Head-to-head: Army vs. Fordham

The Army Black Knights return home to play the FCS Fordham Rams for the first time since 1949. It has been a long time since the days of the Seven Blocks of Granite at Fordham. Fordham just starting awarding football scholarships again in 2009. Army enters the game after a blowout loss to Vanderbilt 44-21 in Nashville, Tennessee.

Fordham is coming off a 45-24 road loss to Lafayette. The Rams produced a season-high 565 yards of offense in the loss. The Black Knights have played 61 games against FCS schools and have posted a 50-10-1 record.

Army rushing offense
Fordham rushing defense
Army enters this game leading the nation in rushing, averaging over 348 rushing yards per game. The Black Knights remain the best rushing team in the FBS, despite posting 270 rushing yards last week. Quarterback Trent Steelman suffered a high ankle sprain against Vandy. He will miss this week's game and end his West Point quarterback record of 32 consecutive starts. Senior captain Max Jenkins will start in his place. Plebe quarterback Aaron Santiago who played well on two drives late last week is also expect to see playing time. A-back Raymond Maples had his three consecutive game streak of rushing for more than one hundred yards snapped by Vanderbilt. For the season Maples has rushed for 600 yards (6.4 avg.) and 4 touchdowns.

B-Back Jared Hassin (302 yards 4.7 avg., 1 TD) had a miserable game against Vanderbilt last week and was involved in two costly fumbles on the quarterback mesh. Plebe B-back Larry Dixon had the best day of his career (97 yards) against Vandy. He showed his speed on a 57-yard run to set up a touchdown. C-back Malcolm Brown had a rough game handling the ball but scored a touchdown against the Commodores. Brown has rushed 49 times for 350 yards. Malcolm has averaged 7.1 yards a carry and has scored two touchdowns. Plebe Trenton Turrentine recently underwent knee surgery ending his season.

The Fordham Rams are struggling defensively giving up 31.7 points and 468.3 yards per game. The Rams 3-4 defense has been battered with numerous injuries this season. Inside linebacker junior Mike Martin leds the Rams with 64 tackles. Outside linebacker Andre Delaire has made 53 tackles, 1 sack, 1 interception and a pass defensed. Sophomore outside linebacker Jake Rodriques 51 tackles. Fordham is allowing 230 rushing yards a game and an average of five yards a carry. Army's offensive line should dominate the Rams defensive line.
Army passing offense
Fordham passing defense
Army loses starting quarterback Trent Steelman to a high ankle sprain this week. Steelman on the season has completed 51.3 % of his passes for 347 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions. Backup quarterback Max Jenkins draws the starting assignment. Jenkins has completed just 2 of 11 passes (18.2%) with one touchdown in spot duty. Max has been victimized by a number of drops. Rich Ellerson also plans to use plebe quarterback Angel Santiago. Angel compiled excellent passing numbers in high school but possesses only a decent arm. At USMAPS last year Santiago's passes would at times float and he struggled throwing outside the hash marks. His size limits him from the pocket but at the prep school he showed he could pass effectively when he sets his feet. Santiago completed a two point conversion pass rolling out to Larry Dixon last week. Santiago threw two incompletions on his final drive. Army's running backs, with the exception of Dixon, need to do a better job picking up the blitz. Last year's leading receiver Austin Barr (1 rec., 9 yards) had a costly drop against Vandy. Davyd Brooks (4 rec, 95 yards, 23.8 avg., 1 TD) was shutout and wasn't able to create separation from the much faster Vanderbilt defensive backs. Jared McFarlin (7 catches, 74 yards, 1 td) has caught only one pass since returning from his concussion. McFarlin is the most talented Black Knight receiver and needs to get back in the mix.

Fordham defense has allowed 61.2% of the passes thrown against it this year to be completed. Sophomore cornerback Ian Williams is the Rams best defensive back. Williams has made 43 tackles, 2 interceptions and has knocked down 6 passes this year. Williams (5-10, 190) recorded a career-high 17 tackles against Lafayette last week. Outside linebacker senior linebacker Nick Womack leads the Rams with 3 1/2 sacks but he left the Lafayette game with an injury and is questionable for Army.
Fordham rushing offense
Army rushing defense
Fordham lines up in a spread passing offense with a single back. Despite having an offensive line that averages 307 pounds the Rams do not exactly resemble the old Fordham "Seven Blocks of Granite". Fordham has averaged just 86.6 yards per game and only 2.7 yards per carry. Their leading running back is senior Darryl Whiting. He rushed for a season-high 128 yards on 20 carries last week. Whiting (467 yards, 4.4 avg., 1 TD in 2011) is a big back at 6-3, 235 pounds. Ram quarterback Ryan Higgins isn't a big threat to run.

