Head to Head: Army vs. SMU

The Army Black Knights and the Southern Methodist Mustangs will meet for the first time in 43 years in the Armed Forces Bowl on December 30. These teams share a surprisingly lot in common. Both coaches know each other well as they coached on the same staff in Hawaii in 1983 when June Jones was quarterback coach and Rich Ellerson was special teams coach on Dick Tomey's staff.

Both teams have lost to Navy but defeated Tulane. SMU is appearing in a bowl game for the second consecutive year after June Jones rebuilt this once dominant program. Army is making its first bowl appearance in 14 years. Army leads the all time series 2-0 with the last meeting occurring in 1967.

Army rushing offense
SMU rushing defense
Army ranks 10th in the nation in rushing averaging 256 yards per game and has scored 33 rushing touchdowns. In their last game against Navy the Black Knights ran for 209 yards and averaged 3.9 yards a carry but struggled early in game. The offensive line had trouble handling Navy's front line early as they opened the game with a lost fumble then struggled through four consecutive three-and-out series where they gained just 26 yards. The Black Knights were able to move the ball more efficiently late in the second quarter and the rest of the game. B back Jared Hassin is Army's leading rusher with 931 rushing yards and 9 touchdowns. After rushing for over one 100 yards in four consecutive games the opposition has focused on taking away the fullback. In his last three games Hassin has averaged just 3.2 yards a carry and has rushed for a combined 148 yards and scored just one touchdown. Quarterback Trent Steelman led all rushers with 74 yards on 19 carries against Navy. Steelman's costly fumble at the goal line before the end of the half was returned by the Mids Wyatt Middleton 98 yards for a touchdown. Steelman has rushed for 694 yards and eleven touchdowns this year. Army is a better team now that "C" back Malcolm Brown ( 312 yards, 3 TDs) has returned to the lineup. Plebe "A" back Raymond Maples ran hard and had his best game this year against Navy producing 66 yards on 13 carries. Pat Mealy (413 yards, 2 TDs), Brown and Brian Cobbs (291, 5 TDs) along with the receivers did an excellent job of blocking on perimeter in the second half against the Mids to get the Black Knight ground game going.

SMU's 3-4 defense ranks 49th in the nation allowing over 140 yards a game. The strength of the Mustangs' defense is their linebackers. Inside linebacker Taylor Reed is active, runs well and leads team with 133 tackles. Fellow inside linebacker Pete Fleps is a, 6-2, 230 pound, senior who posted 116 tackles. Ja'Gared Davis is a playmaking outside linebacker who was named first team All-Conference USA. Davis has posted 82 tackles, 17 tackles for loss with two passes defensed and a forced fumble to his credit. Up front SMU has two huge defensive ends in first team All-Conference USA performer Taylor Thompson (32 tackles and 4 1/2 sacks) who stands 6-6, 280 and Margus Hunt (44 tackles and 2 sacks) who is 6-8, 272. The Mustangs did a good job against the Navy's option attack in the first half shutting them out before being worn down in second half and yielding 253 yards in Navy's 28-21 win.  
Army passing offense
SMU passing defense
Trent Steelman this season has completed 54.8 percent of his passes for 965 yards with seven touchdowns against three interceptions. Against Navy, Steelman completed 11-of-20 passes for 128 and two touchdowns. Trent missed Army's best chance for a big play in the first quarter when he badly overthrew a wide open Davyd Brooks on a post pattern. "C" back Malcolm Brown was back in the lineup, after missing time with a collarbone injury, and his playmaking ability was in evidence as he had three catches for 59 yards and scored both Army touchdowns. Wide receiver Davyd Brooks, who had 13 receptions for 208 yards one touchdown, had a rough game against the Mids getting his hands on two passes only to have Navy defensive backs knock them away costing first downs. Brooks also dropped a pass on a short out route just before the end of the half. Wide receiver Austin Barr leads the team with 14 catches for 215 yards and three touchdowns. Sophomore George Jordan, 15 receptions for 148 yards, has seen his playing time increase the last month and had three catches against Navy. The Black Knight's uncharacteristically allowed three sacks against Navy after doing a solid job protecting Steelman all season. Steelman will need to make a few plays in the passing game to keep SMU's defense honest. The offensive line will have to keep talented SMU pass rusher Ja'Gared Davis from pressuring Steelman.

SMU ranks 69th in the nation in pass defense. SMU's secondary has struggled against the pass at times this year. Like Army, the Mustangs rely on their ability to generate a pass rush to protect their secondary. First team All-Conference USA outside linebacker Ja'Gared Davis is a terrific pass rusher with nine sacks this season. Defensive end Taylor Thompson has 4 1/2 sacks. Cornerback Richard Crawford, a junior college transfer, has four interceptions this year. Cornerback Sterling Moore, two interceptions, injured his left knee during the Conference-USA title game and may not play. Starting strong safety Ryan Smith, who has two interceptions, has struggled with injuries this year.  
SMU rushing offense
Army rushing defense
SMU sophomore first team All-Conference USA running back Zach Line is a 6-1, 235 power back with speed. Lane has been impressive rushing 227 times for 1,391 yards, averaging 6.1 yards a carry and ten touchdowns. Lane has given Jones a new dimension his teams usually lack in a talented running back who leads the conference in rushing. The nature of the Run and Shoot and how it spreads the field creates a lot of cutback lanes and running room once he clears the line of scrimmage. SMU quarterback Kyle Padron, like most Run and Shoot quarterbacks, is mobile. Pardon has rushed for 254 yards and four touchdowns. Left tackle Kelvin Beachum Jr. was named first team All-Conference USA.

