This will be a tremendous game to attend or watch on television. Because of renovations, the Armed Forces bowl was moved to Ford Field and this is essentially an SMU home game. This game sold out two weeks before kick-off and Army is close to selling their allotment of tickets. This will be the Black Knights fifth bowl game and the first in 14 years. This is SMU's second bowl game in a row as they have seen a resurgence with the hiring of June Jones.
Three Weeks Ago
Army came up small against Navy once again, for the 9th straight year. Although the Black Knights won the statistical battle and played outstanding defense against the Middies vaunted triple option attack, one horrible turnover amounted to a 14 point swing and an insurmountable deficit. The entire nation saw Army QB Trent Steelman run into the back of his own offensive lineman at the Navy goal line, and have the ball, and the game for that matter, squirt away. We also witnessed FB Jarred Hassin stopped on a 3rd and 4 play, turn around, and start running the wrong way while trying to find daylight and make a play before being dropped for a 6 yard loss. These plays summed up where the football team really is right now. Army has some really good players capable of really good things, but their star players just don't come up big under pressure and/or in the spotlight. We saw this kind of stuff in the big games Army played this year - Temple, Rutgers, Air Force, Notre Dame, and in this game - where unforced errors and poor judgment killed their chances of winning.
On the day, Army committed 2 turnovers to Navy's 4. Army outgained Navy in total offense 337 – 325 and won the time of possession 34 minutes to 25. Of course Navy attempted to preserve the win in the second half, which may have skewed the numbers a bit. Trent Steelman completed 11 of 20 passes. Ricky Dobbs completed 6 of 11 with one interception, but two went for touchdowns of 32 and 77 yds.
Ray Maples gained 66 yds on 13 carries; yearling FB Jared Hassin gained 50 yds on 15 carries, but had another costly fumble on Army's opening series. Malcolm Brown returned to the line-up and scored two touchdowns through the air. Junior kicker Alex Carlton kicked a 42 yd. field goal.
The team and its stars will perform better in the spotlight the more opportunities and exposure that they get, which is a clear message to Academy Administration about future scheduling: The team needs more tough opponents, not fewer. Beating up on North Texas and VMI did nothing to get them ready for these bigger opponents. Playing Fordham and Stony Brook in the future will not help close the enormous gap that currently still exists between Army and the two other service academies. Softening up this schedule was done, apparently, so the Academy could become bowl eligible, but is it really worth becoming bowl eligible if we still can't come within two touchdowns of beating Navy or Air Force?
What to look for?
Southern Methodist University is completing its season with a bowl appearance for the 2nd straight year after a 20 year drought. The only school in the history of college football to be given the "death penalty" after the rampant and repeated cheating and rules violations of the "Pony Express" era. It took the hiring of legendary Hawaii head coach June Jones to come in and restore a winning culture to the Mustangs program. He is doing it largely the way he did it on the Island - with his renowned "Run and Shoot" offense, which elevated the Warriors to BCS Bowl status in his time there. Yet, when you look over their season, you find that they were surprisingly balanced on offense - averaging over 414 total yards per game, but with 100+ yards rushing in 12 of their 13 games this year. They will certainly throw the ball in this game - they threw for 200+ yards in 11 games, and for 300+ yards 5 times, but they will run more than you might expect. On defense, they give up, on average, more than 360 total yards per game, including games against Navy and Tulane where they allowed more than 250 yards rushing in those games.
Army played well against opponents that tried to spread the field and throw the ball, and who put little pressure on the Black Knights front seven to stop the run. Although SMU is effective running the ball, they do not line up in power formations and run between the tackles. There will be little physical toll on the Army defense in this game, so expect a very good performance from them for four quarters. Also, as SMU spreads the field with four and five wide receiver sets, look for DE Josh McNary to close out his brilliant Army career with a huge game rushing the passer.
This is an SMU home game and they will have been practicing for 3 weeks for Army's option attack. SMU is not great stopping the run. We expect Ian Shields to start the game with a wrinkle, to confuse the SMU defense. Expect Army to run the ball well in this game and hopefully cut down on the mindless unforced errors that have short-circuited their offense in recent games.
SMU failed the eyeball test when they lost the Conference USA championship game against Central Florida in Orlando on December 4th - they did not look very big or fast on either side of the ball, and QB Kyle Padron threw the ball poorly and took a beating at the hands of the UCF pass rush. Army, of course, has not looked so great themselves lately. But there is far more pressure in this game on SMU - they are hosting a bowl game in their home stadium on their campus against an opponent perceived to be inferior, following a disappointing loss. These are exactly the kind of situations where Army has come in out of nowhere this season and played great football.
Who is favored?
SMU is favored by 7.5 points
Final Score –
Army 35 – SMU 31 (predictions 2010, 5-7)
Game will be shown on ESPN @ 12:00PM EST.
Bowl Picks from the Ridge –
Northern Illinois -1 over Fresno St.
Navy +5 over SDSU
Missouri -1 over Iowa
Stanford -3 over Virginia Tech
Oregon +3 over Auburn