The seventh game of the year matches the Army Black Knights (Sagarin 146, 1-5) and the Middle…
Head to Head: Army vs. Eastern Michigan
Army's rushing offense
Eastern Michigan's rushing defense
The Black Knights enter this game ranked first in the nation in rushing, averaging over 385 yards a game. Quarterback Trent Steelman (497 yards, 4.3 avg., 8 TDs) looks to get his team untracked after the Black Knights offense struggled moving the ball consistently on the ground against Kent State's eight man under defense. Fullback Larry Dixon (494 yards, 5.7 avg., 5 TDs) left the Kent State game in the fourth quarter with a strained hamstring. He's listed as questionable for the game. If he can't go expect bull-like junior back-up Hayden Tippett (4 carries, 10 yards) to start. If Dixon is unable to go senior Jared Hassin, a former one thousand yard rusher in 2010, may be released from his doghouse and see some action. Hassin fell out of favor due to his chronic fumbling and the emergence of Dixon last year. Junior A -back Raymond Maples last week became just the 10th player in Army history to rush for two thousand or more yards (2,025 rushing yards) in his career. C-back Malcolm Brown had a season high 92 rushing yards and scored his first rushing touchdown this year last week. Center Ryan Powis returned from his groin injury last week but is not at full strength.
Eastern Michigan is currently ranked 120th in the nation in run defense. The Eagles are allowing over 296 rushing yards a game. They have experienced linebackers such as senior weak side linebacker Justin Cudworth (83 tackles, 8.5 for loss in 2011) who was last year's leading tackler. Next to him is senior linebacker Brian Pali. Pali currently leads the Eagles with 60 tackles and has forced a fumble this year. The Eagles interior defensive line is stacked with big junior college transfers who haven't played well and fail to make a lot of plays. Eastern Michigan enters this game allowing 39.7 points per game.
Army's passing offense
Eastern Michigan's pass defense
Army quarterback Trent Steelman (5-of-9 for 66 passing yards vs. Kent State) should have had at least two more completions last week but he was victimized by a few drops and a bad call. His first pass attempt to Raymond Maples would have been a touchdown but Maples was obviously held and the referees missed it. It was a terrible non-call. Steelman has made good decisions passing the ball the past few weeks. Wide receiver Chevaughn Lawrence had a career best six catches for 88 yards last week. Patrick Laird (8 rec., 101 yards, 12.6 avg, 1 TD) had a one-handed, 6-yard touchdown catch from back-up quarterback A.J. Schurr that was so spectacular it earned ESPN play of the day honors. It was an amazing one hand catch with the defender hanging on him. Army's offensive line is ranked 16th in the nation in pass protection.
Eastern Michigan has struggled in pass coverage. They are currently ranked 71th in the nation in pass defense. EMU has also been so poor against the run that teams often choose not to pass as much. In last Saturday's shootout with Toledo they allowed 401 passing yards and three touchdown passes. You can tell the Eagles have defensive issues when their strong safety Donald Coleman (60 tackles) and free safety Pudge Cotton (55 tackles, 2 interceptions) are both among the Eagles leading tacklers. Donald Coleman is transfer from North Carolina State. Coleman has filled a void created by the season-ending injury to Marlon Pollard who was injured in the season-opener against Ball State and hasn't played since. Defensive end Kalonji Kashama leads the Eagles with three sacks. EMU has trouble generating pressure as they have recorded only five sacks all season.
Eastern Michigan's rushing offense
Army rushing defense
Edge: Eastern Michigan
Eastern Michigan sophomore tailback Bronson Hill had an amazing breakout game last week against Toledo. Hill entered the game with just seven carries for 80 yards in his career. In two games earlier in the year he had no carries. After a 68-yard touchdown run against Kent State the week before, head coach Ron English moved Hill into the starting lineup against Toledo. Hill responded by rushing for 283 yards and four touchdowns on 28 carries. Hill, based mostly on that one game, now leads the Eagles in rushing. Hill is a breakaway threat. Against Toledo ran 47- yards for a TD. Toledo then scored. Hill responded with a 58-yard touchdown run. Toledo posted another touchdown and Hill answered 19 seconds later with a 70-yard touchdown run. Center Andrew Sorgatz is moving closer to tying the Eastern Michigan record for career starts. Sorgatz has started 41 of the 42 games in his career. The Eagles' big physical offensive line helped them run for 285 yards against Army in 2010.
