The Army Black Knights take on the Northern Illinois Huskies on Saturday at Michie Stadium in their home opener. Last week Army (0-1) lost its season opener on the road when it was dominated by San Diego State, 42-7. Northern Illinois has won at least eleven games (22-6) in each of the past two seasons. Northern Illinois enters the game with a 1-1 record and is coming in off an easy 35-7 win against UT-Martin. Last year Northern Illinois's offense lit up Army scoring 49 points in the 2011 opener. It was the most points Army allowed in a game in 2011.
Army's rushing offense
Northern Illinois's rushing defense
Army in last year's game against Northern Illinois rushed for 303 yards, averaged 4.8 yards per carry as they scored three touchdowns. Trent Steelman struggled reading the Northern Illinois defense which was utilizing a mesh charge with the defensive tackle faking that he was taking the B-Back on the dive then hammering Steelman. This defensive move forced Trent to fumble on the 1-yard line when he was nailed attempting to pitch just before the end of the half. NIU mixed up the "1" and "2" on defensive count at times and Steelman (17 carries, 37 yards 1 TD, 2 fumbles) missed his reads especially early in game resulting in negative plays that killed any Army offensive consistency. The Huskies did a good job of limiting the fullback last year. Even though Army was blown out in the opener they did rush for 382 yards and averaged 4.5 yards per carry. Raymond Maples ran for over one hundred yards (107) against the Aztecs. It was the sixth time in his last nine starts that Maples has exceeded 100 rushing yards.
Northern Illinois head coach Dave Doeren was a tremendous defensive coordinator at Wisconsin. His team's defense really improved at the end of 2011. This year he returns eight full time starters. Star defensive lineman Sean Progar was named MAC defensive player of the week after the opener against Iowa when he recorded 4 tackles and a sack in a close loss to Iowa. Northern Illinois senior linebacker Tyrone Clark has made 14 tackles in the first two games after missing last season. Northern Illinois' physical defense has allowed an average of just 2.5 per rushing carry in the first two games.
Army's passing offense
Northern Illinois's passing defense
Edge: Northern Illinois
Trent Steelman completed 24-of-45 (53.3 %) of his passes for 424 yards with three touchdown passes and two interceptions last season. Steelman completed only 3 of 8 passes for 50 yards with two interceptions in the loss to San Diego State last week. Senior Malcolm Brown was moved from running back to wide receiver this summer. He missed the opener but is probable for this week's game.
The Huskies have posted seven sacks in the first two games. Defensive end Alan Baxter has nine tackles and two sacks. Safety Jimmy Ward is the team's leading tackler. He was named MAC West Defensive Player of the Week after making 10 tackles, breaking up two throws and intercepting a pass against UT Martin. Ward made 100 tackles in 2011 to earn second team All-MAC honors. Senior cornerback junior Rashaan Melvin (5 career interceptions) picked off an pass against Army last year.
Northern Illinois rushing offense
Army rushing defense
Edge: Northern Illinois
New Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch has been described by his head coach Dave Doeren as "a linebacker playing quarterback". Lynch, a fast and physical runner, gained 119 rushing yards on 18 carries and scored on a 73-yard touchdown run versus Iowa in their opener. He ran for three touchdowns against UT Martin. Lynch leads the Huskies with 179 rushing yards on 29 carries (a 6.2-yard average) and four rushing touchdowns. Tailback Leighton Settle rushed 21 times for 106 yards to lead the NIU offense last week against UT Martin. This season he's averaged over 4.5 yards a carry.
Army's defensive line starters Mike Ugenyi, Bobby Kough and quick end Zac Watts all posted only one tackle each in the opener. The defensive line was knocked off the ball last week. The Black Knights were not playing their gap responsibilities on defense and were too often out of position. It causes the whole system to break down. Overall there were way too many missed tackles and the Black Knights were slow to shed and used poor technique. Northern Illinois dominated Army's small defensive line at the point of attack in 2011. The Huskies rushed for 317, a touchdown and 6.1 yards per carry.
