Head-to-head: Army vs. Ball State

The Army Black Knights travel to Muncie, Indiana this Saturday to take on the Ball State Cardinals. Army earned its first victory of the season with a 21-14 upset win over the Big Ten conference's Northwestern Wildcats. Ball State enters the game a vastly improved (2-1) under new head coach Pete Lembo. The Cardinals defeated MAC rival Buffalo 28-25 last week when quarterback Keith Wenning..

..threw a game winning touchdown pass with 29 seconds left.

Ball State
Army rushing offense
Ball State rushing defense
The Black Knights enter this weekend ranked second in the nation in rushing, averaging over 362 yards a game. After leaving the San Diego State game with a shoulder injury, Trent Steelman produced one of his typical gutty performances carrying the ball 28 times in grinding out 108 yards last weekend while scoring all three Army touchdowns. Steelman (302 yds. 4.6 avg. 7 TDs) consistently broke tackles to keep drives alive. Malcolm Brown (248 yds. 9.9 avg. 1 TD) had two huge runs of 40 yards and 23 yards on the last two drives of the game against Northwestern to help secure the victory. Sophomore A -back Raymond Maples had the best rushing day of his career as he ran 17 times for a personal season high of 95 yards. The blocking by the offensive line and on the perimeter has been exemplary so far this season. Senior right tackle Robert Kava replaced Mike McDermott late in the game and played well. Center Will Wilson dominated at the point of attack versus the Wildcats.

Last year Ball State was one of the worst teams in the MAC conference at stopping the run. New defensive coordinator Jay Bateman moved from FCS Elon with Lembo to the Cardinals. Bateman has a solid interior with senior nose tackle and captain Adam Morris who's made nine tackles this year. Sophomore Nathan Ollie has played very well and has already recorded six tackles behind the line of scrimmage during the first three games. Middle linebacker Travis Freeman is once again leading the team with 29 tackles. Freeman usually flies to the ball but enters this weekend playing on a sore ankle. Last year he made 109 tackles with one sack and an interception. Senior strong safety Sean Baker is aggressive in run support and has made 25 stops. Currently the Cardinals are ranked 72nd in the country in rush defense allowing over 142 yards a game.  
Army passing offense
Ball State passing defense
Trent Steelman has struggled with his accuracy over the last four games going back to the bowl win over SMU, Steelman has completed only 10 of his last 29 passes (34%) for 165 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. He needs to improve his accuracy. In the win over Northwestern, Steelman completed only 1 of 7 passes for just six yards. That lone six yard completion went to sophomore Jared McFarlin (6 catches, 60 yds. 1 TD) on the opening touchdown drive. Steelman failed to connect with Anthony Stevens the two times he was able to beat the Wildcats secondary deep. The offensive line has done a solid job in pass protection.

The Cardinals finished last season with 17 interceptions. Their best player is senior safety Sean Baker who was fifth in the nation with six interceptions last year. Baker is one of the most underrated safeties in the country. Junior cornerback Jason Pinkston has one interception this year which was his the eighth pick of his career. Pinkston was bothered by a sore hamstring last week. Defensive tackle Nathan Ollie has created pressure rushing the passer. He has already recorded four sacks in the first three games. Nickel defensive back Quinton Cooper will probably miss the game with an injury.  
Ball State rushing offense
Army rushing defense
Ball State is starting a true freshman Jahwan Edwards at tailback. Edwards leads the Cardinals in rushing with 246 yards on 45 carries and has scored three touchdowns. Edwards is averaging 5.3 yards per carry .The team ranks 62nd in the nation in rushing averaging over 153 yards a game. Jahwan Edwards was impressive last week in the Cardinals home opener rushing for 112 yards on 22 carries while scoring two touchdowns. Ball State's starting tackle Austin Holtz and center Kreg Hunter left the Buffalo game with injuries. Holtz is doubtful but Hunter is expected to play..

Last week against Northwestern the Black Knights shut down an offense that was averaging over 273 rushing yards per game. The majority of the Wildcats' limited success on the ground was from their quarterback Kain Colter scrambling for yardage. Army held Northwestern to just 115 yards on the ground. When Northwestern tried to establish its running game in the third quarter the Black Knights responded by allowing Northwestern zero net yards for the quarter. Rover Steve Erzringer leads the team with 34 tackles. Last week whip linebacker Andrew Rodriguez played his best game since the back injury when he recorded six tackles. Nose tackle A.J. Mackey had his most active game of the year last week as he made four tackles and provided an interior push.  
Ball State passing offense
Army passing defense
New head coach Pete Lembo's offense is a no-huddle, pass-first scheme. Last year at Elon his offense averaged 435.2 yards. His quarterback is sophomore Keith Wenning who has completed 71-of-100 passes (71%) for 547 yards and four touchdowns. He hasn't thrown an interception but he's had problems fumbling the ball. Wide receiver Jack Tomlinson led the team in 2010 with 29 catches for 484 yards and scored six touchdowns. Lembo's offense consists of a lot of short and intermediary routes. Ball State is averaging 20.7 points per game and will deploy a hurry-up passing system.