The Black Knights allowed 325 yards and two rushing touchdowns against Kent State. Army is ranked 114th in that nation in rushing. Senior bandit linebacker Nate Combs will miss the game after injuring his shoulder against Kent state in the fourth quarter. It's a big loss since Combs has been Army's best defender and the team leader. Combs won't need surgery but will probably miss at least a few weeks. Jarrett Mackey who recently returned in a back-up role after a long knee rehab will replace him in the lineup. Mackey seems to lack the agility and quickness he had before suffering his serious knee injury in the opening game last year. His backup will be plebe Dalton Mendenhall who was one of the best defensive players at the Army prep school last year. Sophomore Richard Glover (4 tackles, one sack) had a solid first start at defensive tackle last week.
Eastern Michigan's passing offense
Army's passing defense
Sophomore quarterback Tyler Benz took over from Alex Gillette and has started the last three games. While the Eagles are ranked just 110th in the nation in passing offense, Benz (609 passing yards, 53.6% 4 TD, 3 INT) had his best game last week against Toledo. Benz completed 18-of-27 for 301 passing yards with two touchdowns and one interception. His tight end Garrett Hoskins leads the Eagles with 23 catches for 306 yards with two touchdowns. The Eagles pass protection has been spotty.
The Black Knights pass defense is allowing over 207 passing yard a game. They are ranked at 120th in the nation in defensive passing efficiency. The defensive secondary has played better in recent weeks after starting faster underclassmen in the secondary. They held Boston College below their season passing yardage average and allowed only 84 passing yards against Kent State. The Black Knight's pass rush has been much better producing six sacks the last two games but the absence of sack leader Nate Combs will hurt. Senior corner back Josh Jackson who has missed the last two games with a groin injury is expected to be ready this week. SAM safety Justin Trimble left the Kent State game with a concussion and is listed as questionable but is expected to play.
Edge: Eastern Michigan
Eastern Michigan has a terrific punter in senior Jay Karutz. The Australia native is averaging 44.6 yards per punt and has nailed eight punts over fifty yards. Like Army, the Eagles have a freshman, Dylan Mulder, handling the kicking. Mulder has made all three of his field goal attempts but has missed two extra points. Tyler Allen is averaging 23.5 yards per kickoff return. Demarius Reed is the Eagles punt returner. Reed has averaged 7.5 yards on eight returns.
Last week Army's plebe field goal kicker Dan Grochowski poorly hit a 47-yard field goal attempt that never had a chance. He cleanly hit one from 37 yards in the third quarter. On the year "Groch" has hit 5-of-7 field goal attempts. Punter Chris Boldt has averaged 40.6 yards per punt while placing four punts inside the 20-yard line. Eric Osteen had been a positive factor in helping field position with 15 touchbacks on his 26 kickoffs. He's done an excellent job this year driving the ball. Kick returner Stephen Fraser has averaged 20.8 yards on kickoff returns. Punt returner Jon Crucitti will catch the ball but lacks the quickness to make anyone miss and pick up extra yards. Army's coverage teams have generally been solid since allowing a kick return touchdown during the opening game.
This is a key game for Rich Ellerson and his staff. He is 2-0 against Eastern Michigan since he became the head coach at Army . If he loses to a winless Eagle team would greatly increase the pressure from the fan base which is already upset over a disappointing year. Ian Shields needs his offense to click on all cylinders to challenge the Eagles struggling run defense. Chris Smeland and Payam Saadat need to make sure their defense contains Bronson Hill who had a huge game last week. Army's defense has allowed far too many big plays this year.
After a 6-6 campaign in 2011 it looked like head coach Ron English had turned the Eagles program around. English had started his career 2-22 at EMU. English has been stunned that his team is winless halfway through the season. The Eagles entered their last game averaging just 15.4 point per game on offense. They had a breakout offensive game unleashing Bronson Hill while scoring 47 point per game.
Rich Ellerson has defeated Eastern Michigan the two times that Army has played them since he became head coach. Army has lost its last six games against the MAC conference. Army hasn't won on the road since the Bell Helicopter Bowl against SMU on December 30, 2010. Eastern Michigan enters the game coming in off its best offensive game after scoring 47 points against first place Toledo.
PREDICTION: Army, 38-31. Army will run the ball on Eastern Michigan. This game may depend on defensive coordinators Payam Saadat and Chris Smeland having their defense be more consistent in maintaining their gap responsibilities and in limiting big plays. Eagle running back Bronson Hill had three touchdown runs longer than 47-yards last week alone.
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