work and the amount of guts it took to put that drive together." -- QB Trent Steelman after the option offense ran for 381 yards in the upset of Northwestern.