The Black Knights defense allowed Northwestern quarterbacks to complete 17-of-30 passes for 194 yards and two passing touchdowns last week. The Double Eagle Flex often caused confusion for Northwestern's blockers. Army generated three sacks and used the flex front to pressure the Wildcat quarterbacks. The Black Knights allowed only six first downs passing. Sophomore defensive end Corey Watts (8 tackles, 1 sack) has played well and has created pass rush pressure. In the secondary plebe Hayden Pierce (15 tackles) has been terrific at strong safety. He diagnoses plays quickly, is a sure tackler and has a real feel for the game. Lamar Johnson-Harris has struggled as the starting cornerback the last two weeks. Both Harris and Joey Jackson will have to tighten their coverage to prevent Ball State from slicing them up underneath.  
Special Teams
For his second consecutive September, kicker Alex Carlton has struggled miserably. Carlton missed both of his field goal attempts against Northwestern. 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 he badly missed a 25-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter. Punter Chris Boldt made his first career start last week . Boldt averaged 37.2 yards on four kicks, including a 50-yard punt, while placing one inside the twenty yard line. Scotty Williams has averaged 20.6 on his kickoff returns the last two weeks. Punt returner Josh Jackson is averaging 7.3 yards per return. Army's coverage teams have been solid. Eric Osteen miss hit a directional kickoff before Northwestern's final series which sailed out of bounds giving the Wildcats the ball on the 40-yard line. Overall his kickoffs have been a big improvement over last year.

Ball State's special teams had an awful game against Buffalo. Place kicker Steven Schott missed field goals of 42 and 39 yards. Schott has hit just 2-of-4 field goal attempts this year. Scott Kovander had a punt blocked in the third quarter that resulted in a short touchdown drive for Buffalo. Kovander has averaged 41.6 yards per punt this season. Kick off specialist Scott Secor hit the opening kickoff out of bounds, giving Buffalo the ball at the 40 to start a drive that resulted in a touchdown. Jamill Smith is averaging 6.7 yards a punt return. Briggs Orsbon has averaged 22.7 per kickoff return. Ball State kick coverage teams have done an excellent job limiting return yardage.  
This is Pete Lembo's first season in the FBS.after spending nearly 20 years in the FCS and lower. Pete Lembo defeated Big Ten opponent Indiana in opener. Lembo has a tremendous (81-37) career record and has won everywhere he's coached. Lembo is considered an offensive genius who's had tremendous success turning around programs at Lehigh and Elon with his no huddle, hurry up passing system.

Rich Ellerson has the Black Knights back on their game and playing with confidence. Offensive coordinator Ian Shields' use of the wishbone backfield, unbalanced line and the calling of plays at the line of scrimmage without a huddle has put pressure on the opponent's defenses. It limits defensive substitutions especially on long drives like the opening series against Northwestern, a methodical 18-play drive for a touchdown. Army leads the nation in running plays attempted and seems to be wearing down the opponent's defenses. Defensive coordinators Payam Saadat and Chris Smeland deserve tremendous credit for their game plan against Northwestern.  
Army benefits for the second week in a row in catching a team that has suffered a number of key injuries last week. Ball State quarterback Keith Wenning hasn't thrown any interceptions but has fumbled the ball a number of times. The Double Eagle flex defense is athletic and fast enough to cope with the Cardinals hurry up style. Army is 3-1 on the road against Mid-American Conference teams under Ellerson.  

PREDICTION: Army, 27-20. Ball State is really improved but Army plays them at the right time. As long as they protect the ball the Black Knights should be able to run the ball on the Cardinals. I think a young quarterback like Wenning, who has been very accurate, may struggle with the multiple looks of the flex front. Ball State's offensive line is hurting with a tackle out and their center is hobbled. The Army Double Eagle flex defense with its multiple twists and stunts should give Ball State's injured offensive line headaches. Defensive coordinators Payam Saadat and Chris Smeland have been known to unleash their flex front and attack struggling offensive lines like last year when they recorded a team record eight sacks against Rutgers.

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