Head-to-head: Army vs. Northwestern

After falling to 0-2 for the first time in the Rich Ellerson era, the Army Black Knights will meet Northwestern at Michie Stadium this Saturday. Army made a comeback after falling behind 14-0 to San Diego State but the Black Knight's efforts fell short in a 23-20 loss. Northwestern enters the game 2-0 off an easy 42-21 victory in their home opener against FCS opponent Eastern Illinois.

Army rushing offense
Northwestern rushing defense
The key is simple: hold onto the football. The Black Knights rushed for 403 yards, averaged 5.2 yards per carry and scored three touchdowns last week. What lost this game was the fact Army put the ball on the turf a ridiculous eleven times. Eight times they fumbled and three were lost. Another three times the Black Knights were fortunate to be ruled down by contact. Army is second in the nation averaging 353 yards a game during the first two weeks. They just have to stop turning the ball over.

The good news for Army fans is that after sustaining a shoulder injury that knocked him out of last week's game, Trent Steelman is expected to play. Against the Aztecs, Trent rushed for a career high 157 yards and three touchdowns. Malcolm Brown is playing through pain. He's rushed this season for 169 yards averaging 8.9 yards a carry. During the first two weeks opponents have limited B-back Jared Hassin (75 yards, 3.6 per carry) to a long run of just nine yards. Raymond Maples (62 yards, 4.1 yards per carry ) and Jon Crucitti (60 yards, 6.7 per carry) have run hard and blocked well from the A-back spot The plebes from the prep school Trenton Turrentine (81 yards, 4.5, one TD) and Larry Dixon (41 yards, 3.2 per carry) had ball security issues the first two weeks that need to be addressed.

In their opening win against Boston College Northwestern's defensive line did a solid job limiting the Eagles running backs for most of the game. So far this year Northwestern ranks 50th in the nation in run defense. In 2010 one of the Wildcats' biggest weaknesses was stopping the run, as they allowed 156 yards a game in 2010. The most talented returning player is senior right defensive end Vince Browne. Last season Browne posted 58 tackles and 7 sacks. New defensive end Tyler Scott had four tackles and a sack in the opening day win over Boston College. The Wildcat's best defensive tackle is Jack DiNardo who missed last week with an injury and is probably out this week. Senior outside linebacker Bryce McNaul leads the Wildcats with 13 tackles so far this season.  
Army passing offense
Northwestern passing defense
This season Army quarterbacks have completed just 39.1% of their passes with a touchdown and an interception. You can't place all the blame on the quarterbacks. The receivers need to do a better job of catching the ball. Sophomore Jared McFarlin has caught five passes for 54 yards and a touchdown this season. He had a nice 19-yard reception last week in the first quarter to keep a drive alive. He then dropped two potential touchdown passes against San Diego State. Anthony Stevens made his first reception (24 yards) off a perfect waggle action third down pass from Steelman. The line has passed blocked fairly well for an undersized option unit.

Last year the Wildcats secondary struggled allowing 241 yards a game last year. This year they have returned three starters and the early results have been positive. Northwestern has two good players in their secondary. Senior cornerback Jordan Mabin and senior safety Brian Peters both have seven career interceptions heading into the game. Vince Browne.is hard to handle rushing the quarterback from right defensive end. He has 17 career sacks.  
Northwestern rushing offense
Army rushing defense
With star quarterback Dan Persa still out and recovering from an Achilles injury, Northwestern has changed its offensive focus to its running game. This season Northwestern rushed for 227 yards against Boston College. They ran for 320 yards against Eastern Illinois which was the Wildcats' biggest rushing day since 2005. Last year they recorded only one 200 yard team rushing performance the entire year. The difference has been mostly due to the running ability of quarterback sophomore Kain Colter. He is very fast and explosively quick. Colter ran for 71 yards and a touchdown against Boston College. Last week he rushed 15 times for 109 yards and three touchdowns in the victory over FCS opponent Eastern Illinois. The Wildcats top two running backs are sophomores Mike Trumpy and Adonis Smith are hurt and will probably miss the game. True freshman Treyvon Green, who carried 14 times for 70 yards and a touchdown, and senior Jacob Schmidt (14 carries, 68 yards and one touchdown) should see most of the carries. Northwestern has been pounding the ball behind their experienced physical offensive line that averages 301 pounds.

