Army Report Card: Northern Illinois

The Northern Illinois Huskies held on for the 41-40 victory in an offensive shootout at Michie Stadium. The Army Black Knights were stopped on their last drive on a fourth down run when Trent Steelman was tackled at the Northern Illinois 44-yard line. Army's offense twice had to comeback from double digit deficits to take the lead.

For the second year in a row the Army defense could not match-up with Northern Illinois explosive speed on offense. Army had three players rush for over 100 yards each in a single game for the first time since 1996.

PASSING OFFENSE: C

Steelman's first pass attempt hit Malcolm Brown right in the numbers and he dropped it. Brown looked a little lost in his first start at wide receiver. He dropped the first pass throw to him. He didn't know the formation later costing Army a delay of game penalty. He also has to stop watching the play and block. On Baggett's 28-yard run he needed to run all out and block the safety. If he did Baggett would have scored. On the fourth and seven pass play in the second quarter I thought the sack was Steelman's fault. Trent first read was covered but he tried to take off and ran himself into a sack despite good pocket protection. Steelman's only completion was a nice off balance throw under pressure to Scott Williams. Williams made a nice 8-yard catch coming back to the ball on the touchdown drive before the end of the half. Steelman tried to hit Williams on the next play but it was knocked down at the line of scrimmage. Steelman completed a pass to Patrick Laird on a two point conversion. On the final drive Patrick Laird drew a pass interference penalty for a first down.

RUSHING OFFENSE: A+

The Black Knights rushed for 486 yards, averaged 6.5 yards per carry and scored six touchdowns against a fast and physical defense. Raymond Maples (23 carries for 159 yards, 1 TD) showed a nice burst when he cut back on his 22-yard opening touchdown run. Except for dropping one pitch and some confusion with his fellow running backs on motion penalties he played a great game. Larry Dixon powered his way to 136 yards and three touchdowns on 28 carries. Dixon showed his leg strength breaking four tackles to score on a 13-yard touchdown run before the end of the half. Trent Steelman rebounded from the opener with 116 yards and two touchdown runs. He dropped one exchange but today things clicked for Trent. When he bobbled one other exchange he just ran up the middle for a 15 yard touchdown. Jon Crucitti ran 3 times for 27 yards. He had two nice runs and blocked extremely well. Terry Baggett ran three times for 38 including a 28 yard burst on the opening touchdown drive. He left the game with a right knee injury and did not return. The return of Ryan Powis at center was noticeable in short yardage and with the fullback dive. Last year Northern Illinois defense was successful utilizing a mesh charge with the defensive tackle faking he was taking the B Back on the dive then hammering Steelman. With Powis at center that scheme was often neutralized against the Huskies physical and quick tackles. Powis is Army's best player in my opinion.

PASSING DEFENSE: D

The Huskies Jordan Lynch threw for 342 yards and four touchdowns. One of the weaknesses in the double eagle flex is that against passing spread teams the opponents can isolate the SAM safety against the slot receiver and cornerbacks in man coverage. The flex needs to pressure the quarterback and the Black Knights recorded little pressure until the second half and recorded no sacks. Zach Watts (2 tackles) ruined one of the few times that Army was near Lynch when he hit him late and drew a roughing the passer penalty.

Justin Trimble (1 tackle, 1 pass def.) played SAM in the first half and failed to pick up Luke Eakes crossing the formation on the opening drive and left him uncovered for a 38-yard pass reception. Later the Huskies spread the formation and isolated him in man coverage where Lewis burned him for a 69-yard touchdown pass. He made a nice hit on the goal line to break up a probable touchdown pass in the third quarter after he was back in his normal rover spot. Thomas Holloway started as Rover and was completely ineffective. He recorded no tackles and was benched in the second half. He was beat by Tim Semish who made a great one handed catch in end zone on the opening drive.

Cornerback Waverly Washington (2 tackles) continued his trend as playing well in practice to earn a starting nod then falling apart in the game. Washington was replaced in the second half by Tyler Dickson who didn't fare much better but made a few plays. Dickson (1 tackles, 1 interception, 1 pass def) is a safety playing cornerback. His feet aren't that quick and he lacked the speed to run deep with the Huskies top flight receivers. NIU's Martel Moore beat him for two touchdowns and he allowed four completions over 27 yards to the Huskies receivers. Cornerback Josh Jackson (2 tackles) competed well and the Huskies staff smartly focused on the boundary cornerback in the second half.

