Report Card: Army vs. Northwestern

The Army Black Knights upset the Big Ten conference's Northwestern Wildcats 21-14 in front of a crowd of 35,784 at Michie Stadium last Saturday. It was an impressive win where Army played Rich Ellerson football on offense and defense. The Black Knights outgained Northwestern, 387-309, in yardage and held a huge 40:19-19:41 advantage in time of possession.

Army posted its first win of the season and dropped the Big Ten's Northwestern to 2-1.




Trent Steelman and the Army wide receivers continue their negative trends of failing to make connections. While everyone can bask in the glow of the victory, Army's passing game needs to become more efficient and make a few plays. Over the last four games going back to the bowl win over SMU, Steelman has completed only 10 of 29 passes (34%) for 165 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. This is becoming an alarming trend. Steelman completed only 1 of 7 passes for just six yards. That lone six-yard completion went to sophomore Jared McFarlin on the opening touchdown drive.

Early in the second quarter the Black Knights demonstrated their season long run of passing futility. Steelman rolled out and overthrew a wide open Anthony Stevens. He then threw two passes McFarlin's way that didn't give Jared the chance to use his size and make a play on the ball. It was a momentum breaking three and out.

Steelman didn't attempt another passing the first half until the last offense play of the second quarter. It was third and eight at the Northwestern 29. Steelman got happy feet in the pocket where the protection was holding up and rolled right, where Raymond Maples missed his blitz pickup, and linebacker David Nwabuisi stormed in for an 11 yard sack pushing the Black Knights out of field goal range and forcing a punt. Since Steelman was outside the tackle box he should have thrown the ball away in that spot.

In the third period he forced a pass behind Chevaugh Lawrence who was well covered and was lucky it wasn't intercepted.

The offensive line has done a nice job in protection this year. Steelman and his receivers have to do a better job of getting on the same page and to keep defenses honest.
The Black Knights rushed for 381 yards, averaged 5.1 yards per carry and scored three touchdowns. Trent Steelman was gutty and determined as he carried the ball 28 times in grinding out 108 yards while scoring all three Army touchdowns. At least seven times Steelman rushed for first downs on third or fourth downs often breaking tackles to keep drives alive. His quickness and leg strength have really improved over the last few years. Steelman did a nice job reading the outside player in the count and correctly pitching off Northwestern s often indecisive linebackers or cutting the ball up inside. On the negative side twice on the mesh he was late pulling the ball out of Jared Hassin midsection. The ball hit Hassin's hip twice causing two fumbles with Army losing one.

Malcolm Brown (6 carries for 79 yards) had two huge runs of 40 yards and 23 yards on the last two drives of the game for Army. Sophomore A-back Raymond Maples blocked well on the perimeter for Brown and others. Raymond showed a burst that had been missing since his USMAPS days as he rushed 17 times for career high 95 yards. Jared Hassin at B-back was quiet with 40 yards on 11 carries. Jon Crucitti rushed 5 times for 23 yards and blocked well. Trenton Turrentine ran three times for 17 yards. Scotty Williams carried once for 17 yards on the final game winning touchdown drive. The offensive line and the wide receivers, especially plebe Chevaugh Lawrence, had a terrific game blocking. Army center Will Wilson drove defensive tackle Niko Mafuli off the line a scrimmage a few times where it looked like Mafuli was wearing roller skates.
The Northwestern quarterbacks completed 17 of 30 passes for 194 yards. The Double Eagle Flex often caused confusion for Northwestern's blockers. Army generated three sacks and used the flex front to do a good job pressuring the Wildcat quarterbacks. The Black Knights allowed only six first downs passing. Colter's best passing play often was to pull the ball down and scramble for yardage. No one picked up wide receiver Jeremy Ebert when he ran the seam and scored a 14 yard touchdown pass. The Black Knights were on their way to earning an "A" grade until Trevor Siemian came off the bench and completed three passes for eighty yards and a touchdown. Cornerback L.J. Harris (4 tackles) took a bad angle and was faked out of his shoes on Jeremy Eberts 62 yard touchdown Justin Trimble's athletic ability at Mike and ability to play in space has helped the coverage. Nates Combs (3 tackles, 1 sack) who had a setback this summer from his off season knee surgery played a key role in stopping the finale drive. He had a huge sack and then the next play made a tackle on the Wildcats last series to help secure the win.
The Black Knights stifled a running attack that entered the game averaging over 273 yards per game and had run for 227 yards in defeating Boston College. The majority of the Wildcats limited success on the ground was from their quarterback Kain Colter breaking containment and scrambling for yardage. The front seven had a tremendous game as they repeatedly run blitzed the "A" gaps (the holes to either side of the center) using their speed to disrupt the power running game of the Wildcats. Army limited Northwestern to just 115 yards on the ground. Rover Steve Ezringer led the team with nine tackles. Whip linebacker Andrew Rodriguez played well recording six tackles. AJ Mackey had his most active game of the year as he made four tackles.

When Northwestern tried to establish its running game in the third quarter the Black Knights responded. They forced four straight punts including three consecutive Wildcat three and out series.
Another poor performance by Alex Carlton nearly cost the team a victory. Carlton was unable to connect on either of his field goal attempts. He hit the ball well on a 47 yard attempt but missed wide right in the first half. That isn't an easy kick but to miss a 25 yard field goal late in the fourth quarter that would have made it a two score game is inexcusable. While the kick was from a tough angle on the wide hash mark, Carlton's effort was way off. New punter Chris Boldt made his first career start. Boldt averaged 37.2 yards on four kicks, including a 50-yard punt, while placing one inside the 20. Scotty Williams averaged 16.7 on his three kickoff returns but he actually gave Army decent field position because Northwestern's kickoffs were so short. Punt returner Josh Jackson let two punts roll that he should have fair caught costing the team field position. On his only attempted punt return Josh was hammered just as he caught the ball. He did a terrific job in holding on to the punt and not fumbling. Army's coverage teams were solid. C.J. Shelley had a booming tackle on one kick return. Eric Osteen directional kickoff before Northwestern's final series sailed out of bounds giving the Wildcats the ball on the 40 yard line. It was another special teams blunder.
Army did exactly what they wanted on offense and defense against a Big Ten opponent and did it extremely well. The Black Knights offense dominated time of possession as they held the ball for 40:19. Offensive coordinator Ian Shields use of the wishbone backfield and the calling of plays at the line of scrimmage puts pressure on the opponent's defense. It limits defensive substitutions especially on long drives like the opening series, a methodical, 18-play drive for a touchdown.

Defensive coordinators Payam Saadat and Chris Smeland deserve tremendous credit for their game plan. Both realized Army was over matched physically up front heading into the game so they decided to use the athleticism of the flex front to their advantage. They blitzed the A gaps (gaps between center and guards) using their speed to blow up a number of running plays. They fired SAM safety Hayden Pierce often and usually guessed right. In the third quarter Northwestern ran 15 plays and gained zero net yards. If the coaches can figure out special teams they would get an A+.
Simply a tremendous win for the team's confidence and postseason bowl hopes. The first three games were challenges and the Black Knights needed to win at least one. They accomplished that and found out they can play defense.

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