Head-to-head: Army vs. San Diego State

The Army Black Knights prepare for their home opener after absorbing the worst beating in the Rich Ellerson era. The Northern Illinois Huskies raced out to a 49-6 before calling off the dogs. Army scored 20 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to make the final score 49-26. San Diego State makes a rare trip east of the Mississippi River.

Last year's defensive coordinator, Rocky Long, is the new head coach for San Diego State. In 2010 the Aztecs finished with nine wins for the first time since 1971. When they defeated Navy 35-14 in the Poinsettia Bowl it was their first bowl appearance since 1998. Last week San Diego State crushed Ellerson's former team Cal Poly 49-21.

Army
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San Diego State
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COMMENTS
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Army rushing offense
vs.
San Diego State rushing defense
EVEN  
Last season Army finished 10th in the nation in rushing. In the opener the Black Knights rushed for 303 yards, averaged 4.8 yards per carry and scored three touchdowns. Trent Steelman struggled reading the Northern Illinois defense which was utilizing a mesh charge. Steelman had one of the worse games (17 carries, 37 yards 1 TD, two fumbles) of his career. Northern Illinois took 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.) did little. Malcolm Brown had 9 carries for a career high 92 yards and a touchdown. Plebe Trenton Turrentine (11 carries for 68 yards, TD) showed his burst and power running style when he scored from 14 yards out on his first college carry. The new offensive line had a solid first game.

San Diego State rush defense held Cal Poly's triple option attack to 137 rushing yards last weekend. The Aztecs defeated the other service academies last year. San Diego rushing defense uses an innovative 3-3-5 defense that relies on speed and athleticism. The Aztecs best player is senior outside linebacker Miles Burris. Burris (6-3, 235) who led the team last year with 80 tackles including 20 tackles for loss in 2010. He made 6 tackles against Cal Poly. Burris has been named to the watch list for the Bronco Nagurski, Rotary Lombardi, and Butkus Awards. He is a tremendous player.  
 
Army passing offense
vs.
San Diego State passing defense
One of the few bright spots in Army's disappointing opening day performance was the play of 6-5 sophomore wide receiver Jared McFarlin. Making his first career start Jared McFarlin made four catches for 35 yards and had a terrific leaping reception to close the scoring. Trent Steelman completed 5 of his 11 passes for 86 yards with one poorly thrown interception. 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 showed his usual good hands catching a 25-yard pass. 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.

San Diego State limited Cal Poly's option attack to a 50 percent completion rate and 147 yards with 52 of those yards coming off a slotback option pass. Junior Leon McFadden (55 tackles, two interceptions in 2010) is the best player in an athletic but inexperienced secondary. Army's tackles have to watch out for outside linebacker Miles Burris who can fly off the edge and recorded 9.5 sacks last season.
 
San Diego State rushing offense
vs.
Army rushing defense
San Diego State returns its superstar running back in sophomore rusher Ronnie Hillman. Hillman made freshman All-American. He ran for 1,532 yards and 17 touchdowns. Hillman was the top rushing freshman in the country last season .He earned First Team All-MWC honors. Hillman averaged 5.8 yards per carry and 117.8 yards per game. He doesn't look like he's going to suffer from a sophomore jinx. Hillman rushed for 189 yards and two touchdowns in the Aztecs opener against Cal Poly. He runs behind a huge experienced offensive line that averages 294 pounds.

Army's undersized defensive front seven was dominated at the point of attack against Northern Illinois. The Huskies rushed for 317 yards, scored a touchdown and averaged 6.1 yards per carry. The Black Knights missed tackles, were consistently stuck on blocks or engulfed at the point of attack. New Mike linebacker Reggie Nesbitt's (12 tackles) was slow to fill against the run at the line of scrimmage and his tackles often occurred after six yard gains. Co-Captain Rover Steve Erzinger was in on 21 tackles. Northern Illinois running back Jasmin Hopkins rushed 14 times for 138 yards, averaging 9.9 yards a carry. To make matters worse, it looks like Army lost its only returning defensive line starter from last year and best lineman, Jarrett Mackey, to a probable season ending injury.  
 