Alex Meier (3 tackles, 1 pass defensed) played well when called on very late he made a great pass breakup and a nice tackle in the flat. Ty Shrader (1 tackle) is not athletically talented enough to be an FBS safety. I know why the staff likes him. Ty's instincts are good but he lacks the speed to play centerfield in the double eagle flex. Plebe Brandon Fusilier Jeffires replaced Shrader in the second half and did a solid job with three tackles. Hayden Pierce (1 tackles) in a gutsy effort played in the second half with an injured shoulder. He helped shutdown the deep middle. The play of the safeties in the second half kept this grade from being an 'F'.

RUSHING DEFENSE: D

The Huskies rushed for 173, two touchdowns and 6.7 yards per carry. Actually the Army defense was much better against the run than those numbers indicated. Take out the defensive meltdown on Jordan Lynch's 88 yard touchdown run and the Huskies averaged just 3.4 yard per carry. Still there were to many breakdowns to earn a "C" grade. Whip end Holt Zalneraitis (1 tackle) made no plays and twice lost containment on Jordan Lynch's 88 yard touchdown run and Lewis 21 yard reverse. He has to start to play better.

Defensive tackle Mike Ugenyi played much better than last week. He had four tackles and a key fumble recovery. The tackles still need to do a better job of keeping the offensive line off the Mike linebacker Geoff Bacon (9 tackles) who tackled well and was everywhere. Nate Combs is all the way back from his knee injury. This is the player I remember as a sophomore before he was injured in the opener in 2010. Combs had 5 tackles, one for a loss, recovered a fumble and forced a fumble. Right now he is the Black Knights best defender.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C

Chris Bolt has a terrific first punt for 49 yards that was downed at the two yard line. Bolt averaged 37.7 yards on three punts

Stephen Fraser took hard hit on one return but spun away for an additional four yards. Fraser average 20.3 yards on three kick returns. Jon Crucitti returned one kickoff 19 yards. Josh Jackson had to fair catch his only punt return chance.

Plebe place kicker Dan Grochowski missed an extra point. I was surprised since the snap was good and Grochowski missed only one kick, a field goal, last year at USMAPS. Andrew Ellerson was replaced as long snapper after that play by Frank Ceva but his snap was fine as was A.J. Schurr's hold.

Kickoff coverage was excellent with Brandon Fusilier Jeffires making a big hit on the opening second half kickoff. Against the speedy Tommylee Lewis they held NIU to just 18 yards per return. Eric Osteen boomed three touchbacks on his seven kickoffs. They did allow 17 yards on a short line drive punt but the coverage was solid as Bolt failed to put much air under that punt. The missed extra point was key but the rest of the special teams played well.

COACHING: C

I didn't like Rich Ellerson's in game decisions. I liked the fact he realized he had to score to win and consistently went for it on fourth down. I thought the second quarter fourth–and-7 pass play at NIU 38 was a bit of a reach. Steelman was sacked back at the NIU 45. Three plays later the Huskies explosive offense had a touchdown and a 21-7 lead. I would have punted there and try to pin NIU deep. The two point conversion that early was a tactical mistake. Too many coaches chase missed two point conversions in the first half. There was no need to chase the two point conversion that early. It cost the Black Knights as they made only one of three two point conversions attempts and lost by one point. I have no idea what some fans on the forum are watching when they complain about offensive coordinator Ian Shields. Shield offense scored six touchdowns and put up 494 yards of offense against a very fast, experienced defense. He called a great game and played to his strength with the counters and fullback dive working. I give credit to the defensive coaches for making changes in the second half and pulling Shrader, Holloway and Washington out of the lineup. The new starters allowed only two scores but they could not overcome Dickson inability to match-up with the speed receivers at the boundary. I think Washington has fooled this staff for the last time by practicing well at cornerback then imploding in the game. Shrader has been exposed in the first two games. It's time to give more playing time to plebes Alex Meier and Brando Fusilier Jeffires that rover or safety. Both tackle and play fast. Hopefully Hayden Pierce gets healthy to return at SAM soon. Boundary cornerback will be an issue. I think they need to move to Chris Carnegie or Marques Avery who have the speed to compete. Dickson is a safety playing out of position.

OVERALL GRADE: C

The offense was impressive even if it was stopped short on the final drive. The Army's boundary cornerbacks were overmatched by NIU's receivers speed. The team battled back twice from double digit deficits. It was a frustrating loss and the defense has to build on their second half were they played a little better.

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