Head-to-head: Army vs. Vanderbilt

The Army Black Knights travel to Nashville to take on the Vanderbilt Commodores. Vanderbilt is led by first year coach James Franklin who inherited what is perennially one of the most challenging head coaching jobs in football. Vandy is the only football program in the SEC that places strict academic demands on its recruits.

After opening with three wins, the Commodores have dropped their last three SEC contests. Army enters the game, off a bye week, after blowing a 14 point second half lead to the Miami RedHawks. Army is 4-4 lifetime against Vandy. Rich Ellerson defeated Vanderbilt 16-13 at West Point in his debut season at Army.

Army rushing offense
Vanderbilt rushing defense
Army enters this game leading the nation in rushing. They are averaging over 361 rushing yards per game. Quarterback Trent Steelman has rushed 109 times for 536 yards, averaging 4.9 yards per carry and leads the nation in with 11 touchdowns by a quarterback. A-back Raymond Maples has rushed for over one hundred yards in each of the last three games. Maples is running with confidence and power. For the season Maples has rushed for 534 yards (6.5 avg.) and 4 touchdowns.

B-Back Jared Hassin's (287 yards, 4.9 avg., 1 TD) back is bothering him and he has been limited in practice this week. Plebe B-back Larry Dixon has rushed 28 times for 123 yards (4.4 avg.) and scored one touchdown. Dixon should see more carries with Hassin less than 100 percent. Slotback Malcolm Brown has battled through injuries this year but remains effective. Brown has rushed 42 times for 324 yards and has averaged 7.7 yards a carry and scored a touchdown. Army's offensive line faces a huge challenge against Vandy's big and talented defensive line.

New Vanderbilt defensive coordinator Bob Shoop has done an excellent job in his first year as defensive coordinator. The Commodores are allowing only 21.7 points per game and are currently ranked 27th in the nation in run defense allowing just over 109 yards per game. Their best player up front is senior defensive end Tim Fugger (6-4, 255) who has made 20 tackles, three sacks and eight tackles for loss this year. Fugger is one of the best defensive linemen in the SEC. Next to him is huge junior defensive tackle Rob Lohr who is 6-4, 290. Lohr has 19 tackles, 7 1/2 for a loss, and three sacks in 2011. Lohr was named SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week after his four tackles for a loss in the victory over Connecticut on Sept. 10. At middle linebacker the Commodores have senior Chris Marve, a two-time All-SEC selection. Marve is one of the leading tacklers in school history with 352 career tackles. This is a tough group to run against. The Commodore defense limited Georgia's talented running back Isaiah Crowell to 35 yards on 10 carries last week. It was the third impressive defensive performance by the Vandy defense against a top SEC running back. They held Marcus Lattimore of South Carolina to 77 yards and kept Alabama's Trent Richardson well under his season average.
Army passing offense
Vanderbilt passing defense
Seniors Davyd Brooks and Austin Barr have replaced the faster sophomore wide receivers that started the first four games. Over the past two games Trent has completed eleven consecutive passes and thrown two touchdown passes. Steelman on the season has completed 52.8 percent of his passes for 329 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions. Davyd Brooks (4 rec., 95 yards, 23.8 avg., 1 TD) has played well since returning to the lineup. Last year's leading receiver Austin Barr (1 rec, 9 yards) is finally back in lineup after a long recovery from an injury. Jared McFarlin (7 catches, 74 yards, 1 TD) and plebe Chevaughn Lawrence (1 rec., 9 yards) are both healthy and able to play after missing some time recently.

Vanderbilt uses multiple blitz packages to create pressure and force offensive mistakes. The secondary has already recorded 15 interceptions this season. Ball hawking senior cornerback Casey Heyward is second in the nation with five interceptions. Heyward has 26 tackles this year and has picked off 13th passes in his career. He's also seen time on offense and as a punt returner this year. Junior cornerback Trey Wilson (14 tackles, 5 passes defensed, 3 INT) has returned two of his three interceptions for touchdowns. Safety Sean Richardson is a physical, active strong safety with 27 tackles, one interception and a sack.
Vanderbilt rushing offense
Army rushing defense
Vanderbilt is currently ranked 83rd in nation in rushing. As a team they have run for just 129 yards a game. Their leading running back is Zac Stacy who has rushed 57 times for 381 yards, averaging 6.7 yards per carry with two touchdowns. Stacy threw a 43-yard halfback option pass to Jordan Matthews for a touchdown last week. He rushed for 97 yards and a touchdown against Georgia. Freshman Jerron Seymour (180 yards, 4.1 avg., 3 TDs) replaces Stacy when he needs a breather. With Jordan Rogers playing quarterback, Army has to contain him in the pocket because he is mobile and fast. Rogers broke off a 40-yard scramble last week against the Bulldogs. After struggling to run the ball in losses to South Carolina and Alabama, the Commodores rushed for 200 yards on 36 carries against Georgia's big defensive front. The best player on Vandy's offensive line is sophomore left tackle Wesley Johnson, who was a second team freshman All-American last year.

