The Aztecs have been to bowl games two years in a row. Last year, they were 8-5, and were 4-3 in the Mountain West. They lost a tough game in the New Orleans Bowl to Louisiana Lafayette from the Sun Belt Conference, as the Raging Cajuns hit a 50-yard field goal as time expired to win 32-30.
The Aztecs return 6 starters on offense, and 6 on defense but they lost some key contributors in their backfield and offensive line: RB Ronnie Hillman, QB Ryan Lindley, LT Tommie Draheim, LB Miles Burris, CB Larry Parker, DL Larry Gibbs, DL J.J. Autele. Their new quarterback is Ryan Katz, a transfer from Oregon State, and wide receiver Brice Butler is a transfer from USC.
2011 was a very disappointing year for Army; the Black Knights were coming off a 7-win season and their first bowl appearance in 14 years. With 11 starters returning, Army opened with back-to-back losses to Northern Illinois and San Diego State before beating Northwestern. The team followed that up with a loss to Ball State followed by a win over Tulane. The Cadets then collapsed and lost six of the final seven games to finish with its worst season under Ellerson. The two main culprits to their demise were fumbles and the lack of size on the defensive line.
On offense, Army returns QB Trent Steelman, SB's Raymond Maples and Jarred Hassin, FB Larry Dixon, and Malcom Brown, who has been moved to WR. In early practices, it looks like Army will attempt to throw the ball more often as a fleet of fast skill position players are arriving at West Point. If this team can stop their fumbles, they should be able to lead the country in rushing again and maybe have a thousand yards in the air.
On defense, they return 8 players, but the three that they lost were their best contributors: LB Steven Erzinger, DL A.J. Mackey, LB Andrew Rodriguez. Ellerson is stressing speed, but they need some bulk up front if they are to contend with the top half of their schedule this year. Help is on the way, but can plebes contribute 2 months after arriving at the Academy?
In Seattle, the Huskies scored on their first two drives and returned a fumble in the third quarter to beat the Aztecs 21-12. In 2011, the Huskies gave up an average of 453 yards per game, but they were able to hold limit San Diego State to 327 yards and forced 3 turn-overs. San Diego State elected to go for a 2 point conversion after their first two scores and were kept out of the end zone on a 4th and goal at the 8 with 4:50 left.
Aztec Quarterback, Ryan Katz, was 10 for 19 for 128 yards, with 1 touchdown and 1 interception. Running back, Walter Kazee, had 86 yards rushing on 9 carries.
The Aztec Defense limited the Huskies to 328 yards and only 106 on the ground. The Aztec Defense held the Huskies scoreless for the final 3 quarters of the game.
Who is favored?
San Diego is a 4 Point Favorite.
What to look for?
Look for the Aztecs to grind it out on the ground. With completely new playmakers and offensive line, Rocky Long will probably play it conservative and try to blow Army off of the line. The Black Knights will have to commit extra people up into the box to keep that from happening, as they still do not appear to have the size up front to play it straight. Any failure to consistently stop the run in this game will result in a very long day for the Cadets.
Look for the typical Army offense with a little more passing added. If this team can get some momentum early and not turn the ball over, they have an excellent chance to win. However, we have major concerns over their ability to eradicate the fumbling problems from last year. Nothing less than a flawless game will do – an early turnover or two will likely ignite an avalanche of points from the Aztecs, and will certainly result in a hole too big to dig out of.
We want to give Coach Ellerson the benefit of the doubt on this one, and we want to believe that he and his coaching staff have identified and effectively addressed the problems from last year. Our rose-colored glasses are on, and we believe that this season will be better, starting off with what we expect to be a spectacular all-around performance in week 1.
Final Score – Army 35 – SDSU 28
Game will be shown on NBC College Sports Network.