Army ranks 50th in the country in rush defense allowing just over 141 yards a game. Army isn't fast on defense but they are defensively sound. Army did a very good job against the Navy rushing attack limiting it to just 139 yards well below its 301 yard season average. However against the Mustang's Run and shoot offense they will face a far different challenge. SMU will spread the field and run against Army nickel and dime defensive packages which will be on the field most of the game. Mike linebacker Stephen Anderson was all over the field against Navy and led the Black Knights with 12 tackles, a forced a fumble, and a fumble recovery. Anderson, who leads the team with 94 tackles, will need a similar effort to contain Lane and make SMU more one dimensional. Army nose tackle Mike Gann (27 tackles) against SMU center Blake McJunkin, an honorable mention All-Conference USA performer will be another key matchup. SMU is 6-0 this year when Lane rushes for over 100 yards.  
SMU passing offense
Army passing defense
SMU's Run and Shoot offense ranks 22th in the nation in passing averaging over 273 yards a game. Once Mustang sophomore quarterback Kyle Padron became starter last year he led SMU to a 5-1 record. This year Pardon has completed 58.9 percent of attempts while throwing for 3,526 yards. Pardon has thrown 29 touchdowns against 12 interceptions. Padron had a tough game in SMU's 17-7 loss to Central Florida in the Conference-USA championship game. Against the league's top defense he threw two interceptions and missed some open receivers. Padron passed for a school-record 450 yards in last season's Hawaii Bowl. The Mustangs have plenty of playmakers at receiver. Darius Johnson has 69 receptions for 686 yards and has scored five touchdowns. All Conference USA first team performer Aldrick Robinson is the big play threat averaging 20 yards per catch. Robinson has caught 60 passes for 1,225 yards and 13 touchdowns. Cole Beasley has 84 catches and posted 1,036 yards and six touchdowns.

Army ranks 24th in the nation in pass defense. Most of the Black Knights success against the pass evolves from the double eagle flex front giving a quarterback different looks and using stunts and twists to create pressure. Army was able to get back in the game against Hawaii's Run and Shoot because its star pass rusher Josh McNary simply was un-blockable. Unfortunately McNary hasn't been the same since he pulled his hamstring in practice after the Rutgers game. He hasn't had a sack since. Against Navy McNary seemed to move better. Josh was back on kick coverage again and did force a huge fumble. If McNary is his old self Army can disrupt SMU's passing attack. SMU will present a major challenge with its high powered offense. Early this season Army struggled against Jones' old Hawaii team that still runs his Run and Shoot offense. The defensive backs, especially Josh Jackson, had a tough time dealing with the Hawaii's Run & Shoot offense choice and switch routes that were open all day. Army has to avoid giving up the big plays in the passing game. Without pressure Army's defensive backs lack the speed and one-on-one coverage skills to match up with the Mustang wideouts.  
Special Teams
SMU's Matt Szymanski doubles as both the kicker and the punter. Szymanski has battled a groin injury but still has made 7-of-10 field goal attempts including a bomb from 61 yards. As a punter he's averaged 41.4 yards a punt and has hit 11 punts over 50 yards. The Mustangs have an excellent kick returned in Daryl Fields who averages 25 yards a return and has a long return of 92 yards. Darius Johnson has averaged only 3.3 yards on his ten punt returns. SMU coverage teams are average.

Alex Carlton hit his tenth consecutive field goal against Navy after struggling earlier in the year. Jonathan Bulls, despite a rather ugly rugby punting style, has averaged 39.2 yards per punt placing 20 punts inside the 20. Bulls has done an exceptional job limiting punt returns. Except for one 36-yard punt return the longest punt return the Black Knights have allowed this season is just 6 yards. Josh Jackson has averaged 7.3 yards on punt returns this year. Against Navy, Josh Jackson fumbled a kickoff and was replaced by Raymond Maples.  
In two short years Run and Shoot offensive genius June Jones has rebuilt SMU. The Mustangs dominated Nevada in their first bowl appearance last year since returning from the NCAA death penalty over 20 years ago. SMU isn't as good as they were last year but have really improved on defense.

Rich Ellerson had his team prepared against Navy and took away their running game but was burned by the pass. This game poses a real challenge for co-defensive coordinator Payam Saadat and Chris Smeland to limit SMU's offense. Ian Shields needs to build off the second half of the Navy game. To win this game Army needs to make some plays in the passing game.  
The game is being played in SMU's Ford Stadium as TCU's Amon Carter Stadium, the bowl's usual home, is being renovated. Army will have a fan presence but this is essentially an SMU home game. SMU will have had nearly a month to prepare for this game and will be ready. They have played against Navy's triple option for three consecutive years and understand how to defend the option. The last two years they had 14 point leads over Navy at halftime only to lose.

Army enters the game losing three of their last four contests. While the Black Knights have improved they haven't won what could be considered a 'big' game since Rich Ellerson became head coach. Since the Navy game Army has had limited practice with players taking final exams and the team taking off for Christmas break.  

PREDICTION: SMU, 31-21. Army can defeat SMU but I don't like the Black Knights' lack of preparation entering this game. SMU is home and has had almost a month to prepare. The Mustangs had Navy on the ropes the last two years only to be beaten by Navy in the second half because of big plays running the ball and Ricky Dobbs passing for positive yardage. SMU can limit Army's option and I'm not sure if Army can make them pay passing the ball the way Navy's Dobbs did the last two years. To win Army needs Josh McNary to play to his pre-injury form and create pressure. Without pressure Army will be in trouble since this is the most talented trio of receivers they have seen this year. I think SMU is better prepared to win this game.

See what Army fans are saying about this upcoming game in the ArmySports.com Black Knight's Alley FORUM.

ArmySports.com Top Stories