Head-to-head: Army vs. Rutgers

Following a bitterly disappointing defeat to Air Force, the Army Black Knights (3-6) return to New York and play the Rutgers Scarlet Knights in Yankee Stadium. Last week Army took a 14-0 half-time lead only to squander it. Air Force scored 24 straight unanswered points in the second half to defeat the Black Knights 24-14.

Rutgers enters the game following a comeback win over South Florida led by sophomore quarterback Chas Dodd. He replaced struggling freshman Gary Nova early in the fourth quarter. Dodd threw a game-tying 34-yard touchdown pass to Brendan Coleman with 1:08 to play. In overtime Duron Harmon intercepted a pass to stop South Florida's opening possession in the overtime. Rutgers kicked a field goal to give the Scarlet Knights a 20-17 victory. The win made Rutgers bowl eligible and improved their record to (6-3). Rutgers leads the all-time series 19-18.

Army rushing offense
Rutgers rushing defense
Army enters this game leading the nation in rushing, averaging over 365 rushing yards per game. Army rushed for 286 yards in the first half and only 54 in the second half against Air Force. Army's plebe center Ryan Powis dominated the Air Force nose guards in the first half. Guards Frank Allen and Matt Villanti were able to trap block and get to the second level very effectively. In the second half Air Force tightened their defensive front playing over the guards. They decided to take away the A-Back and fullback and make quarterback Max Jenkins beat them running the option. It was a smart move since Jenkins is rather slow and lacks the athleticism to make many plays with his feet. Sophomore A-back Raymond Maples ran for 132 yards on 17 carries against the Falcons. It was his fifth 100 yard rushing game of the season. Maples (891 rushing yards, 7.4 avg., 4 TDs) is on pace for a thousand yard rushing season. Freshman B-back Larry Dixon ran hard for 68 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries versus AF. Dixon (342 yards, 5.9 avg., 3 TDs) demonstrated his lower body strength breaking a tackle on his 13-yard touchdown run. Jared Hassin (384 yards, 4.7avg, 1 TD) committed another costly fumble last week. Malcolm Brown (406 yards, 7.1 avg., 2 TDs) has been effective on the fly sweep. Max Jenkins is scheduled to start at quarterback for the third straight game. He ran for 38 yards and scored a touchdown versus Air Force. Jenkins killed the team with his three fumbles last week. Trent Steelman (576 rushing yards, 11 TDs) has missed the last two games with a high ankle sprain and remains very doubtful for Rutgers. Rich Ellerson stated in his Tuesday press conference that he would use plebe quarterback Angel Santiago (79 yards rushing, 8.8 avg., 1TD) this week to take advantage of his speed.

Rutgers restructured its defense after struggling last season. The Scarlet Knight run defense is ranked 53rd in the nation and 21st in the nation in total defense. Linebacker Khaseem Greene has thrived in the new scheme after being moved from safety. Greene leads Rutgers with 92 tackles, has recorded two sacks and forced two fumbles. Greene set a career high with 17 tackles last week against South Florida. Linebacker Steve Beauharnais has made 48 tackles this season. Beauharnais was named the Big East player of the Week following a nine tackles, two sacks and interception performance in a win over Syracuse. Senior defensive tackle Justin Francis is having a great season. Francis is tied for second on the team in tackles (48) and leads the team in tackles-for-loss (12.5). In the win over South Florida, Francis set a career-high with 11 tackles and tied career-bests with four tackles-for-loss and two sacks. This is a very fast and athletic group that is 17th in the nation in scoring defense (18.9 ppg.). Rutgers defense has been very successful in defending against option attacks. They've held Navy below its season average in rushing the last five times they played. In Rutgers' last 11 games against option offenses, the Scarlet Knights are 9-2 and have limited the opposition to an average of 26 rushing yards below their season average.
Army passing offense
Rutgers passing defense
Army lost starting quarterback Trent Steelman to a high ankle sprain against Vanderbilt three weeks ago. He is doubtful and probably out for this game. 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 his third straight starting assignment. Jenkins has completed only 5 of 23 passes (21.7%) with two touchdowns and an interception. Max missed a number of open receivers against Air Force. Rich Ellerson didn't play plebe quarterback Angel Santiago last week. Angel compiled excellent passing numbers in high school but possesses only a decent arm. His size limits him from the pocket but at the prep school he showed he could pass effectively when he sets his feet. Davyd Brooks (4 rec., 95 yards, 23.8 avg., 1 TD) was able to get open deep once against AF but Jenkins overthrew him. Jared McFarlin (7 catches, 74 yards, 1 TD) has been a non-factor since returning from his concussion.

