Head-to-head: Army vs. Northern Illinois

The Army Black Knights open the 2011 season traveling to play the Northern Illinois Huskies. Army finished the 2010 season with its first winning season (7-6) since 1996. The season ended with a win over SMU in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl. Northern Illinois dominated the MAC in 2010 winning their regular season league games by an average of 32 points per game and finished the year 11-3.

Northern Illinois
Army rushing offense
Northern Illinois rushing defense
Last season Army averaged 256 yards rushing and 26.6 points per game. They finished 10th in the nation in rushing. Army received good news that "C" back Malcolm Brown returned to practice full speed after being nicked up most of camp. Raymond Maples looked terrific at "A" back and he should have a tremendous year if he can remain healthy. Fullback Jared Hassin was the offensive MVP last year. The fullback position is a lot deeper with talented plebe Larry Dixon who starred at the prep school last season backing up Hassin. The new offensive line will face an inexperienced defense.

New Northern Illinois head coach Dave Doeren was a tremendous defensive coordinator at Wisconsin. He will have to rebuild this group that features only two returning full time starters. They return star defensive lineman Sean Progar. Progar is probably the MAC's best defensive lineman: Sean was named first team all-conference pick last season when he made 39 tackles and posted 4 sacks.
Army passing offense
Northern Illinois passing defense
Trent Steelman completed 53.4 % of his passes for 995 yards and seven touchdowns with three interceptions last year. Steelman threw the ball well this summer after off season shoulder surgery. Sophomore receivers Jared McFarlin and Anthony Stephens have stepped up their games and are currently on top of the wide receiver depth charts. Steelman will have potentially more explosive targets in the new starters.

The Huskies secondary returns only one starter junior safety Thomas Davis (73 tackles, 1 INT) from last season. New cornerbacks junior Rashaan Melvin (39 tackles, 2 INT) and redshirt sophomore Dominique Ware are good athletes. Derek Bisgard, Army's new right tackle, draws a difficult matchup pass protecting defensive end Sean Progar.
Northern Illinois rushing offense
Army rushing defense
Last year the Huskies won 11 games and scored 532 points last averaging 38 points per game. They had the nation's seventh-best running game. Northern Illinois averaged 260.4 yards per game with an FBS best 6.3 yards per carry. The new running back is Jasmine Hopkins (366 yards, 9.3 yards per carry) who is a breakaway threat. At fullback they have 250 pound Cameron Bell who transferred from Iowa State transfer. Quarterback Chandler Harnish is a rushing threat out of their spread passing attack. Harnish rushed for 830 yards and seven touchdowns last year. The have an excellent offensive line with all starters weighing over 300 pounds.

Army's new defensive line and linebackers will be tested by Northern Illinois size and speed. Sophomore Reggie Nesbitt was moved back to Mike linebacker and is expected to start. The staff has insisted their quick undersized defensive line can matchup against a big physical offensive line and we'll see right out of the box.
Northern Illinois passing offense
Army passing defense
The Huskies return four year starter quarterback Chandler Harnish. Harnish is an outstanding dual threat quarterback. He was named first team All-MAC last season after throwing 21 touchdowns against only 5 interceptions while rushing for another 7 scores. Northern Illinois returns senior wide receivers Will Clark (42 catches, 600 yards, 7 TDs) and Nathan Palmer (29 catches, 530 yards, 6 TDs) and junior Martel Moore (40 catches, 520 yards, 4 TDs) in its four receiver offense.

Army has only one returning starter in junior Josh Jackson (33 tackles, 1 interception) from last year's team that finished 23rd in the nation in pass defense. I would have liked this matchup better if Army hadn't lost Antuan Aaron and Richard King, who were expected to play this fall. With four first time starters, if you include the nickel back, the Huskies present a difficult matchup for Black Knights.
Special Teams
Northern Illinois breaks in a new kicker in Matthew Sims who hit 2-of-3 field goal attempts in spot duty. They return punter Ryan Nier who had one of the worst punting averages in the country last year. Thomas Davis is a dangerous kickoff and punt returner.

Alex Carlton closed last season nailing eleven consecutive field goal attempts. Carlton converted 15-of-22 attempts this year. New punter Kolin Walk hit the ball well this summer. The Black Knights allowed just one punt return over six yards last year. Josh Jackson averaged 7.3 yards on punt returns last season. Raymond Maples and Jon Crucitti are the new kickoff returners.
Rich Ellerson and his staff have changed the losing culture at West Point. This team has played smart, avoids turnovers and expects to win. Offensive coordinator Ian Shields saw points per game increase from 15.3 per game in 2009 to 26.6 per game last year. Payam Saadat and Chris Smeland's defense played solidly as they finished 27th in the nation in total defense.

Former Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Doeren is Northern Illinois's new head coach after Jerry Kill left for Minnesota. He is a highly regarded defensive coach. The Huskies have two new coordinators.
Rich Ellerson and Army offensive coordinator Ian Shields matched wits with Dave Doeren in 2008. They took Cal Poly into Wisconsin in November and they nearly defeated the Badgers. Wisconsin held on for a 36-35 victory that would have been a huge upset if Cal Poly's kicker didn't have an awful day. That loss attracted attention to the Cal Poly offense and coach Rich Ellerson. With the help of the ArmySports.com Black Knight's Alley Board, Ellerson emerged as a candidate for the Army job and as they say the rest is history. For the record I would give credit to the original poster but the forum archive doesn't go back that far.

PREDICTION: Northern Illinois, 38-28. Of the first three games on Army's schedule this is the one I feel Army has the best chance to win. I would have liked Army's chances if the Black Knights hadn't lost Aaron and King at cornerback. Northern Illinois was an explosive offensive team last year and it will be a challenge for an inexperienced Army secondary. Hopefully, without Jerry Kill running the show their team will take a step back. Army should move the ball but the Black Knights might not be able to match Northern Illinois attack. Army can win this game but I think it's a tough first game matchup for a defense with eight new starters on the road. I see it as Northern Illinois 38-28. I hope I'm wrong.

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

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