Army junior quick end Zach Watts (10 tackles, 2 1/2 for a loss, 1 sacks) will have his hands full matched up against Vandy left tackle Wesley Johnson who outweighs him by 73 pounds. Junior A.J. Mackey (21 tackles, 3 1/2 for loss, a QB hurry) has been the most consistent Army player on the defensive line. Fellow defensive tackle sophomore Holt Zalneraitis (10 tackles, 1 pass defensed, 1 QB hurry and a fumble rec.) has struggled at the point of attack Andrew Rodriguez (28 tackles, 2 pass defensed, 2 fumble rec. ) moved from whip linebacker to defensive end two games ago in an effort to improve run defense. At Rover senior co-captain Steve Erzinger is the defense's best player. Erzinger has been very productive recording 64 tackles, 7 1/2 tackles for a loss and three sacks.
Vanderbilt passing offense
Army passing defense
Both quarterbacks, senior Larry Smith and junior Jordan Rodgers, have struggled against SEC defenses. Against Georgia they both played and completed only 9-of-29 passes for just for 71 yards and three interceptions. Jordan Rogers, who is very mobile, will start. Rogers (47.1%, 236 yards, 1 TD, 3 INTs) is the younger brother of Green Bay Packer quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Senior Larry Smith (1,260 yards, 6 TDs, 5 INTs in 2010) has started since 2009 but isn't a very good passer. This year Smith (57.3%, 481 yards, 3 TDs, 5 INTs) has been beaten up in the pocket during the last three SEC games. Senior tight end Brandon Barden (34 catches, 420 yards, 3 TDs, 2nd Team All-SEC in 2010) is back in form after missing two games with an injury. Freshman wide receiver Chris Boyd is a home run threat. He has averaged 16 yards on his eight catches and scored three touchdowns. Sophomore Jordan Matthews (6-3, 202) scored on a 43 yard touchdown pass last week. He is the type of big physical receiver that always seems to give the Black Knights fits. Sophomore Jonathan Krause is a possession receiver, who leads the team in catches with 20, but does little with the ball in his hands (108 yards, no TDs). The Commodore offensive line has struggled to protection the quarterbacks but most teams would against South Carolina and Alabama. The Vanderbilt offensive line will not experience the athletic mismatches against the Black Knights that they see against the SEC.

It will be interesting to see if the Army staff will continue to extensively use the cover 4 defensive scheme which is the "nickel defense" with five defensive backs against Vandy. The Commodores do not possess a great passing game but they match up better against the Black Knights than they do against the great talent they see in the SEC. Expect to see Army's usual assortments of stunts and twists up front to create pressure. Junior Josh Jackson has posted 25 tackles, two passes defensed and an interception. Freshman Lamar Johnson-Harris has struggled since being named field cornerback in week two. Johnson-Harris is a small, undersized cornerback with average feet who lacks deep recovery speed. Plebe strong safety Hayden Pierce (23 tackles, 1 pass defensed) has had a few tough moments, like when he was matched up against Miami (Ohio) wide receiver Nick Harwell, but he has been impressive for a freshman. Pierce is very alert and is a sure open field tackler. Sophomores Tyler Dickson (35 tackles, 1 pass defensed, 1 INT) after a rough opening game, has improved his play as the season has progressed. Dickson started at free safety the first four games before being moved to Mike linebacker after Trimble was injured. Thomas Holloway (34 tackles) has seen increased playing time when Army started playing the Cover 4 scheme. Holloway isn't the best athlete but understands the game and his assignments.
Special Teams
Vanderbilt sophomore kicker Carey Spears has hit three of five field goal attempts this year. He's yet to hit from 40 yards or longer in his young career. Junior punter Richard Kent had a rough game last week against the Bulldogs having a punt block. For this career Kent is normally a good punter averaging 41.6 yards per punt. Vandy special teamer Udom Umoh blocked a punt with seven seconds left gave Vanderbilt possession at Georgia's 20-yard line, but the Commodores couldn't score and lost to Georgia, 33-28. Special teams also produced a successful fake punt for a first down last week against the Bulldogs. Kick returner Andre Hal a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown. Vandy sure handed punt returner Jonathan Krause averages 5.4 yards per carry.

Army punter Chris Boldt has averaged 41.1 yards a punt with two punts placed inside the 20. Army's punt coverage has been outstanding. The Black Knights have allowed only 17.5 yards per kickoff return. Inconsistent Alex Carlton has struggled with his accuracy and has hit just one of four field goal attempts and didn't connect till week five Carlton has also missed two extra point Eric Osteen has been a huge improvement over last year on kickoffs with seven touchbacks. Kick returners Scott Williams (21.2 per KOR) doesn't have top end speed but he is quick, has great hands and does a nice job maximizing kickoff returns. Josh Jackson has averaged 4.1 yards on punt returns. He has reliable hands but hasn't had a lot of room to work with the last few games.
New Vanderbilt coach James Franklin has the Commodores playing competitively. Franklin took over a team that finished just 2-10 last year and won his first three games beating teams like Connecticut and Mississippi. Vandy has dropped its last three SEC games but have competed on defense. Franklin was formerly the offensive coordinator at Maryland and head coach in waiting until former Army athletic director took over the AD job at Maryland and changed the plan. Franklin's team seems to be well prepared despite facing a talent deficit in SEC.

Rich Ellerson and his staff have made a number of changes, moved players and promoting freshmen when the team has struggled. The Cover 4 scheme especially helped field cornerback Lamar Johnson Harris, who was overmatched, underneath and in the flats. Ian Shields rushing offense keeps rolling along and was finally able to get the passing game to click the past few games.
Army enters the game off a bye week with rested players while the Commodores enter the game off three physical SEC losses. Army's inexperienced defense has allowed an average of 44 points per game on the road. The Black Knights have lost all three road games this year. Vanderbilt should feel pretty confident about its size advantage in the trenches.

PREDICTION: Vanderbilt, 31-17. The Commodores enter this game as a nine point favorite. Vanderbilt's rush defense should limit Army's rush offense. In that strength versus strength battle, I think the Commodores will win the day. On the other side of the ball, Vandy's offense isn't very good but they should be able to run the ball very effectively against Army's undersized front seven. Vanderbilt's passing game has been anemic but against the Black Knight's inexperienced secondary they should be able to make plays because Army doesn't cover very well. If Army can generate pressure and make Vandy one dimensional on offense they have a chance. I think Vandy has too much size and speed for the Black Knights.

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