The Scarlet Knights have been very successful in creating turnovers this year. They are ranked 11th in the nation in turnover margin and 16th in pass defense. Cornerback Logan Ryan has picked off two passes and returned an interception 45 yards for a score. Junior strong safety Duron Harmon is extremely fast. He has picked off five passes this year and returned one for a touchdown against North Carolina Central. In overtime last week, Harmon intercepted a pass to stop South Florida's initial possession in the overtime. Up front senior defensive tackle Justin Francis has 6.5 sacks and 9 quarterback hurries. The Scarlet Knights rank ninth in the nation in sacks with 29. If Army is forced into third and long passing situations this looks like a mismatch.
Rutgers rushing offense
Army rushing defense
Rutgers ranks just 117th in the nation in rushing, averaging 87.3 yards a game and only 2.4 yards a carry. The offensive line continues its struggles from last year. Rutgers has used three different starting offensive line lineups this year. Rutgers top running back is Jawan Jamison who leads the team in rushing with 484 yards but averages just 3.1 yards a carry. Highly regarded freshman running back Savon Huggins (146 yards, 5 TDs) suffered a season ending injury last week. Fullback Joe Martinek (115 yards, 6.8 avg., 0 TDs) rushed for 139 yards against the Black Knights in 2009 when he played tailback. Quarterback Chas Dodd is mobile and can run if the protection breaks down. Rutgers hasn't employed wide receiver Mohamed Sanu as a quarterback in the Wildcat formation like they did last season. While Rutgers has struggled running the ball, their offensive line weights an averages 295 pounds. The Scarlet Knights had success running against fellow service academy Navy when they ran for 152 yards. Jamison had his beat rushing day (101 yards) against the Midshipmen.

Army's defense has posted two impressive back-to-back performances. They shutout Fordham in the snow and held the Falcons option attack 179 rushing yards which is well below their season average of 326 rushing yards per game. The Black Knights played a 5-2 look most of the game and allowed just 3.3 yards per carry. Army will not be able to sell out against the run like it did against Air Force since Rutgers can spread the field. Plebe Mike linebacker Geoffrey Bacon has recorded 37 tackles. Bacon, the USMAPS defensive MVP last year, has made a huge impact with his range since he was named starter. Rover captain Steve Erzinger leads the team with 79 tackles. He has posted 7.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. Erzinger made 14 tackles against Rutgers last season. Defensive tackles A.J. Mackey (29 tackles, 5.5 for loss, a QB hurry) and Holt Zalneraitis (18 tackles, one for loss, a QB hurry) both had their best games last week against the Falcons.
Rutgers passing offense
Army passing defense
The Scarlet Knights passing offense is ranked 58th overall in the country. Greg Schiano announced that Chas Dodd will start at quarterback against Army. Dodd came off the bench to replace the struggling freshman QB Gary Nova in the fourth quarter against South Florida. He led Rutgers to an overtime victory last week. This year Dodd has completed 80-of-144 for 879 yards with 7 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. Army sacked Dodd an Army record eight times last season with a tremendous defensive effort. Dodd showed plenty of resiliency and made some clutch throws last year. Dodd completed 18 of 30 passes for 251 yards with two touchdowns and an interception last year against Army while under tremendous pressure.

Wide receiver Mohamed Sanu is an outstanding receiver. Sanu has caught 81 passes for 844 yards and seven touchdowns. Sanu set a Big East record earlier this year when he caught 16 passes against Ohio. Rutgers has a number of big, physical receivers which gave the Black Knights problems last year. Wide receiver Mark Harrison is a big target who has averaged 19.6 yards on his 14 receptions and has scored two touchdowns. Fullback Joe Martinek, a converted tailback, is a pass catching threat out of the backfield with 22 receptions for 217yards and a touchdown. Wide receiver Brandon Coleman had a good game against South Florida with three catches for 75 yards, including catching the game-tying touchdown. Big tight end D.C. Jefferson (6-6) had the longest catch of his career, 53 yards, against the Black Knights last year. Rutgers offensive line has allowed 20 sacks. They've done a lot better job protecting the passer than in 2010 but are still very vulnerable to pressure.

