Head to Head: Army vs. Kent State

Army hopes to win its second game of the season on Saturday when the Black Knights host Kent State. Look inside for a head-to-head comparison of the two teams by service academy football analyst Jim Lawler.

The Army Black Knights continue their three-game home stand by taking on the Kent State Golden Flashes on Saturday at Michie Stadium. Last week the Black Knights won a thrilling last minute 34-31 victory over Boston College for their first win of the season. Kent State enters this game after a dominating 41-14 win over Eastern Michigan. The victory improves the Golden Flashes record to 4-1.  Kent State is off to their best start since 1977. Army has won both previous meetings between the two programs. 

Army's rushing offense
Kent State's  rushing defense
Edge:  Army

The Black Knights ran for an amazing 516 rushing yards, averaged 6.5 yards per carry and scored four rushing touchdowns against Boston College. Quarterback Trent Steelman ran for a season high 141 yards on 22 carries and scored three touchdowns against the Eagles. He was named ECAC Football Bowl Subdivision Offensive Player of the Week on Tuesday.  A-back Raymond Maples set a personal single game high rushing record with 184 yards last week. Maples blocking has also been superb but he's lost fumbles the past three games after dropping pitches. Fullback Larry Dixon scored his fifth touchdown of the year this week. Dixon has averaged 6.0 yards per carry as he's run for 460 yards this year. On the offensive line, center Ryan Powis is expected to play after missing the last two games with a groin injury.

The Kent State Golden Flashes were expected to be one of the best defenses in the MAC conference. Overall the team has been inconsistent and is allowing 26.4 points per game. They are solid against the run, ranking 39th in the nation in run defense. Roosevelt Nix is Kent State's best defensive player. Nix is not very big (6-0, 245 pounds) but he is the best defensive linemen in the MAC. Nix was named first team All-MAC last season. Nix has made 20 tackles including 7 1/2 for a loss this year.  Linebacker Luke Batton leads Kent State with 41 tackles. Batton also led the team with 102 tackles and earned third-team All-MAC honors a year ago. Will linebacker C.J. Malauulu (83 tackles, 9.5 for loss, 3.5 sacks in 2011) was a second-team all-conference pick last fall. Malauulu has made 21 tackles so far this year. 

Army's passing offense
Kent State's pass defense
Edge: Kent State

Trent Steelman has completed 16 of 36 passes for 271 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions this season. Steelman has thrown the ball well in his last few starts.  Patrick Laird (6 receptions, 91 yards) has been Steelman's favorite receiver. Laird isn't going to run by anyone but he has good hands and blocks well.

Chevaughn Lawrence  (4 receptions, 98 yards) made a real nice diving catch for a 28-yard completion against the Eagles. Lawrence is Army's fastest receiver but his hands are too often inconsistent. The offensive line does a good job in pass protection.

Kent State ranks 98th in the nation in pass defense. Strong safety Luke Wollett (65 tackles, 4 interceptions in 2011) has made 36 tackles and has picked off two passes. Cornerback Darius Polk has picked off two passes this year. Polk moved into the starting lineup after Norman Wolfe broke his arm against Kentucky.  Free safety Calvin Tiggle (66 tackles in 2011) is a very athletic player with speed. Defensive tackle Roosevelt Nix has recorded 2 ½ sacks this year. Nix has produced 19 sacks during for his career.

Kent State's rushing offense
Army rushing defense
Edge: Kent State

Kent State runs a one back offense which is currently ranked 30th in the nation in rushing. They are averaging 201.8 rushing yards per game. The Golden Flash running back Trayion Durham leads Kent State with 460 rushing yards on 104 carries, a 4.4 avg., and four touchdowns. Durham ran for a career high 116 yards last week against Eastern Michigan. Junior Dri Archer is an explosive all-purpose third down back. Last week Archer scored three touchdowns. One was by a 64-yard touchdown run, he caught a five yard touchdown pass and the other he returned a kickoff 98-yards for a score against Eastern Michigan. Archer is a threat to go the distance every time he carries the ball. He has scored five touchdowns on just 46 carries while averaging 8.8 yards (403 total yards) per run. Quarterback Spencer Keith isn't a threat to run. The Golden Flashes have three seniors on an offensive line that average 303 pounds. Left tackle Brian Winters (6-5, 310) is this units best player.

Army ranks 113th in the nation in run defense but has played much better the past two weeks. Early in the season the Army defense struggled with missed tackles, poor angles and failed to maintain their run gaps. While they still get blown off the ball at times, the Black Knights have been sounder in their flex scheme. Bandit linebacker Nate Combs has been Army's best defender with 25 tackles and eight tackles for a loss. Freshman free safety Brandon Fusilier-Jeffires (32 tackles) is expected to return to the starting lineup after sitting out last week with a concussion. Fusilier-Jeffires' return should improve run support from the secondary. Mike linebacker Geoff Bacon has used his sideline to sideline speed to record a team leading 48 tackles this year. The defense forced a season high six punts last week.

