Key Matchups: Army vs. Vanderbilt

The seventh game of the year matches the Army Black Knights (Sagarin 117, 2-4) and the South Eastern Conference Vanderbilt Commodores (Sagarin 58, 3-3.) The all-time series is tied 4-4, with Army beating the Commodores 16-13 in overtime at West Point in 2009.

Background

Army enters the game coming off a bye week that followed a loss at Miami of Ohio.  The Black Knights desperately need a win to keep their hopes of bowl eligibility alive, but have played very poorly on the road this season.  Vanderbilt will attempt to right the ship.  After starting the season 3-0, they have lost three straight to SEC foes, however they nearly beat the Georgia Bulldogs at home last Saturday.

 

Last Week

At Oxford, Oh, Army's final drive to force the game to overtime fell short at the Miami 15. Army fell to 2-4 and 0-3 versus MAC teams. 

 

Army played a very good first half.  They scored on 3 of their 4 possessions.  A Trent Steelman fumble in the second quarter cost the Cadets a field goal attempt.  In the second half, the Black Knights charged out of the gates, going 80 yards on 5 plays, highlighted by a Steelman run of 40 yards, giving them a 28-14 lead.  Then something drastically changed.  Miami marched down the field, but fumbled on the Army 4 yard line.  From that point forward, Miami scored on each of their final three possessions, and the 14 point lead evaporated.  Army, in turn, punted twice, fumbled once and went out on downs.

 

On the day, the Army numbers were where we expected them to be.  Army had 450 total yards.  Raymond Maples had 111 yards on 19 carries.  Steelman had 99 yards on 24 carries.  Hassin and Dixon only had 9 carries between them for 76 yards.  What was truly amazing was Steelman's passing performance.  He was 8 for 8 for 124 yards and 1 TD.  Steelman has an incredible 122 passer rating on the season.  The offense is operating more consistently than any time over the past decade.  In the two stalled drives in the second half, Steelman went out with cramps and Max Jenkins was unable to continue the drive.  It is clear, however, that the offense will need to get to a higher level and score more often if the Cadets are to salvage this season.

 

The defense turned in another very disappointing effort.  They gave up 503 total yards and only forced 1 Redhawk punt.  They allowed 161 yards rushing to a team that was averaging just 2.2 yards per carry coming into the game.   At the beginning of the year, we thought that opposing teams would just beat down the small Army front line and run between the tackles.  What has been an unpleasant surprise is that most of their opponents have thrown at will for big yardage against Army as the Black Knights have created very little pressure on the opposing QBs, and they haven't been able to cover anybody.  Opposing quarterbacks have an unheard of 159 passer rating versus Army, averaging 227 yards per game.  In the victories against Northwestern and Tulane, Army did create pressure and had 8 sacks.  In the four losses, they have had 2 sacks.  Army gave up 342 yards to Zac Dysert, who was 24-37.

 

We are seeing that Army needs to win games with their offense.  If Army cannot bring pressure with their defense, their only chance of winning is by dominating the clock and scoring on most of their possessions.  The problem is that Army's unacceptably high number of fumbles have badly undermined their offensive efforts.  They have 19 fumbles and lost the ball on 10 of them. Even the fumbles they haven't lost have cost them field position and momentum. Army's defense just isn't good enough this year to make up for these mistakes.

 

The loss at Miami was also a killer for their post-season hopes. Army's tie-in with the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl requires that they reach six wins prior to the Army-Navy Game. Therefore, they must win four of their next five games, but only one of those games is at Michie Stadium. It is fairly safe to presume that they will be able to handle Fordham, not exactly an FCS juggernaut, in that game. That means they need three wins out of the other four. Their opponents in those games are Vanderbilt, Air Force, Rutgers, and Temple. If they don't win this game against the Commodores, then they would have to win all of those four games to cash in on their bowl tie-in. Given Army's all-time track record at Air Force (they won the first contest held at Colorado Springs in 1967 – they have only won twice there since), and considering their extremely poor level of play away from home this year, especially on defense, it just does not seem possible at this point that Army is capable of defeating the Falcons. It cannot come down to beating them to make a bowl - they better figure out a way to beat Vanderbilt.

 

They needed to win at Miami to maintain solid footing for a post-season berth. If they don't win at Vanderbilt, it will be time to start looking ahead to 2012, and it will be time for RE's coaching staff to start looking for some 280 pounders to play on next year's defensive line.

 

In Nashville, Vanderbilt was 16 yards shy of a pulling off a miraculous win over Georgia, but lost 33-28.  Vanderbilt gained 349 total yards and 200 on the ground.  They threw 3 interceptions between their two quarterbacks and lost one fumble.  The Commodores gave up 443 yards to the Bulldogs, but only 117 on the ground.  Andre Hal returned a kick 96 yards for a touchdown, in the third quarter, that really helped sway the momentum and get Vanderbilt back into the game.

 

What to look for?

Vanderbilt brings a big offensive line, but they average just 21.7 points a game.  They average more than 4 yards per carry, but have only 8 rushing touchdowns on the year.  Their quarterbacks have thrown 5 touchdown passes against 9 interceptions.  They may make Jordan Rodgers (Aaron's little brother) the starter, as he brings a scrambling dynamic that Senior Larry Smith does not.

 

Although Vanderbilt gave up 33 points last week to Georgia, their defense is their strength.  They are 37th in points per game (21.7), but they have played Alabama, South Carolina and Georgia.  They held Georgia to 6 field goal attempts and the Bulldogs converted 4 of them.  They are first in the nation in interceptions.

 

The Army offense may keep them in this game.  Vanderbilt is big and quick, but have not seen an option oriented offense all year.  Army may have success picking and plotting with 4 yard gains and 7 minute drives.  They key will be Army's ability to hang on to the ball.

 

Vanderbilt has had problems throwing the ball all year.  They scored 24 points against UCONN and we think that we can anticipate a similar performance against Army.  They have a very large offensive line, but will probably choose to run their normal offense rather than run between the tackles.

 

This game will be determined by which offense can inflict their will upon the opponent.  If Vanderbilt can ramp up their offense as Miami did two weeks ago, there is no way that Army will be able to make this game competitive.  Army's best chance to keep this game competitive is to rush the ball effectively, eat at least 40 minutes of clock and not turn the ball over even one single time. It's a lot to ask, but they will have a tremendous chance to take the game to the final possession if they can.

 

The Army defense will have to play their best game of the year. Despite their enormous size and speed disadvantages, they will have to find a way to pressure the QB and force some turnovers.  Will they be able to pressure Jordan Rodgers or Will Rodgers pass for 300+ yards? 

 

Army has shown no ability to play on the road this season and this will be a very difficult environment for them. There is always the possibility that Vanderbilt could come into this game with little to no respect for Army, and they could take this Black Knights team too lightly. It also wouldn't be surprising if, after the extremely disappointing near miss last week against Georgia, Vanderbilt experiences a let-down this week facing an opponent they perceive to be inferior. We expect Army to be able to hang around for a while, but unfortunately, we think that too many things will have to go right to keep Army in this game and it probably will not happen.

 

Who is favored?

Vanderbilt is favored by 9.5 Points

 

Final Score – Vanderbilt 28 – Army 21 (predictions 2011, 2-4)

Game will be shown on ESPNU, 7:00PM EST.


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