Expect to see Army's Cover 4 defensive scheme which is the "nickel defense" with five defensive backs against Rutgers. Army will try to pressure the Scarlet Knights with their usual assortments of stunts and twists up front. Plebe strong safety Hayden Pierce (32 tackles), who played cornerback against the Falcons triple option attack, was injured last week and will miss this game. Kyler Martin started his first game at safety and played very well. Martin made six tackles, defended a pass and recovered a fumble. Junior Josh Jackson cornerback has posted 28 tackles, five passes defensed and an interception. Freshman Lamar Johnson-Harris (16 tackles, 1 INT) didn't start last week against Air Force's option attack. Johnson-Harris saw playing time after Pierce was injured. He made one "tackle" when AF's Clark ran over him near the sidelines. To have a chance, Army needs to put pressure on Dodd like last year. Dodd tends to hold the ball in an effort to make plays. If the Black Knights fail to pressure Dodd they could have trouble matching up with Rutgers speed and size at wide receiver and tight end.
Special Teams
Kicker San San Te has hit 15 of 24 field goals this year. He was struggling until he hit the overtime game winning field goal. Justin Doerner is a very good directional punter. He is averaging 39.0 per punt. He gets good hang time and the punt coverage team is allowing just 3.2 yards per return. The Scarlet Knights are dangerous in the return game. Punt returner Mohamed Sanu is averaging 5.2 yards per return. As a team Rutgers is averaging 25.9 yards on kickoff returns with Jordan Thomas (22.5 yards per KOR) and Jeremy Deering (33.4 yards per KOR including a 73 yard return) splitting the duties. Deering took a kickoff back 98 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter last week. Since 2002, Rutgers is tied for second nationally with 53 blocked kicks, including six this season. Sophomore LB Jamal Merrell leads Rutgers with three blocked kicks in 2011.

Army punter Chis Boldt (43.6 per punt) was booming the ball in the high altitude averaging 55.3 yards on his three punts against Air Force. He nailed a 72-yard punt that flipped the field when Army was pinned deep. Eric Osteen continues to hit the ball well on his kickoffs. Josh Jackson (2.9 avg.) has seen no room on punt returns the last month. Scott Williams (20.6 yard avg. KOR) continues to be Army's best option on kickoff returns. Alex Carlton has struggled with his accuracy and has hit just one of four field goal attempts this year. He hasn't even attempted a field goal in over a month. On punt coverage Army has done an excellent job covering punts and kickoffs all year.
Greg Schiano has built a powerhouse at Rutgers with what will be six bowl appearances in the last seven years. Schiano teams have historically done a good job defensively against triple option teams. Greg Schiano is in his 11th season as head coach at Rutgers. Schiano is now third all-time in the Big East in coaching victories. He was named national coach of the year in 2006. Schiano is renowned as a terrific recruiter. Rutgers leads the Big East with 21 players currently playing in the NFL this year. On defense the Scarlet Knights are big, fast and talented. Schiano teams have historically done a good job defensively against triple option teams.

Rich Ellerson and his staff have been able to get their young team refocused and back on track after difficult road losses this season. He'll be put to that task again. Ellerson has been trying to address the chronic fumbling by his team but Army still fumbled four times against Air Force. Ian Shields rushing offense with its wishbone and half bone looks are not as predictable as Navy's option attack where Rutgers has the safety take the motion pitch back. Army's offense is less predictable in that they can mix the pitch and the dive back.
Rutgers enters the game off a huge Big East victory over South Florida and may be primed for a letdown. Rutgers is a tough match-up physically for the Black Knights. Schiano has never lost to Army and Rutgers has won seven straight in the series. Chas Dodd's return to quarterback gave the Rutgers struggling offense a boost. Army knows it let a key game slip away last week. I wonder with Max Jenkin's repeated mistakes at quarterback if the team might have lost confidence in him.  

PREDICTION: Rutgers, 31-17. Army will really miss not having a healthy Trent Steelman for the first time. Max Jenkins lacks the athleticism to run the option well. Army's defense has played well the last few weeks but Rutgers speed and size should cause them match-up problems like last year. Defensively, Army needs to pressure the Scarlet Knights like they did last season but we've already seen this team doesn't have Josh McNary and friends to wreak havoc anymore.

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