San Diego State passing offense
vs.
Army passing defense
Senior quarterback Ryan Lindley is a four year starter who threw for 28 touchdown passes last season. He led the Mountain West and ranked seventh nationally in passing with 3,830 passing yards. He averaged 294.6 passing yards per game. His 528 passing yards against Utah last season was a single-game high in the Mountain West. Lindley was named 2010 Mountain West Conference Co-Offensive Player of the year. He was named to the preseason watch lists for the prestigious Maxwell and Davey O'Brien awards. Against Cal Poly, Lindley completed 15 of 27 passes for 203 yards and threw four touchdowns. He threw his 71st touchdown pass of his career against the Mustangs, surpassing Todd Santos., to became the Aztecs' all-time leader in touchdown passes. Lindley has thrown for 9,740 career passing yards.

Lindley's is working with all new receivers this year. Sophomore receiver Dylan Denso matched his 2010 season total of four receptions against Cal Poly in the opener. Denso caught two of Lindley's TD passes. Speedy sophomore Colin Lockett made three catches for 82 yards and a touchdown against Cal Poly. The only returning receiver that saw significant playing time in 2010 is sophomore tight end Gavin Escobar (29 receptions, 323 yards, 4 TD). Last week Escobar made four receptions for 36 yards and caught a touchdown. The Aztecs offensive line returned most of its starters from a talented group that allowed only nine sacks the entire 2010 season.

Army's defense struggled in the opener as the flex front produced little pressure while allowing five touchdown passes. Steve Erzinger had only sack for the Black Knights. 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) struggled in his first career start and always seemed a step behind and was beaten on a few touchdown passes. New free safety Tyler Dickson was caught out of position and missed some tackles but showed his athleticism. 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 at SAM safety.  
Special Teams
San Diego kicker Abel Perez hit 17-of-22 field goals in 2010. Against Cal Poly, Perez missed his only attempt from 46 yards. He has a strong leg. The Aztecs have an excellent punter in senior Brian Stahovich. Last year he averaged 45.4 yards on 53 punts. Against Cal Poly he punted six times and averaged 42.2 yards per punt. San Diego has dangerous return men. Colin Lockett had a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the opener against Cal Poly. Punt returner Larry Parker averaged 8.5 yards per return. The Aztecs have tremendous team speed.

Army special teams experienced a meltdown in the opener having a blocked punt returned for a touchdown then allowing an extra point to be blocked. Alex Carlton closed last season nailing eleven consecutive field goal attempts. Carlton converted 15-of-22 attempts in 2010. New punter Kolin Walk punted well after the initial block placing all three of his punts inside the twenty yard line while averaging 41.7 yards and hitting a 54-yard punt. The Black Knights punt coverage team allowed just one punt return over six yards last year. Josh Jackson averaged 7.3 yards on punt returns last season. Raymond Maples didn't do much on kickoff returns in the opener.  
EVEN
Coaching
EVEN
Rich Ellerson and his staff have a lot of work to do. Last year his team played smart, avoided turnovers and made plays. Against Northern Illinois it was one of those games where everything went wrong. He needs to rebuild the confidence of his young defense and make sure they know their assignments.

Rocky Long is the former head coach of New Mexico who was the Aztecs defensive coordinator last year. He's an outstanding defensive mind and won his home opener easily over Cal Poly.  
 
Intangibles
With their victory over Cal Poly, Rocky Long defense is now preparing for its third straight triple option offense over the last two years. The Aztecs face Air Force's option attack in the Mountain West conference every year. That experience takes away one of Army's usual advantages in that teams rarely play against the triple option. Army returns home after a humiliating defeat looking to build off the fourth quarter against Northern Illinois where they scored three touchdowns. Rich Ellerson and most of his staff had San Diego State's number when they coach at Division 1-AA Cal Poly. The Mustangs, under Ellerson, defeated San Diego State in 2006 and 2008.  

PREDICTION: San Diego State, 41-24. I didn't like this matchup even before so many Army defensive players were lost to injury. San Diego State's offense is even more explosive than Northern Illinois. They dominated Navy in the Poinsettia Bowl last year. I just don't see how the Black Knights undersized and shorthanded defense stops Hillman, Lindley and company. The Aztecs are probably the most talented team on the schedule.

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