Army allowed the Aztecs to run for 146 yards, two touchdowns and 5.8 yards per carry but they did a solid job against a great running back. The defense was a lot more sound and tackled better than it did during the disastrous opener against Northern Illinois. Army still struggled getting off blocks up front with A.J. Mackey (1 tackle) and Brian Zalneraitis (2 tackles) not making many stops at the line. Northwestern is similar in size and experience to San Diego State's. Justin Trimble (4 tackles) at Mike linebacker filled in well and helped stabilize the defense. Rover Co-Captain Steve Erzringer leads the team with 25 tackles in the first two games.  
Northwestern passing offense
Army passing defense
In filling in for star quarterback Dan Persa, sophomore Kain Colter has been efficient running the Wildcats spread offense completing 27-of-37 passes (73%) for 301 yards with an interception. His receiving corps is headlined by senior Jeremy Ebert, who led the team with 62 catches for 953 yards and eight touchdowns in 2010. This year Ebert has four receptions for 54 yards while averaging 13.5 per reception. The Wildcats leading receiver is junior Demetrius Fields who has five receptions for 68 yards in the first two games. Tight end Drake Dunsmore made 40 receptions for 381 yards and scored five touchdowns last year. Northwestern offensive lines returned most of their starters from last year.

If Army's defense can keep the Wildcats running game in check they can match up fairly well on pass defense. With the Watts brothers playing bookend defensive ends, the Black Knights are quick and should be able to do a good job containing Northwestern's mobile quarterback Kain Colter. This is only Colter's third career start and he's probably never seen the Double Eagle flex defense with its multiple fronts, twists and stunts. Northwestern has some very good receivers but lack the pure speed receivers like San Diego State that could simply run by Army's cornerbacks. That said freshman field cornerback L.J. Harris needs to play better. He missed too many tackles, was badly burned deep for a touchdown and dropped an easy interception. Having seen Lamar Johnson-Harris play at USMAPS he's a better player than he showed last week. The other freshman starter at strong safety is Hayden Pierce who has impressed. He was one of the best defenders at the prep school last year and is very alert, smart and has instincts you can't teach.

The Army Double Eagle flex scheme and the team's speed should pay dividends when they rush Colter. While Colter can make plays with his legs his offensive line doesn't move particularly well. Last year the Wildcats offensive line allowed a whopping 40 sacks. This year Northwestern has allowed three sacks during the first two games.  
Special Teams
Northwestern has a new kicker in sophomore Jeff Budzien. He's hit one of two attempts this year beyond forty yards. The punter, Brandon Williams, is averaging 40.1 yards per punt and produces punts with average hang time. Northwestern has a dangerous return man in Venric Mark who's averaging 33.2 yards per kickoff return this year and seven yards per punt return. Last week he returned a kickoff 49 yards then another 63 yards.

Army's kicking game has struggled in the first two games. New punter Kolin Walk has punted fairly well averaging 41 yards per attempt but he had his first attempt blocked and returned for a touchdown in the opener. Alex Carlton hasn't attempted a field goal and is just two of four attempts on extra points this year. He has yet to attempt a field goal this year. Carlton converted 15-of-22 attempts in 2010. The Black Knights coverage teams have done a nice job. Josh Jackson averaged 11.0 yards on punt returns so far. The staff made a smart move rewarding kick returner Scotty Williams, who had a great opening game returning kicks for the JV against USMAPS. In his first varsity appearance Williams flashed his quickness and knack for finding a seam as he returned two kickoffs for 53 yards.  
Rich Ellerson and his staff did a terrific job making changes, moving players and promoting freshmen after the disastrous opening day. The results were obvious as the defense played well and the offense moved the ball all game. Now their task is to shore up the fumbling and kicking game. Ellerson and his staff showed their defensive acumen by limiting the explosive San Diego State attack after falling behind 14-0.

Northwestern's head coach Pat Fitzgerald as a player and now a coach has turned around a formerly downtrodden Wildcats program. He's led Northwestern to three consecutive post season berths and four straight years of bowl-eligibility which are both school records.  
Army's young team regained its confidence after it was shaken in the opener. They proved last week they can play with the big boys. Now they need to protect the ball. Army is catching Northwestern at the right time with the Wildcats missing their two top tailbacks, star quarterback and best defensive tackle. The Wildcats have no recent experience against the option.  

PREDICTION: Army 27-24. I had this down as an Army loss on my preseason prediction but after reviewing the tape of both teams I think Army can pull the upset at home. If Army can limit Northwestern's running attack, I think they can get pressure on Colter when he passes and create plays. I believe Army's offense should have success against Northwestern's rush defense.

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