Kent State's passing offense
Army's  passing defense
Edge: Even

The Kent State offense uses three receivers and a tight end. Senior quarterback Spencer Keith has completed 72 of 129 passes (55.8% ) for 789 yards with four touchdowns and just two interceptions. Keith who has thrown 32 interceptions in his career has successfully avoided trying to force the ball into coverage this year.  Offensively, the Golden Flashes are averaging 401.6 yards and 32.8 points per game.  Josh Boyle leads the receiving corps with 18 catches for 254 yards despite not starting a game. Dangerous Dri Archer has made as 14 catches for 225 yards and scored on three receptions. Matthew Hurdle is a possession receiver with 13 receptions for 149 yards and a touchdown.

Last week Army's defense held the top passing team in the ACC to 234 passing yards and just one touchdown pass. Chase Rettig entered the game averaging 323 passing yards. Army's flex defense pressured him right out of the gate and they ended the day with five sacks. The big Boston College offensive line had difficulty handling the stunts and twists by Army's quick defensive line ran. Army needs to do more of the same against Kent state which struggles at times in pass protection. Defensive tackle Bobby Kough continues to improve with three tackles and he had the first 1 ½ sacks of his career against the Eagles. In the secondary sophomore cornerback Marques Avery (2 tackles, 2 passes defended) played well while matched up against the Eagles play-maker Alex Amidon. Avery has only started four games at cornerback in his life and is very raw but has a nice upside as he gains experience. Senior cornerback Josh Jackson (7 tackles, 2 pass def.) has missed most of the last three weeks with a nagging groin injury but expected to play.

Special Teams
Edge: Kent State

The Golden Flashes' special teams are one of the best in nation. Kicker Freddy Cortez is 8-for-12 on field goal tries, including a perfect 5-for-5 from inside the 30-yard line. Punter Anthony Melchiori is averaging 39.8 yards per punt. He has pinned the opponents inside the 20-yard line eight times.  Where Kent State really excels is on returns.  Dri Archer is averaging an amazing 47.7 yards per kickoff return with three touchdowns. The Golden Flashes have averaged 6.2 yards per punt return. They are ranked eighth in the nation, allowing just 1.6 yards per punt return.

Army place kicker Dan Grochowski has connected on four of five field goal tries. Grochowski nailed a key career long 46-yard field goal before the half against BC. 

Punter Chris Boldt is averaging averaged 40.9 per punt and placed a perfect punt inside the 20-yard line that was downed at the 2-yard line. Army hasn't been able to make much happen on punt returns. Stephan Fraser fumbled when he was injured after a 22-yard kickoff return against BC. His injury initially looked serious but he practice initial reports say it was a hip pointer and he is back at practice this week. Junior Julian Crockett replaced the injured Fraser and made a nice cut on a 35-yard kickoff return. Coverage teams have been excellent since the opening game.  Eric Osteen needs to keep his kickoffs away from Dri Archer. Osteen has 14 touchbacks on his 23 kickoffs.

Edge: Army

Darrell Hazell is in his second season as Kent State's head coach. After a 5-7 record last year he has the Golden Flashes off to a 4-1 start. Hazell is familiar with the option. He served on Bob Sutton's staff early in his career as Army's wide receivers and tight ends coach during the 1997 and 1998 seasons. Hazell has more than 25 years of coaching experience. He arrived in Kent after seven seasons at Ohio State, including six years as the assistant head coach. He was one of Tressel's lead assistants involved both in game-planning and in Ohio State's recruiting. He has done an excellent job at Kent State.

Rich Ellerson and his staff did a nice job in game planning against Boston College. Extra time he's spent personally with his young defense has paid dividends. This team isn't going to remind anyone of the Arizona Desert Swarm but they are back to playing the scheme and making some plays. If they can force a few punts each week they will give their prolific rushing offense a chance to win the game.  Army will field a defensive team with four plebes starting on defense this week.

Edge: Army

Army has won both of its games against Kent State. Army became bowl eligible in 2010 when they beat Kent State, 45-28. Trent Steelman had one of the best passing game of his career completing nine of ten throws for 149 passing yards. Army is 19-12 against the MAC conference all time but they have lost the last five games.  Army was blown out by all four MAC opponents it played in 2011 by a combined 174-89 margin. The Black Knights have allowed an average of 43 points per game in their last five games against the MAC.

PREDICTION:  Kent State, 41-31. Kent State's offense has the type of big, physical MAC offensive line that has caused the Black Knights defense problems at the point of attack the last two years. Army will move the ball. Kent State's defense and Army's habit of turning over the ball at least twice a game make it more likely that the Golden Flashes will generate more stops on defense. I do feel Army's defense is playing better and wouldn't be surprised if the Black Knights win this game. However on paper the match-up favors Kent State.

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