Report Card: Army vs. Northern Illinois

Army fell at Northern Illinois, 49-26, in the season opener for both teams. analyzes every element of the Black Knight's performance and assigns a grade to each area.



Northern Illinois

Only the play of first time starter Jared McFarlin (four catches, 35 yards and one touchdown) and a couple of big pass plays kept this from being a D grade. McFarlin impressed with his size and speed. He made a terrific touchdown catch late in the game. Trent Steelman completed 5 of his 11 passes for 86 yards with one interception. The interception was a poorly throw ball that set up a Northern Illinois touchdown that made the game 21-6. Davyd Brooks was able to get open deep twice during one series drawing a pass interference penalty and making a nice 37 yard catch that set up a touchdown. Malcolm Brown caught a 25 yard pass. On the last series backup QB Max Jenkins completed 2 of 5 attempts for 20 yards. He threw a touchdown pass to McFarlin with 12 seconds left to close the scoring. Talented plebe Chevaughn Lawrence made his first catch. The offensive line protection broke down a few times but overall was solid. They allowed only one sack which occurred when Steelman rolled into the sack on a bootleg.
The numbers actually weren't horrible as the Black Knights rushed for 303 yards, averaged 4.8 yards per carry and scored three touchdowns. The problem was that in the first half Trent Steelman struggled reading the Northern Illinois defense which was utilizing a mesh charge with the defensive tackle faking he was taking the B Back on the dive then hammering Steelman. This defensive move forced Trent to fumble on the one yard line when he was nailed attempting to pitch just before the end of the half. NIU mixed up the "1" and "2" on defensive count at times and Steelman (17 carries, 37 yards 1 TD, two fumbles) missed his reads especially early in game resulting in negative plays that killed any Army offensive consistency. Give the Huskies credit ,while using the mesh charge, they still made sure to take the fullback away as both Jared Hassin (7 carries for 16 yards 2.3 avg) and Larry Dixon (7 carries, 19 yards, 2.7 avg) were non-factors running behind first time starting center sophomore Michael Kime. Trent did a better job realizing the pitch was there in the second half and Malcolm Brown (9 carries, 92 yards, TD) Raymond Maples (5 carries for 25 yards) and plebe Trenton Turrentine (11 carries for 68 yards, TD) made plays. Turrentine showed his burst and power running style when he scored from 14 yards out on his first college carry. Unfortunately Trenton also demonstrated another trait he showed last year at USMAPS which was his inconsistent hands. He dropped a pitch that was ruled a Steelman fumble but it was one Turrentine should have handled and the resulting easy Huskie TD it set up opened the flood gates on the first half blowout. Backs Jon Crucitti (2 carries for 21 yards) and Kelechi Odocha (3 carries for 20 yards0 played well in spot duty. Brian Cobbs (1 carry for minus 1 yard) has fallen out of the rotation. Blocking on the perimeter was very good.
We knew Chandler Harnish is an outstanding dual threat quarterback but Army pass defense put up very little resistance. Harnish threw for five touchdown passes. Army's flex front produced little pressure as Steve Erzinger had only sack for the Black Knights. When Army rushed they did a poor job on containment. Erzinger was turned around in coverage by Nathan Palmer on a 19 yard touchdown pass. Josh Jackson (3 tackles)was called for an interference penalty but he was the only corner who provided any pass defense. Waverly Washington (5 tackles) had a rough game in his first career start and always seemed a step behind and was beaten on a few touchdown passes. The worst play was the 58 yard screen pass for a touchdown by Jamal Womble when Army missed four tackles including a pathetic effort by Mike linebacker Reggie Nesbit. Safety Tyler Dickson was caught out of position and missed some tackles but he competed. Dickson had a nice diving interception, made eight tackles and had the hit of the night for Army. Plebe Hayden Pierce made seven tackles in his first career start.
Northern Illinois dominated Army's small defensive line at the point of attack. The Huskies rushed for 317, a touchdown and 6.1 yards per carry. The Black Knight tackling was abysmal. Army small, inexperienced defense was consistently stuck on blocks or engulfed. The staff loves Reggie Nesbitt's (12 tackles) athletic ability in the middle but he's not a physical player. In the Double Eagle Flex the Mike linebacker needs to pursue inside out. He's stationed far enough off the line to get outside and pursue without getting blocked while stepping up to fill the inside gaps. The problem with Nesbit is he isn't physical enough to stuff the run at the line of scrimmage and his tackles occur after six yard gains. Give Co-Captain and Rover Steve Erzinger his due for battling. Steve made 21 tackles with 3.5 for a loss behind the line of scrimmage. Northern Illinois running back Jasmin Hopkins rushed 14 times for 138 yards , averaging 9.9 yards a carry. Clayton Keller forced a fumble which was recovered by Andrew Rodriguez.
Don't ask me what up back Danny Hickson was attempting to accomplish by letting the Huskies Jimmie Ward to run free blocking Army's first punt and seeing the resulting touchdown. Walk punted well after that block placing all three of his punts inside the 20-yard line while averaging 41.7 yards and hitting a 54 yard punt. Field goal kicker Alex Carlton had a rare extra point blocked. Raymond Maples didn't do much on kickoff returns. Up back Larry Dixon fielded one kickoff and showed his power and run skills with a 25 yard kickoff return.
The staff had no answers. I'm a big fan of offensive coordinator Ian Shields but the decision to use the wishbone with a no huddle offense made the first half disaster on defense so much worse. Army, in my opinion, needs to limit possessions not try to lengthen the game. The defense is undersized and the offense needs to limit its time on the field. There were breakdowns on both sides of the ball, special team blunders and turnovers. Army didn't quit and the team kept working and scored three fourth quarter touchdowns to keep this from an F grade. Rich Ellerson said the loss was on him as the team wasn't prepared.
The fourth quarter and decent rushing numbers save this from an F grade but there is no sugarcoating this game. It was a disaster.

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