Northern Illinois's passing offense
Army's passing defense
Edge: Northern Illinois
The Huskies have a new starter in quarterback Jordan Lynch. Lynch completed 19-of-25 passes for 214 yards and a 31-yard TD pass vs. UT Martin. Lynch is very mobile and a threat to run. He scored on a 32-yard touchdown run in the last game. In 2012 he has completed 25-of-41 passes (61%) for 268 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Northern Illinois senior receiver Martel Moore is the leading play maker with 12 career TD catches. He caught five passes for 56 yards versus UT Martin and added his first touchdown this year. Moore leads the Huskies with eight catches for 95 yards on the season.
Josh Jackson (four tackles and 2 pass defensed) was stiff armed and missed an easy tackle after a short pass that Ezell Ruffin ran with 57 yards setting up the first score of the second half which blew the game wide open. Jackson has to make that tackle. Tyler Dickson made four tackles in his first start at cornerback but wasn't very fluid at times in coverage. Cornerback Justin Allen (1 tackle, 2 pass defensed) broke up two sure touchdown passes. He stripped Ruffin of the ball in the end zone and later when Katz was late on a skinny post throw he smartly undercut the route and almost intercepted the pass. SAM safety Hayden Pierce hurt his shoulder very early in the game and was replaced by Lyle Beloney (3 tackles) who missed some tackles, was slow to read plays and had some struggles in coverage. Pierce is doubtful for this week. Ty Shrader's had a unnecessary face mask penalty on the opening drive. Nate Combs was the only front defensive line player (the bandit is considered part of the defensive line) who performed well. Combs made five tackles and recorded two sacks.
Northern Illinois breaks in a new kicker in Matthew Sims who hit 2 of 3 field goal attempts in spot duty. So far he's hit one of two attempts. They return punter Ryan Nier who has averaged 39.2 yards per punt. Kickoff returner Tommy Lewis caught four passes for 52 yards with a long gain of 29 yards vs. UT Martin. In 2011 he returned two kickoffs for touchdowns.
Punter Chris Bolt averaged 43.5 on four punts with one inside the 20 in the opener. He had touchbacks on two opportunities when he failed to pin the Aztecs deep inside their own ten. None of Bolt's punts were returned. The kickoff coverage team was burned by speedy Colin Lockett who broke clear of the coverage at midfield and raced down the left sideline to score. Army's new field goal kicker Dan Grochowski along with plebe snapper Drew Ellerson and holder A.J. Schurr made their first extra point as a unit. Punt returner Josh Jackson (1 return, -1 yard) had no running room. Stephen Fraser fumbled his first kickoff return chance and returned it just four yards. He was replaced the rest of the game by Larry Dixon who did a solid job.
Edge: Northern Illinois
Rich Ellerson and his staff need to take responsibility. On defense I do blame the staff for not having their players accountable. There was a lack of gap discipline by the Army defense that had nothing to do with the Aztecs being more physical. The tackling was awful. I know Rich Ellerson likes the early morning practices to get his players rest but with the three hour time difference in traveling to the west coast it looked like Army was sleep walking and unprepared. Ellerson admitted he was "stunned" with the lack of execution. Former Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Doeren is a highly regarded defensive coach. In his first year at Northern Illinois saw the school win the Mid-American Conference Championship and0 triumph in the GoDaddy.com Bowl.
Rich Ellerson and Army offensive coordinator Ian Shields matched wits with Dave Doeren in 2008. They took Cal Poly into Wisconsin in November and they nearly defeated the Badgers. Wisconsin held on for an 36-35 victory that would have been a huge upset if Cal Poly's kicker didn't have an awful day. That loss attracted attention to the Cal Poly offense and coach Rich Ellerson. With the help of the Armysports.com Black Knight's Alley Board, Ellerson emerged as a candidate for the Army job and as they say the rest is history. For the record I would give credit to the original poster but the forum archive doesn't go back that far. Army should be motivated coming off an embarrassing performance.
PREDICTION: Northern Illinois, 38-24. Northern Illinois dominated last year; the final score doesn't tell the whole story as Army experienced breakdowns on special teams, offensively and a total meltdown on defense. Northern Illinois jumped out to a 49-6 lead before pulling their starters. They're not as talented as last year but Army's defense was miserable in the opener. Army should move the ball but the Black Knights might not be able to match Northern Illinois offensive attack. Army can win this game but I think it's a tough match up for a defense.
Head to Head: Army vs. Northern Illinois
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