Army will once again play against a much bigger offensive line however at least this week they're not playing SEC linemen. Army made some line-up changes last week. New Mike linebacker Geoffrey Bacon missed a few tackles but posted 13 tackles, defended a pass and intercepted another pass returning it 70 yards for a touchdown. Bacon was the USMAPS defensive MVP last year and has sideline to sideline range. Steve Erzinger had 9 tackles and two quarterback hurries against Vandy including a huge hit that led to Bacon's interception. Junior defensive tackle A.J. Mackey (24 tackles, 5 for loss, a quarterback hurry) had a rough game last week but should like this match up. Defensive end Andrew Rodriguez (35 tackles, 3 pass defensed, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 INT) made an excellent read on a zone blitz, jumping a crossing route to pick off a pass that set up Army's first touchdown last week.
Fordham passing offense
Army passing defense
On offense the Fordham Rams use a spread passing attack featuring four receivers, one back and the quarterback Higgins in the shotgun. Junior quarterback Ryan Higgins completed 32 of 52 passes for a career high 413 yards and two scores last week against Lafayette. He took over as starter three games ago. Higgins has completed 73 of 134 passes for 973 yards with five touchdowns and five interceptions this season Higgins uses a lot of two step drops and short passes underneath. He was a good arm but a rather long throwing motion.

The Rams leading receiver is junior converted quarterback Blake Wayne. Wayne has made 26 receptions for 230 yards and has scored a touchdown this year. Carlton Koonce has 23 catches for 222 yards and has produced four touchdowns. JC transfer Greg Wilson is the Rams deep threat. He has averaged 21.2 yards a catch on his 16 receptions and has scored twice including an 82 yards reception. Wilson was a First Team All-State and All-Conference wide receiver at Diablo Valley Community College before transferring this year. Freshman wide receiver Brian Wetzel (17rec, 266, 15.6 avg. 0 TDs) caught six passes for 94 yards last week against Lafayette after missing the two previous games with injuries. Fordham has trouble protecting its quarterback allowing 16 sacks for a loss of 116 yards.

Expect to see more of Army's cover 4 defensive scheme which is the "nickel defense" with five defensive backs against the Rams. Army will try to pressure the Rams with their usual assortments of stunts and twists up front to create pressure. Junior Josh Jackson has posted 28 tackles, five passes defensed and an interception. Freshman Lamar Johnson-Harris was called for holding on the opening drive but after that probably played his best game as a Black Knight. The Rams passing game can move the ball but they're not explosive and struggle to protect the quarterback.
Special Teams
The Fordham Rams freshman kicker Michael Marando has hit five of seven field goals attempts this year. He's yet to hit from 40 yards or longer. Junior punter Patrick Murray is one of the best punters in the country. Murray has averaged 46.7 yards on his 31 points. Murray has placed 15 punts inside the twenty yard line. The Rams return and coverage teams are rather pedestrian.

Army punter Chris Boldt had a great game against Vandy, averaging 42.0 yards per punt and hit a terrific clutch 65-yard punt. Boldt placed three punts inside the 20-yard line. Josh Jackson has reliable hands for a punt returner but is averaging just 3.9 yards per return. Plebe Marcus Jackson looked shaky on kickoff returns (16.3) and dropped one ball out of bounds at the two yard line last week. Jackson has good speed but needs to play with some confidence. Scott Williams isn't a threat on kickoff returns (21.4) but is decisive and reliable. On punt coverage Army once again did an excellent job covering punts Vandy's Andre Hal nearly broke the opening kickoff for a touchdown with his 53-yard return. Alex Carlton badly missed an extra point last week. Carlton has struggled with his accuracy and has hit just one of four field goal attempts this year.
Fordham head coach Tom Masella is in his sixth season as the head coach at Fordham. Masella guided the Rams to the Patriot League championship in 2007. Before arriving in the Bronx, Masella was the head coach at Central Connecticut State for two seasons, winning back-to-back NEC titles in 2004 and 2005. He also served as the head coach at Boston University in 1996 and 1997.

Rich Ellerson and his staff have been able to get their young team refocused and back on track after difficult road losses this season. Ellerson specifically mentioned that the chronic fumbling that has occurred this year will no longer be tolerated. He's already showed that he's not afraid to make position changes. Ian Shields' rushing offense should roll against the decimated Rams defense.
Army will be playing its last game at Michie Stadium this year. There might be a chance for a letdown against a struggling FCS opponent but Army needs this game after dropping the last two. Fordham will be playing with house money in front of a sold out crowd with nothing to lose.

PREDICTION: Army, 45-17. This is a reversal of last week. Army enters this game as a clear favorite and clearly the more talented team. Army's rushing attack should roll over the injury plagued Rams even without Steelman. The Fordham passing attack can move the ball and will make a few plays. On film Higgins throws a nice ball but the Rams struggle to protect the quarterback which is a problem when matched up against the double eagle flex.

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